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Don't Waste Your Life
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Photo: Kati Neudert
There once was a Christian minister who didn’t like doing what his congregation expected him to do. People were in the hospital, but he didn’t get around to visiting them. He balked at getting out his Bible and his notes and scratching out a good sermon for Sabbath morning. Instead, he spent much of his free time “visiting the Green family,” and driving in a golf cart to get there, as the old joke goes.

In a case like that one, onlookers who knew the inside story were probably tempted to say to him: “At the end of the day, as you think about what it might say on your headstone, as you think about what those around you might comment as the hearse takes you to your final resting place, will you be satisfied if they observe that you finally broke 90? That you got a birdie on that tough hole #17? That you had a better Pebble Beach tan than others? You had the chance to open up your heart and share the gospel of Jesus with a devoted church family, to tell the greatest story there is to tell, in your own words, with your own passion, using the vocabulary of your own love relationship with Jesus—and instead you got a little golf trophy that says you got nearer to the pin than some other players.” 

But instead of telling stories about other people, I should get on my knees and tell them about myself. How many hours have I wasted doing things that were less than eternal? How many times have I spent my day harboring fruitless resentments or pursuing false hopes? 

In recent years, many Christian churches, including a number in our own Adventist community, have begun to think and pray about what our purpose in life must be. You’ve seen copies of Rick Warren’s bestseller, The Purpose-Driven Life. Many congregations have experienced growth through Saddleback’s program, 40 Days of Purpose. And as we spend a few weeks here in our own church praying about what God dreams of for each of us, I find a very important initial message: DON’T WASTE YOUR LIFE. 

Let’s open up our Bibles this morning and get right into God’s Word, shall we? Here’s Ephesians 5:15-17: Be careful how you live, not as fools but as those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity for doing good in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do. 

So we can be careful, or we can be thoughtless. We can live as fools, or we can be like the wise. I feel good when I do wise things. You’ve all seen that I married brilliantly. I know it’s a question on all of your minds: “How did he get her?” I have the most wonderful job in the world. But there are nights when I climb into bed, knowing that I wasted that day. That I took my eye off the ball, and really threw away 24 hours. 

I get the idea that we’re all Christian enough to agree that to do what God wants us to do, to live our lives by His purposes . . . is wise. It’s sensible. It’s the ticket to happiness. We agree on that, or we’re at least open to it. So the question is: What does He want? What’s His plan? Why would it be any different-sounding than the million religious do’s and don’t’s that we’ve heard all our lives and that many of us have tried to escape one way or another? 

Well, that’s what we want to study together for the next few Sabbaths. Today let’s just put these three basic questions on the table, and then gear up for Bible study battle. Here are the three questions God invites us to prayerfully consider as we look toward heaven: 1. What does God want? 2. What does it take? And 3. Why should I do it? 

Number one: what does God want? All of us who are married understand the idea that we want our spouse’s attentions and affections all to ourselves. We are jealous, in a good and holy way. We don’t want to be abandoned or betrayed or left for another lover. But the plain reality is this: God wants with me the same thing I want with my spouse: He wants MY WHOLE LIFE. 

In his sermon resources for the Saddleback seminar, Pastor Rick Warren observes: “There is not a single verse in the Bible, not one, that says you can be a Christian and live your life any old way you want to. It’s just not there. God wants all of you. He doesn’t want 10% of you, He doesn’t want 50% of you, He doesn’t want 99% of youHe wants all of you.” 

In our Adventist tradition and heritage, we have sometimes criticized others in the Body of Christianity for being soft on obedience, for not upholding God’s laws. So we can be thankful for this strong affirmation that we are to be obedient believers. What does God want? He wants every single bit of me. He wants my undivided loyalty. He wants to give me the benefits of His being in full, undiluted control of my life. 

C. S. Lewis once wrote in a essay entitled “Christian Apologetics” that there was one thing Christianity could never be. “Christianity is a statement,” he writes, “which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.” If God and His kingdom and His plan are real things, then we have to take them with the utmost seriousness, and accept the reality that He wants us in our entirety. 

Here’s Romans 6:13: Give yourselves completely to God since you have been given new life. And use your whole body as a tool to do what is right for the glory of God. 

Secular and Holy?

I think most of us have this idea about God’s kingdom. We say, I owe Him a bit of time on Sabbath morning, and a few minutes here and there to maybe read the Bible or something like that. And I owe Him some of the dollars that are in my pocket. I owe Him a certain level of behavioral loyalty. But my life is my life, and He gets a bite of my pie here, and a bite here, and maybe another bite over there. We have religious TV, and secular TV. Sabbath activities and regular activities. Christian music and ordinaryand God gets these little bites of our pie. And the Bible says no: God wants the whole pie, my whole being. Here’s Deuteronomy 10:12: This is what the Lord your God wants you to do: respect the Lord and do what He has told you to do. Love Him. Serve the Lord your God with your whole being. 

Now, we do have these other things in our lives. When I perform weddings in this church, I tend to say to the new couple: “This is the second most important promise you’ll ever make: these marriage vows.” We can have our spouses and our kids. We can love our jobs and live for our work. We can have hobbies and be fans of our favorite baseball teams. We can have money and retirement accounts. It does my heart good to hear that one of our church families has gone to Hawaii to recharge their batteries. It does my heart even more good when they come home and sit in one of the first five rows at church. These are all good things. They’re things created by God. But all of them, good as they are, need to be below the number one thing. 

I like a story from the old marriage manual, Letters to Philip, by a Dr. Charlie Shedd. A guy named Peter drove home one night, and found two women in his driveway. His wife, whom he had seen and kissed good-bye just that morning. And his mom, who was visiting their house for the first time since the couple had gotten married, which had been months earlier. This young groom sized up the situation, parked the car, got out, walked past his mom, kissed his wife, then came back and greeted his mom. First things first. A mom is a great blessing, but the wife comes first. And God even higher. 

We all know that the first commandment says, “Don’t have any other gods before Me.” Whatever is number one in your life is your God. And the wonderful thing is this: when we make God first in our life, He then makes all of the other things fall into their right place, and THEY become more a blessing, more satisfying. 

I think we can all identify with the temptation to plan for some real “God years” down the road. Right now we’ve just gotten married. We have kids to raise. We want to get some money put away for their college education. We want to get to this certain platinum financial level. So we think about these “God years” which are down the road, when we’ll really put Him first and invest some time and money and spiritual energy with Him. And God says to us, “No, put Me first. Right now. Not later. Trust Me.” 

Maybe you remember the parable in Luke 14 where the king invites everybody to a black-tie banquet. “Please come. Everything’s ready.”  But they all made excuses. They all had plans to be good to the king and honor Him some other time. But right now: “Oh, I’ve got to go check out this field I just bought.” “I bought some cows and have to test-drive them.” “I just got a wife and have to test-drive her.” Now, these are all good things: wealth, work, a wife. All God-given. But all needing to be kept in second place when God invites us to a heavenly banquet. 

One more promise, from Proverbs 3:6. And this comes from the royal diaries of a man named Solomon who had a lot of fields and cows and even wives. But notice: In everything you do, put God first, and He will direct you and crown your efforts with success. If we’ve been part-time Christians, if we’ve had a big pie and just carved out a small piece for God, today is an invitation for all of us to get things right. Give Him all of us, because that’s what He wants. 

Now let’s look at Question Two. What does it take? We want to give God everything. We don’t want to waste our life. We want to reach the spiritual potential God intends for us. What does it take? 

Get ready to say ouch. It takes DISCIPLINE. And we all boo. Ack. I’ve never liked that word, and I don’t know that I ever will. That word takes us back to piano lessons and Adventist boarding academies with mandated haircuts and overbearing deans. But here’s what the Bible tells us. Proverbs 10:17: Whoever practices discipline is on the way to life. In fact, don’t the word “discipline” and the word “disciple” seem to have the same root in there somewhere? 

Okay, we hate that word, but let me make a point. There’s a very simple reason some of you have M.D. degrees, and R.N.’s. There’s only one way in the world that some of you folks passed the barI mean, I don’t think you cheated. You went to class and you studied and you didn’t watch TV and you passed up sporting events and movies. Why? Because you were disciplining yourself: delayed gratification. You want to practice law next year, so you don’t watch Law & Order tonight. I’ve had some of you say to me, “Pastor, I’d love to go to a baseball game. I’d love to meet you at Tropics for a gardenburger and a super-jumbo basket of fries. But I can’t this week. I’ve got classes to study for and other responsibilities. Some of US have to work for a living.” 

All of us are used to doing hard things now so that we can do fun things later. We have runners in this church who log many miles a week on hard pavement during the gloom of a very early morning. Why? So that they can experience the fulfillment of being a marathoner, of being in that coveted inner circle. 

The lesson is this: we all do have the discipline to get to the things that matter to us. We have favorite television programs, a half hour with the sports section or a favorite weekly magazine. We all seem disciplined enough to get to the dining room table three times a day, 21 times a week, 1092 times a year. I can’t remember the last time I was so weak-willed I didn’t make it to dinner. Usually my weak will works in the opposite direction. 

I enjoy watching major leaguer ballplayers field grounders and then make that throw over to first base. Some Gold Glove third basemen have such a strong arm they can just pause, set themselves, eat a sandwich, and then zip this bullet, this line drive over to first. Why is the throw perfect so many times? Discipline has become a habit. Habit has become a life and a lifestyle and eleven million dollars. 

And if you are habitually faithful to your spouse, you’re a faithful person. If you are habitually honest, you’re an honest person. One of the things we want to all do in this sermon series is to develop some exciting new spiritual habits. 

Look at I Timothy 4:7 with me, please. Spend your time and energy in the exercise of keeping spiritually fit. My marathoning friends can jog and swim to stay fit; what can we do as believers to also stay fit in the Lord’s service? Here are a couple of things. One: “the discipline of letting go.” Any time we add something new to our schedules, something else has to be dropped. Most of us know the difficult choice of adding a new ministry objective only by dropping something else out of our busy schedules and Blackberries. As we try to make God number one, something else may have to be sacrificed. 

Let’s read Hebrews 12:1: Let us strip off every weight that slows us downthat reminds us of the most recent Olympic Games and the slippery, slinky outfits all of the swimmers wore. We especially strip off the sin that so easily hinders our progress. Two things here hold us back: weight and sin. Those two things keep us from being what God wants us to be in life. They limit our potential. They make our life a waste. 

Now, we all know what sin is: breaking God’s laws. How about “weight”? A weight is something that’s not really wrong; it’s just extra. Unnecessary. You may have an innocent hobby that is fun and exhilarating and beneficial. But at a certain time in your life, it’s just one too many things bubbling over the top of your glass. 

Rick Warren has an interesting list. Notice: “A weight can be all kinds of things. It could be a relationship, it could be an expectation, it could be an activity, it could be a club, it could be a memory that you refuse to let go of, it could be a fear, it could be a job.” And then he coins this expression: “To grow, I must learn to say no.” 

Some good things may have to go if we want to have room for God in our lives. If we want to spend time each day reading our Bibles. If we are going to be involved in some form of small study group during the week. If we’re going to memorize Bible verses. 

So I have a specific request. Drop something. Pick something bad and trivial, or if you have to, pick something good, something worthwhile, and put it on the shelf. Maybe for the next few months, maybe forever. How much reading could you get done just by canceling one television rerun that you’ve already seen before? It says in Proverbs 10:27: Reverence for the Lord adds hours to each day. 

Have you ever had a day or a week where you stayed very busy but didn’t get that much accomplished? Many trivial things competed for your attentions all day long. What should I do? Where should I start? And sometimes you just kind of bump your way through a bunch of obligations and figure: “As long as I stay busy, and do useful things all day, every day, that’s what counts.” That’s sort of true, but on the other hand, there are times when you don’t just want to stay busy, you want to be doing the most important thing first, right now, today. It says in Psalm 39:6: All our busy rushing ends in nothing. So this is one more element of what we call discipline: putting first things first. Prioritizing. 

You all know the story of Mary and Martha, the Doublemint twins who were both Jesus’ good friends. When He came to visit one day, it’s interesting that the New Revised Standard Version says, She was distracted by her many tasks. Does that diagnosis ring a bell? We just have so many things going on, we can’t clearly see which ones are important. An Amy Grant hit entitled Hats makes this common complaint: I’m a mother, I’m a lover, I’m a working woman. Hats!  What am I supposed to do? Why do I have to wear so many roles? And here in Luke 10, Mary Stewart’s sister, Martha, is frazzled and fussy in the kitchen. She came to [Jesus] and asked, “Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me.” And Jesus gave her this quiet, soul-searching answer. “Martha, Martha, you’re worried and distracted by many things.” Someone has suggested that she had spiritual ADD. Then Jesus says this: Martha, there is a need of only one thing, and Mary has chosen the better part.” 

Sometimes it comes down to choosing just the one thing. “This one thing I do,” Paul once said. And Jesus says to Martha, “If you have to choose between doing the dishes or spending an hour right now with Me—especially because I’m HERE right now—there’s no contest. That’s a no-brainer. You can do the dishes any old time.” 

Here’s a way to put all of this in perspective. If we live to be eighty years old, that comes to 29,200 days. Let’s say you’re going to live on this earth for 29,200 days. Does it make sense to spend at least forty of those days making sure the other 29,160 are spent in purposeful living? And considering God’s children are going to live for all of eternity, then a few days of prayerful reflection now seems like an even more brilliant investment. 

The good news is this. We all know the feeling of being weak, of failing, of making resolutions and failing to keep them. Someone once said, “Americans spend $600 million a year on exercise equipment, not counting what it costs to store it.” But here as we commit ourselves to giving God all of us, and being disciplined—laying aside something else so we can add these new elements—we can know God is going to help us. Here’s one more Bible promise: Philippians 2:13. God is always at work in you, to make you willing and able to obey His own purpose. 

So: what does God wants? He wants all of us. He wants a 100% commitment. What’s it going to take? Discipline. Practice, practice, practice. Prioritizing. Getting out there and doing it. 

Now, number three. Why should I do it? Why? Why change my life and turn everything upside-down? I could give you a hundred answers to that question, and go through my own life testimony, my ups and downs and my eventual decision regarding the Christian faith. But the answer here is really two words long: The Cross. Why should we do this? Because of the cross. Jesus deserves it. Jesus gave His life so that we could live forever. We know that; we’ve heard it and said it all our lives . . . but now we’ve got to act on it. If the Calvary story is true, then we OWE Jesus that. 

If you and I today were to be confronted by a person whose sacrifice for us saved our lives, gave us an eternity of perfection and unparalleled joy, we would owe that person whatever we could give. We would owe them our life, our loyalty, our passion, our abilities, everything. And because of the Cross, it is absolutely appropriate that we give God what is His: all of us. Here’s II Corinthians 5:15: He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again. Romans 12:1: Brothers and sisters, in view of all we have just shared about God’s compassion, I encourage you to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, dedicated to God and pleasing to Him. “Don’t squander it,” Paul begs us over in II Corinthians. 

It’s my role as a pastor to paint a picture for you of how good a decision this can be. I want to tell you today: I love the Christian message. I love being a child of God. I don’t always live by the right priorities, but I have them. I know they’re true. I’ve seen it in my life and in the world around me and in the lives of people I hold very dear. When we make this lifelong decision to live a life that matches God’s purpose for us, it will be an incredibly rich, satisfying, marvelous, golden life . . . because we are disciplined enough to respond to Calvary and put God first. And the Bible says, “All these other things shall be added unto you.”

This is part 1 of a 8-part series: 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8

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