Big Questions that Determine Our Life’s Trajectory
Life is really, really short. James 4:14 likens it to a vapor, a whisper, its span no more than that of grass (see Psalm 103:15), something that appears for a brief time and is suddenly gone.
I was born in 1958, and my first few years whizzed by as I rode bikes with friends and played football and stick ball in the street. When school arrived, the hours passed more slowly, like an eternity. Whenever I looked at the clock in math class, it seemed to tick backward. The rest of those days seemed like they would last forever.
I graduated high school, and in no time at all, I was sitting on the front porch of my home when a car stopped in front. Out stepped the pastor of a neighborhood church, and he walked up and gave me a big hug. He said, “Gary, I’d like to ask you to a men’s retreat we’re having next month.”
“Really?” I asked. “What’s the theme?”
“It’s about dealing with mid-life issues,” he said.
My jaw dropped. I wondered if he was looking for my father instead of me.
Then I realized I was thirty-five.
In less than a decade from now, I’ll be double that age. Like me, you probably hear older people talk about how much faster the years pass as they advance in age. They’re right. Life is really, really short.
It’s important, then, to ask ourselves the most important questions about this brief existence. How we answer them will affect how our lives are judged.
The primary questions that every human being has to answer are “Who am I? What am I doing here on earth? What is my purpose?”
Sometimes I answer these questions in a way that’s all wrong. This happens when I listen to the voice of the enemy, to the pull of the world or to the drive of my flesh.
What about that first question: Who am I? Most people, Christians included, answer with an unspoken conviction formed somewhere in their subconscious mind: I am my career. Think about it: If you’re on an airplane, the most common question asked by people sitting next to each other is “So, what do you do?” Suddenly, you feel that your significance is being measured by what you do and how far you’ve advanced in your field of work. You’re tempted to make yourself sound as successful as possible.
Another way we define ourselves is by what we have. What neighborhood do we live in? What car do we drive? What sort of wealth have we accumulated?
Yet another way we define ourselves is by what others think of us. What kind of reputation have we built? How many “likes” do we have on social media? What colleges do our children attend,
or what are their professions?
I find it hard to be around families with high-achieving children. The parents want you to know everything about their valedictorian or their star athlete on scholarship. In all honesty, the first thing I want to tell them is that every one of my kids has a great sense of humor. Better yet, they love God and love people. I’m convinced these traits may be the most important things in life, able to carry my kids through hard times and to help them assist others through hardships too. What could be more meaningful?
All of these ways of defining ourselves by what we do or have or the way others think of us are built on lies of the enemy.
These lies not only doom us to emptiness, but they also derail us from the full life our Creator has designed for us.
Jesus himself was tempted by some version of these three lies. You may remember when he was assailed by Satan in the wilderness. “And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’” (Luke 4:5-7, ESV).
Talk about being known by what you do. Jesus could have had an earthly reign over every nation. Yet he answered Satan with the eternal values of God’s kingdom. “And Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.”’” (Luke 4:8).
Think about what people would have thought of Jesus had he accepted Satan’s next temptation. “And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”’” (Luke 4:10-11).
What a testimony Jesus would have had from such a miraculous deliverance. Everyone might have fallen to their knees in worship. Jesus kept his focus on the bigger picture, though. “And Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”’” (Luke 4:12).
Finally, it’s a bit of a stretch to say the next temptation was about Christ defining himself by what he had. Yet what he didn’t have at that moment was pretty important to him. He hadn’t eaten anything for days when Satan approached him. “He ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.’” (Luke 4:2-3).
Jesus again pointed beyond the earthly to the eternal. “And Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone.”’” (Luke 4:4).
Christ made it clear through each of these temptations, “If you are drawn away by worldly preoccupations, you’ll miss the plan my Father has laid before you.”
It’s possible to make choices we think are spiritual but that are as worldly as the temptations Satan set before Christ. You can attend prayer meetings, thinking you’re setting a good example. You can go on mission trips, hoping they will ensure your spiritual stature. Even these activities, however, are worldly if they’re grounded in what others think.
John, the beloved disciple, makes clear what is most important in the choices we make.
John wrote, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16).
Does the power of the world direct your “spiritual” steps? You may pray for the Lord’s direction, but unless your heart shifts away from worldly motives, you won’t know true guidance. John said, “The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17). Do you see the extraordinary truth the Bible is telling us? Life doesn’t have to be short after all. It can be forever! It is accomplished only by doing the will of God.
John went on to make crystal clear that the will of God consists of one thing: to love people.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love…. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:7-8, 11).
Did you know that all sin is relational? The Ten Commandments reveal this. The first four commandments have to do with loving God. The remaining six have to do with loving our fellow human beings. That’s it, the whole deal, the summary of the entire will of God. Jesus said so, in essence. “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).
John showed how we can measure whether we’re fulfilling God’s will. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20-21).
It’s easy to love hungry children we see on TV infomercials. We can be so moved that we send a check to support the “brother we have not seen.” It is much, much harder to love our next-door neighbor’s annoying child who tramples our garden. Yet that child and his indulgent parent are the brothers “whom we have seen.”
John couldn’t have made it any clearer. If you say you love God and don’t love your brother, you’re a liar. I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating how well I’ve loved God with these brief years I’ve been given. Have I really loved the brother whom I have seen? It’s one thing to preach a well-written sermon to large crowds; it’s another thing to see every face in that crowd and preach as if to each one of them. Jesus’ way was the latter; when he encountered people, he talked to them about their lives. Even in large crowds, he ministered to people’s individual needs, feeding their physical hunger and thirst while he preached kingdom virtues.
So how do your years measure up? Are you preoccupied with career, possessions or reputation? Or is your highest value to love others? Do you regard a generous sense of humor as important as a professional pedigree? Friend, you can measure your life easily by how much you love. Reach out to the brother or sister God has put before you. That is a forever life!