It may come upon us in a sudden flash or it may slowly build over time, but there comes a moment for all of us when we realize this fact:
Life is brief, life is fragile, and life is fleeting, and there is an end to my life that is hurtling towards me.
This is as sobering a thought as we can encounter, but we ignore it and brush it away to our own peril. It is an essential part of the human condition, brought on by Adam’s sin in the Garden so long ago. Death – lurking, looming, certainly arriving, but on an unknown timetable, rushes towards us on a collision course, and that rendezvous demands from us an answer to the question, “So, what are you doing with your life?”
I believe we have all been created with a God-given something inside us that yearns for a purpose that is somehow significant. “This is my one and only life, and it is so immensely precious, and yet it seems to be leaking through my fingers like so much oil. Why am I here? What am I to do? Who can show me the way?”
I have long thought about these questions, but recently they posed themselves to me in a new light, perhaps because I have more time to think right now (I am at a crossroads, and in this transition there are large blocks of time for reflection). But for whatever reason, it occurred to me that MY LIFE WILL BE SPENT DOING SOMETHING. The key word there is “spent.” My life will be spent. And so will yours. My life had a beginning and it will certainly have an end, and over that I have no control. But how I spend the time in between, over that I have a great deal of control. Thus, the grand question becomes, “How will I spend my life?”
As He does in so many places in the gospels, in Matthew 16 Jesus Christ speaks to this question and gives us foundational answers on which we can build a life of purpose and usefulness. Immediately following His acknowledgement of Peter’s confession of Him as the Messiah and the Son of the living God, the Lord Jesus predicts His own upcoming death and resurrection in Jerusalem. Then He tells His would-be disciples what it means to follow Him:
Then Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done.” Jesus in Matthew 16:24-27
Notice that Jesus warns about two wrong paths. First, He speaks of those who try to save their life. This might describe people who live their life in fear, afraid to take risks because it may turn out badly. They try to live very safely in an effort to live as long as they can. Jesus says that this effort is futile, because living a long and safe, fruitless life is exactly the same as living a short and reckless, fruitless life. Life is not measured by its length, but by what is done during the time that it lasts. In contrast to the safe group, Jesus says that whoever lives his life for Jesus’ sake “will find it,” which means that the person will find rich purpose and usefulness in this life and will receive the reward of eternal life in the life to come. The goal of this person is to find that place or situation where they are useful to Jesus and continue to live in that place with reckless abandon, trusting that the Lord will give them exactly the right number of days.
The second wrong path is that of trying to “gain the whole world” while losing your own soul. On this path, the goal is to accumulate as much stuff as you can, under the mistaken belief that this world is all there is, and my pleasure and happiness are the highest values. Jesus warns these people that all the “stuff” in the world will not give you a single penny to spend in the life to come. Those who focus on gaining the world in this life will certainly forfeit their own soul. A life spent gaining the world is a life wasted and, once life ends and the soul is forfeited, there is no longer any opportunity to get it back. But if you spend your life in service to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord will meet all your needs in this life (Matthew 6:33) and you will receive a crown of righteousness in the life to come (2 Timothy 4:8).
So, what is the goal for this question about how to spend our lives or what is the right purpose? Here is the goal that I would propose:
The GOAL is to be able to say with confidence, “I am doing with my life what I have been created and called to do so that I am fulfilling my God-given purpose.”
I am convinced that only Jesus Christ can give this GOAL and this feeling of purpose to us, because only Jesus, as God the Son, has the authority and power to guide and ordain our lives. It is only as a follower of Jesus that I can be fulfilling my God-given purpose. So, the necessary first step to finding fulfillment and fruitfulness in life is to become a follower of Jesus. Then, as I follow Jesus and read His word, the Bible, He slowly begins to rearrange and clean out the closets and the attics of my life, and discards the excess baggage and clears the brush off the new paths. I pray about and think about circumstances and opportunities and the Lord continues to refine my life’s activities until they are in alignment with what the Bible has called me to do. There is amazing peace when the pursuits and the activities of life bring with them a deep feeling of satisfaction, because we know that we are pleasing the Lord in these roles and activities and pursuits. Jesus Christ offers this to all who follow Him.
But, before we leave this passage, it would be wise for us to re-read the last verse. Jesus declares that, as the glorious Son of Man, He is “going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father” to judge the earth. As He prophesied His death and resurrection, so He also prophesies His future return when He will come in wrath and judgment. Here in 16:24-26, Jesus is urging men and women to come after Him and to follow Him so that they will experience Him as merciful Savior and not as terrifying Judge. While there is still time, we should all heed this warning.
SDG rmb 6/11/2020