What is your life? That is a question that should occupy our minds often. And the answer most often is that we want our lives to matter, don’t we? We want it to count. We want it to make a difference. But how men go about this is another matter.
It comes down to an identity. And by and large where we find our identity will be a temptation to worship such an identity. Where is your identity? What drives you? What makes you get out of the bed in the morning? And even so, what role does Christ play?
John Piper wrote an excellent book entitled, Don’t Waste Your Life. In it, he says:
God created us to live with a single passion: to joyfully display his supreme excellence in all spheres of life. The wasted life is the life without this passion. God calls us to pray and think and dream and plan and work, not to be made much of, but to make much of him in every part of our lives.
Do we? Many are afraid to! Why? At a previous church where I served in South Florida, this subject was brought up. Why do we have such a hard time as Christians surrendering to God’s will for our lives? One man named Scott honestly said, “I’m afraid of what God will ask me to do!” But Warren Wiersbe had it right: “The dangerous life is not in the will of God, but out of the will of God. The safest place in the world is right where God wants you.”
Many of us have lost that notion, haven’t we? We believe that comfort, safety, and security lies in having plenty of material possessions, no problems at home or work or school—maybe even coming and hearing nice sermons and singing nice songs. Mark Twain skeptically said of churches he’d been to that, “Church is nice people telling nice people how to be nice people.”
But the first question in the Westminster Catechism is spot on.
Q: What is the chief end (purpose) of man?
A: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
We can tell who we glorify in the mundane, ordinary, day-to-day things of life. But there will be a G/god who will direct us—the question is, is it with the small ‘g’ or the capital ‘G’—the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. As Christians, do we use Christ to advance our own desires? Do we, in our Christian walk, expect others to be like us—having our spiritual gifts, God-given talents, and to look like us—or are we more interested in helping others look like Christ, exhibiting whatever gifts and talents and callings He has placed in their lives?
Are your plans your god, or is God over your plans?
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
As I watched the Super Bowl™ this year, I found myself able to watch for the first time in years some of the pre-game stories. One particular story caught my attention. It was the story of Steve Gleason, a former defensive back for the New Orleans Saints. He is a cult hero in New Orleans thanks to a play he made at a very opportune time. When the New Orleans Superdome reopened in 2006 after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina the summer previous, they played the Atlanta Falcons who, like New Orleans, was undefeated. The place was electric—and the Saints were a big part of their recovery. On the Falcons first series, they had to punt. Enter Steve Gleason. He came through the line and blocked that punt, which was recovered for a touchdown.
Momentum, Saints! They never looked back.
Prior to Super Bowl XLVI (46), Peter King interviewed Steve Gleason who was diagnosed with ALS in January 2011. King asked Gleason if he’s ever thought about how much time he had to live. Gleason’s response: “Yes I have, which is a really good thing to think about as a human being.” “Why?” “Because we all have a timeline. . . . Most of us don’t live like we have a timeline.”
But we do! And the question is not only do we recognize we have a timeline? And secondly, do we know the one who lines out our time? James confronts his listeners, “Come now, you who say. . . .” What we say is a direct reflection of our hearts—we saw this in James 3! And what is it saying? “I can make my own plans! I have as long as I want to here. I have no understanding that in a breath it could all be gone!”
In Daniel 4, King Nebuchadnezzar said that same thing!
28 All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” 31 While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, 32 and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” 33 Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.
What kind of plans are you making? Is there anything wrong with making plans? Absolutely not—verse 15 makes that clear. What’s the problem? The problem is that our language does not give honor to Christ. Verse 15 says, “If the Lord will, we will live and we will do.” Do you understand, dear friend, that it is by God’s will that you live, that you have life at all? Do you understand that it is only by God granting you any strength at all that you can do anything at all?
Our speech can show that we take God absolutely for granted. Proverbs 27:1 says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” In Luke 12:16-21, a rich man stored up his barns so much that he had tear them down and build bigger ones to where they were full, and he felt he could rest and enjoy. But what did God say? “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
But we can also as a Christian use our desire to implement plans we have for the cause of Christ!
I can list off names of politicians like Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, actors like Rudolph Valentino, James Dean; musicians like Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, Jim Croce, Karen Carpenter; athletes like Roberto Clemente, Walter Payton; Hollywood stars like Heath Ledger and, Whitney Houston. All of them died at an age that we deem young. Some died for good causes, like Clemente and Croce who were flying back to help those in their home country. Others died from substance abuse or from other physical maladies they imposed on themselves. Others died from ‘natural causes.’ God holds our days in a book, Psalm 139 tells us. We must never say, “Oh, they went too early.” “Oh, they went before their time.” That betrays our worldly way of looking at things. God has us on a timeline.
So, dear Christian, “If you know what God’s will is and what he would have you to do, yet you fail to do it, that is sin. You’ve heard of the sins of commission (sins you commit) and the sins of omission (things you should do, but omit doing them). This is what James refers to. It’s putting your plans, agendas, and desires before the Christ who gave us life.