“When you come to the end of your life and have nothing but death to look forward to and nothing but memories to look back upon, what will you need to see to determine that your life was significant and well spent?”
Recently I taught on the brevity of life and what matters most – and how we as followers of Christ can (and should) focus our life in the new year. Below are a few quotes and thoughts from my message (to access video and audio of the message, click here):
Augustine, one of the great leaders of the early church, once said:
“Asking yourself the question of your own legacy – What do I wish to be remembered for? – is the beginning of adulthood.”
“Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath.” (Psalms 39:4-5a | NIV84)
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” (James 4:13-14 – NASB)
One of the questions that I have asked myself dozens of times over the past few decades – and I would encourage you to ask yourself this same question – is this:
“When I come to the end of my life and have nothing but death to look forward to and nothing but memories to look back upon, what will I need to see to determine that my life was significant and well spent?”
Augustine, in his classic book Confessions, reminds us of where real life is found.
“You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” – St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430)
Augustine reminds us that it is a God-centered life – not a me-centered life – that is ultimately most satisfying. He reminds us that life is not ultimately about you – or me. It’s about God.
“Teach us to number our days…so that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12 – NASB)
“Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning and purpose of life but as those who do. Make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days.” (Ephesians 5:15-16 – Phillips Translation)
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 – NASB)
How we spend our time is how we spend our life.
“Doest thou love life? Then don’t squander time. For that’s the stuff life’s made of.” (Scottish Poet and Novelist Sir Walter Scott – 1771-1832)
The late Dallas Willard, well-known Christian author and former head of the Philosophy Department at the University of Southern California, said:
“Feelings make excellent servants, but terrible masters!”
The habits that you and I practice on a regular basis will shape our future (for good or bad) as much, if not more, than anything else in life.
Human beings, when left to themselves, do not naturally drift toward health and success.
Grace is opposed to earning, not effort!
“…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7-8 – NASB)
“Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14 – NASB)
“My son, if you will receive my sayings, and treasure my commandments within you, make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding; for if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the LORD, and discover the knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:1-5 – NASB)
Anne Ortlund, wife of Ray Ortlund Sr. (both of whom have gone home to be with the Lord), wrote the following many years ago about the importance of spiritual disciplines:
“What major lesson have I learned over the years? That Spirit-motivated disciplines facilitate the Christian walk. Oh, I’m not discounting all the warm feelings along the route, when I’ve sung Jesus-songs and held hands and the rest. But our sensuous age forgets that feelings come and feelings leave you, but the disciplines of life are what get you to where you want to go.”
I love the title of one of Eugene Peterson’s classic books: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.
As you look to this new year, ask yourself this question:
What habits (or disciplines) do I want to begin to implement in 2017 that will help me to “focus” my spiritual life and grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ?
Early on in my Christian walk (this was back in the mid to late 70’s) I read a book by Calvin Miller – a well-known pastor and Christian author. The title of the book was That Elusive Thing Called Joy. It was later re-released in the mid-80’s by NavPress under the title: A Taste of Joy: Recovering the Lost Glow of Discipleship. It had a huge impact upon my life – in particular, the following quote:
“Many disciples would like the happiness that comes from discipline, but they also want to avoid the hard work. Millions of us believers do not take our Christianity seriously simply because discipleship is rigorous and tiring. We drift from service to service, studying only enough to keep a little self-respect with our peers. We have misinterpreted disciple to mean “convert.”
“No lazy student ever felt good on report-card day. But countless serious students feel great when they receive good marks because they have been industrious.
“Never have there been so many disciples who did so little studying. Yet in our age the proliferation of Christian resources for study is astounding. Books are everywhere. It is only in recent history that we have had such time and resources. In spite of this, our day is plagued by hordes of miserable Christians whose pitiful study habits give them few victories and much frustration. Serious students will develop dynamic minds and a confident use of the gifts God has given to them.
“Consistent joy is mind-first rather than mood-first. While everyone likes to be in a good mood, it is treacherous to try to build anything stable for Christ solely on the basis of our moods.
“…Conversely, consider Christianity. Many adults know little about the Bible. The preacher is not thought of as a teacher but as a devotionalist. His job is not to educate but to “inspire.” Sermons are constructed more often to elicit some emotional response than to stimulate thought. In some churches logic seems to cease completely.
“If this judgment seems harsh, one has merely to probe the surface to demonstrate its truth. Any one of the recent questionnaires given to church members indicates that among those who attend regularly there is widespread ignorance of Scripture. On one such poll, many could not name four of the apostles, and few could quote more than one verse from the New Testament. Some even thought “epistles were the wives of apostles.”
“The title of a Christian folk musical may be an indictment against us—Natural High. The implication is that Jesus is the “trip of a lifetime.” And that the emotional plateau we can reach with Jesus is greater than one with cocaine.
“Many Christians are only “Christaholics” and not disciples at all. Disciples are cross-bearers; they seek Christ. Christaholics seek happiness. Disciples dare to discipline themselves, and the demands they place on themselves leave them enjoying the happiness of their growth. Christaholics are escapists looking for a shortcut to nirvana. Like drug addicts, they are trying to “bomb out” of their depressing world.
“There is no automatic joy. Christ is not a happiness capsule; he is the way to the Father. But the way to the Father is not a carnival ride in which we sit and do nothing while we are whisked through various spiritual sensations.”