What’s really important in life

Posted: September 27, 2014 in Thoughts on God

‘What a waste!’ said a woman to my friend. This woman was talking about Bishop Sandy Millar, who had practiced very successfully as a lawyer for ten years, before leaving it all behind to become an ordained minister in the church.

‘A waste?’ exclaimed my outraged friend. ‘Yes,’ said the woman, ‘Such a waste! He could have made a fortune and been at the very top of the legal profession. Think of what he could have achieved!’

‘Think of what he has achieved!’ replied my friend – who was thinking of the impact of Sandy’s ministry on thousands of people around the world whose lives had been changed, marriages enriched and churches renewed; those who found faith, love, hope and peace through encountering Jesus Christ as a result of Sandy’s ministry.

Many have given up a successful career, a high salary and – in the eyes of the world – all their prospects, in order to serve God in ‘full-time ministry’ with little or no pay. They know that there is a high calling and purpose that far exceeds what the world can promise them.

Of course, those called to serve God in their secular places of work have an equally high purpose and calling, if they are doing what they are doing in order to please God and for the sake of his kingdom. The key thing is not the job or career – but the goal we pursue.

So many people waste their lives. They have no purpose, meaning or goal. Other people do have a goal, but it is the wrong one. They end up chasing something that is ultimately meaningless. Many reach the top of the ladder of success only to find that it is leaning against the wrong wall. Purpose in life is far more important than property or possessions. Having more to live with is no substitute for having more to live for.

How do you avoid wasting your life? How do you find the purpose for which you were made?

1. Pursue righteousness and love

Proverbs 21:17-26Many people today lead hedonistic lives. ‘Hedonism’ is the pursuit of pleasure as the ultimate goal. Hedonists become addicted to the things that give them pleasure.

‘You’re addicted to thrills? What an empty life! The pursuit of pleasure is never satisfied’ (v.17).

The writer is not saying that there is anything wrong with pleasure: ‘In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil’ (v.20). But relationships are far more important than riches: ‘Better to live in a tent in the wild than with a cross and petulant spouse’ (v.19).

The purpose and goal of our lives must never revolve around material things. Rather, ‘Whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor’ (v.21). This should be the aim of our life – to pursue a right relationship with God and a right relationship with others.

Love should be our aim. ‘Sinners are always wanting what they don’t have; the God-loyal are always giving what they do have’ (v.26).

The irony is that those who pursue righteousness and love find what the hedonist is seeking: ‘life, prosperity and honor. But these are a by-product. They should not be our aim or purpose. Rather it should be God’s kingdom and his righteousness. Jesus promises ‘all these things will be given to you as well’ (Matthew 6:33).

Lord, help us to seek your kingdom – to pursue righteousness and love in everything we do and not to waste our lives in pleasure seeking.

2. Aim to please God

2 Corinthians 5:1-10Paul’s main aim and purpose in life was to please God: ‘Pleasing God is the main thing, and that’s what we aim to do, regardless of our conditions’ (v.9).

We may face physical challenges. Our physical bodies will not always be able to do what we used to do. One day ‘these bodies of ours’ will be ‘taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven’ (vv.1–2).

When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we are promised all the blessings of the kingdom of God. Yet we still feel weak and sinful, still experience hardship and frustration, and still live in a broken world. How much of the blessing of the kingdom must we wait for in the future, or on the last day, and how much do we experience here and now in the present?

In this passage we see that there is a balance between what we will experience in the future and what we experience now. Now, we are ‘away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight’ (V.6–7). In the future, we will be ‘at home with the Lord’ (V.8). What is mortal will be ‘swallowed up by life’ (V.4). We will not experience the full blessing of the kingdom yet.

Nevertheless now, in the present, we experience a foretaste of the future. God ‘has made us for this very purpose’ and has given us his Spirit as a ‘deposit, guaranteeing what is to come’ (v.5). ‘He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less’ (v.5b). That deposit is not just an assurance – it is a piece of the not yet of God’s blessing, reign and rule in the now. That is what the Holy Spirit brings.

‘That’s why we live with such good cheer … Cramped conditions here don’t get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead’ (v.6).

In the meantime, ‘We make it our goal to please him’ (v.9). ‘Sooner or later … We will appear before Christ and take what’s coming to us as a result of our actions, either good or bad’ (v.10).

Lord, help me to make this goal the focus of my life. Lord, I want to please you in everything I do, say and think.

3. Rise to Micah’s challenge

Micah 5:1-7:20It is possible to have a wasted soul. God warns, through Micah, against:

‘Obscene wealth …
piled up by cheating and fraud …
shady deals and shifty scheming …
No matter how much you get, it will never be enough –
hollow stomachs, empty hearts.
No matter how hard you work, you’ll have nothing to show for it –
bankrupt lives, wasted souls’ (6:10–14).

At times, the prophet Micah looks forward (for example, see 7:7–20). At one point he looks further ahead than he probably realizes. He sees a ruler coming from Bethlehem, ‘Whose origins are from of old, from ancient times … And he will be their peace’ (5:2,5a). He will be known as ‘Peacemaker of the world!’ (v.4b, MSG). Unknowingly he was prophesying about Jesus (Matthew 2:5–12).

At other times, the prophet Micah looks back. He looks at all that God has done for his people (see Micah 6:3 onwards). He redeemed them. He led them (v.4). He urged them to ‘remember’ (v.5).

God is a God of astonishing love and mercy: ‘Mercy is your specialty. That’s what you love most. And compassion is on its way to us. You’ll stamp out our wrongdoing. You’ll sink our sins to the bottom of the ocean’ (7:18–19).

Thank the Lord for his amazing love made possible through the death of Jesus for us. Thank God that he has ‘hurled all our iniquities into the depths of the sea’ where there is ‘no fishing allowed’ as Corrie ten Boom used to say.

What will our response be to this amazing grace? How can we please God? How can we avoid wasting our lives? What does the Lord require of us? Micah presents this challenge: ‘To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God’ (6:8c). This threefold challenge gives us the purpose and goal of our lives.

First, to ‘act justly’ (v.8c). Justice is very high up on God’s agenda. Injustice causes so much of the world’s suffering today. I have to make this a higher priority in my own life and in our community. We must do more to see that the poor, the marginalized and the voiceless receive justice.

Second, we must ‘love mercy’ (v.8c). God has shown us such mercy. Our response should be to show mercy to others. As Joyce Meyer puts it, ‘People do not need to be pressured to perform perfectly; they need to be loved and accepted.’ We need to bring the message of the gospel of God’s love and mercy to as many as possible, including the prisoners, the homeless, the elderly and the poor.

Third, we need to ‘walk humbly with [our] God’ (v.8c). We should never see ourselves as better, above, or more important than other people. A proud person overestimates their own importance. They cannot laugh at themselves. ‘Don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously’ (v.8c). We cannot do any of this unless we are walking in a relationship with the Lord.

These three go together. True faith is evidenced by how we live. This is why Paul writes that ‘the things done while in the body’ (2 Corinthians 5:10) really matter. We will be judged by them. They are the evidence of our faith.

Lord, help me to rise to Micah’s challenge. Help me to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you. Help me to pursue righteousness and love, and to make it my goal to please you.

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