This morning, let's begin by taking a trip together. We're going to a funeral. Yours. Doesn't that sound like fun? What's more, you get to witness the entire service. As you slip in the back door and take your seat, you see that the altar is covered with flowers, the organ is playing softly, and the funeral chapel is full of people who have come to bid you farewell.
Four people have been asked to make a few remarks about you. Who do you imagine they would be? The first is a member of your family. The second is one of your friends. The third is someone you work with. The fourth is someone from church. They're all going to say a few things about you, but there's a catch that will make this funeral different than some, everything they say about you will be true.
Now, think for a minute. What would you like each speaker to be able to say about you? What kind of person do you want them to say that you were? What kind of husband, wife, father, or mother? What kind of friend or fellow worker? What would you want them to say about your character? Which achievements would you want them to mention? As you look around at the people who are there, what difference would you like to have made in their lives? What phrases would you like to hear? Maybe....
"He was a hard-worker."
"She always had a smile."
"You could depend on him for anything...He never let me down."
"I've never met a more honest person."
"She was generous and caring."
Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says that thinking through these questions--deciding what you would want people to say at your funeral--can help you determine your purpose in life. Thinking through these questions will also help you make plans for the future so that you don't find yourself some day looking back on your life and regretting those things you did and didn't do.
Today we're going to examine what the Bible says about planning your future. In planning your life, there are two mistakes to avoid. One is to spend your whole life focused on the future to the extent that you miss out on the significance of today. The other is to spend your life living only for today with total disregard for the future. The Bible warns against both. There is, however, a happy medium-a balance that can be achieved. This is it; Live Today Like It Matters For All Eternity-because it does. Each day of our lives has eternal significance. What you do today will make a difference in how you perceive the value of your life when your time on earth is through. What's more, what you do today will continue to be significant even thousands of years from now.
The Bible says...
Proverbs 14:8 (NKJV) The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way, But the folly of fools is deceit.
Today, we're going to look at some ways to manage your life in a way that will help you reach your goals and accomplish things that last far beyond your lifetime. Maybe you wasted yesterday--maybe you wasted all your yesterdays--but today is yours. Today you can take charge of today, and begin doing things to ensure that you get the most out of today, and in the process you will make your future what you want it to be. Here are three things you can do to plan a life without regrets. First of all...
1. Decide the kind of person you want to be-,and do something today to make it true.
What kind of person do you want to be? If someone were to speak at your funeral, what would you want them to be able to say truthfully about you? This question was asked in a home Bible study and received some interesting answers. Two, in particular, are worth mentioning. One person said, "I want people to say she wasn't out to make friends; she only cared about doing what was right." Another person said, "I want to be remembered as someone who was sensitive to the hurts of others." The first person worked in a place where she frequently had to make unpopular decisions based on what she thought was best for her company; the second was involved in social services. Both of these people were committed Christians; each one had a different idea about what was most important to them in character development. One answer isn't better than the other, but each one gives a clear indication of what is important to that person.
As Stephen Covey suggests, think about what you want people to be able to say at your funeral. What values are most important to you?
As we read the writings of Paul, it is obvious that he placed a great deal of importance on consistency and faithfulness. Near the end of his ministry he wrote:
2 Timothy 4:6-8 (NKJV) For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
As Paul faced the end of his physical life, he says that he has kept the faith. He had remained faithful to living a life that honored Christ. He had no regrets, no remorse, no sorrow for tasks unfinished. Earlier in his ministry, Paul said:
Acts 20:22-24 (NKJV) "And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, 23 "except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. 24 "But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
Nothing mattered to Paul except being faithful to God's call. If you were to ask Paul the question, "What do you want to be true about you?" He would most likely say, "I want to be faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ to the very end." How did he make sure that it happened? He knew what kind of person he wanted to be, and everyday he disciplined and structured his life to make it come about. That's why he said:
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NKJV) Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. 25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. 26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. 27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
Needless to say, Paul is using an athletic metaphor in these verses. The point he is making is; in order to be found faithful at the end of his race, he had to be faithful today. He lived everyday like it had eternal significance.
You are probably aware that Bill Gates is the richest man in America. He is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 billion dollars. Gates has been criticized by some well-known philanthropists for not being generous with his wealth. His response has always been, "In the future I plan to make significant contributions." I am not criticizing or passing judgment on Bill Gates--it is, after all, HIS money. He can do whatever he wants to with it. But the fact is, if Bill Gates--or anyone in the world--is serious about becoming a generous person, he or she should start being generous "today."
Do you want to live a life of significance? Do something significant today. Do you want to be generous? Give today. Do you want to be known as a kind person? Be kind today. Whatever you want to be true about you, do something today to start making it true. In fact, I would like to give you a little homework assignment to work on this week. Today, after you go home, think of the three most important character qualities you would like to develop over the course of your life. For the next week, do at least one thing each day that will move you in the direction of making that character quality a reality in your life.
For example, if you want to be a considerate person, then for the next seven days go out of your way to be considerate AT LEAST ONCE each day. If you do this with each quality, at the end of the week you will have taken 21 steps toward becoming the kind of the person you want to be. This seems simple, but it works. People who live lives of significance don't get there by accident, they get there by effort.
When Benjamin Franklin was 27 years old, he decided he would take control of his life. He selected 12 virtues he wanted to acquire, and kept a daily chart of his progress in the development of each one. Whenever he missed the mark, he put a black dot beside that virtue. His goal was to ultimately have no dots on the chart. This method contributed to Franklin's success as an inventor, publisher, and statesman.
The Bible says:
Proverbs 14:15 (NKJV) The simple believes every word, But the prudent considers well his steps.
In Alice in Wonderland, there is a scene where Alice asks Cheshire Cat, "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?" The cat replies "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to." Alice says, "I don't much care where..." and the cat replies, "Then it doesn't matter which way you go." Alice says that she just wants to get somewhere, and Cheshire Cat tells her, "Oh, you're sure to do that if you only walk long enough."
We are certain to end up somewhere. The important question you must ask yourself is "Where am I going?"
Secondly, in planning a life without regrets, you must:
2. Focus on what you want to accomplish, rather than what you want to get.
I've been to a number of goal-setting seminars, and the leader nearly always encourages people to make a wish-list of things they want to have. They always urge us to "State it in the positive, like you have already received it." Such as, "I earn $100,000 a year; I own a new Mercedes; I live in a 5,000 square foot home."
The main problem with this kind of goal setting (aside from the fact that it is silly) is that the entire focus is on what you get. There is a big difference between having things and living a life of significance.
Try a different approach. Instead of setting a goal for how much money you will get, set a goal for how much money you will give. Or, instead of setting a goal for a certain promotion, set a goal for what you could do to make yourself more valuable as an employee. The difference is more than just a matter of semantics; it's a matter of focus.
I read about a man who decided to give $15,000 to his church's building fund. He said, "When I made that pledge, I realized that it wouldn't be easy to pull it off--so I rolled up my shirt sleeves and prepared myself for some hard work." Last year his hard work paid off. He made more money than he ever has before in a single year, and he was able to meet the pledge. He said, "I never would have worked that hard for a new TV or a new car, but I was willing to put in the extra hours because I knew I was contributing to a ministry that would change lives."
Some people spend their entire lives working jobs they despise because it offers security; it enables them to have things. Take my word for it; things aren't worth it. Things don't make your life significant. Jesus said:
Luke 12:15 (NKJV) And He said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses."
The significance you have in life is determined by what you do - what you give -not what you get. The Bible says:
Proverbs 11:4 (NKJV) Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, But righteousness delivers from death.
What is Solomon saying? He's reminding us that what you accomplish is more important than what you have. It is your accomplishments, not your acquisitions, that give your life significance. Think about what you want to accomplish--what you want to do with your life. Choose to do something you love.
A man was telling a friend about his son in medical school. He said that his son wanted to be a general practitioner, but he wanted him to specialize in something--anything--because specialists make more money. It's not as if a GP is at risk of starving! Anyone who graduates from medical school is pretty much assured a comfortable living. Instead of pursuing money, pursue a career that you love. Loving your job is far more important than being able to afford a bigger house or a nicer car.
The principle here is simple: To live a life of significance, do what you love. Success, rewards, money, promotions--they may or may not happen. Do what you love and your life will have an impact.
I believe with all my heart that if you are committed to doing God's will in your life, God will give you a dream of what you can accomplish, and he will give you the ability to do it--if your focus is on accomplishing something good, rather than accumulating things. The Bible says:
Proverbs 11:23 (NKJV) The desire of the righteous is only good, But the expectation of the wicked is wrath.
If you're committed to doing God's will, he will give you a dream of what you can accomplish in life.
Ricky Freeman is a baseball player, he plays in the AA league for the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx. He is at the stage in his career where he realizes that he probably won't get called up to the big leagues, but he's okay with that. He said recently, "I wouldn't turn down an offer to play in the majors, but if it doesn't happen that doesn't mean I have failed. After all, I get to play baseball for a living, and that's all I really wanted to do." In fact, during the baseball strike of 1996, Ricky said, "I feel sorry for those pro players who went on strike. They had to stop playing for the whole summer. The minor league players got to finish out the season." In Jackson, Ricky enjoys local celebrity status, and he uses it to his advantage. He speaks at churches and schools, urging kids to recognize that God is the most important part of their lives. Here is a man who is doing what he loves to do, and using it to help others make a connection with Christ. He could have made more money as an accountant or a stock-broker; instead, he is investing his life doing what he loves and using it to help others. His life is having impact on others because he is living every day like it has eternal significance. This is what makes life meaningful.
A third way you can create a significant life is:
3. Look for eternal significance in all you do.
Three brick-workers were asked what they were doing. One said, "I'm laying bricks." Another said, "I'm making $17.50 an hour." The third said, "I'm building a cathedral for the glory of God." All three were doing the same job, yet all three had a different perspective about it. Do you see the eternal significance in what you do? You will if you use each opportunity for God's glory.
In the book, Do Yourself a Favor, Love Your Wife there is a story about a certain little boy who was asked what his father did. The boy answered, "He watches." "You mean he is a night watchman?" "Oh no", the little boy exclaimed, "He just watches." "Well, what does he watch?" "I don't know if I can tell you everything," the boy continued, "But I can name a few things." "Well, tell me," the curious man replied. "He watches TV, he watches Mom do the housework, he watches for the paper boy, he watches the weather, and I think he watches girls, too." he said with an impish grin on his face. "He watches the stock market, football games, all the sports, he watches Mom spank us, and he watches us do our homework. He watches us leave to go to Church and PTA and shopping. He watches Mom write letters and me play with my dog. He watches Mom pay the bills. But mainly, he just watches."
There are those in every church, and in every family, who just sit back and watch. If this is characteristic of your life, it will be hard to find eternal significance in your life. You have to do something in order to find eternal significance in it.
The key to significance--to living a satisfying life without regrets--is in recognizing the eternal value of the little things you do. A young widow told this story; it was about a year after her husband, Tim, had passed away. She and her family were having Thanksgiving Dinner and everyone was saying what they were thankful for. Her 8 year old son said, "I'm thankful for the days that Dad went outside and played catch with me." The woman said, "Tim's office was at the house. Whenever a client missed an appointment, he would take Michael outside to play catch. He did it to defuse his anger over the client missing a session; he had no idea he was creating a memory that would last a lifetime." Then she said, "If he had realized how significant it was, I'm sure he would have done it more often."
The most compelling question every Christian must ask is this, "What am I doing today that will guarantee my impact for Jesus Christ in the next generation?"
Dr. Howard Hendricks, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary tells the story of a man who made a difference in his life.
Dr. Hendricks was born in to a broken home in Philadelphia. His parents were separated before he was born. He never saw them together but once - when he was called into a divorce court to testify. He states, "I'm sure I could have been reared, died and gone to hell and nobody would have particularly cared, except that small group of believers that got together in my neighborhood to start an evangelical church. That small group of individuals developed a passion for their community."
Walt belonged to that church, and he went to the Sunday School Superintendent and said, "I want to teach a Sunday School Class." The superintendent said, "Wonderful, Walt, but we don't have any boys. Go out into the community. Anybody you pick up - that's your class."
Dr. Hendricks said that he would never forget the day that he met Walt. Walt was six feet, four inches tall. He said to me as a little kid, "Hey son, how would you like to go to Sunday School?" Well, anything that had "school" in it had to be bad news. Then he said, "How would you like to play marbles?" That was different! Would you believe that six foot, four man got down and we played marbles, and he beat Dr. Hendricks every single game? By the time that Walt got through, I didn't care where he was going -- that's where I wanted to go. For your information -- he picked up 13 boys (9 from broken homes). Today, 11 of those 13 boys are in full time vocational Christian Work. And Walt never went to school beyond the sixth grade.
Here is a man that made a difference. Isn't that what you want to do--make a difference in the lives of your children, your co-workers, your community? We all do. But how?
Every day matters. The details of our lives may seem mundane, but they are filled with eternal significance. We may think we're just killing time, but we could be strengthening the bond of a relationship. It may just seem like small talk to us, but we could be saying something that will change someone's life forever. We may think we're just laying bricks, but we could be building a cathedral for the glory of God. Look for meaning in the little things.
We see this principle in the life of Christ, again and again. He would be having a meal with a friend and turn it into a life-changing experience. He would be walking along the road with his disciples and see a tree, and teach his disciples a lesson in faith.
Do you want to create a life without regrets? Remember this: There are no throw-away moments. Every day matters. Look for the eternal significance in your work, your words, your relationships, your actions.
Each year there is a "Sand-Sculpting Contest" near the ocean in Newport Beach, California. Artists create incredible works of art: castles, faces, dragons, cars, and so on--all built with sand. It takes incredible talent to be able to do this, and thousands of visitors come each year to "ooh" and "aah" over these masterpieces.
However, if you go visit the same stretch of beach a few days after the competition, you'll see that all these magnificent works of art are gone. The beach looks like it did before the contest. Those incredible works of art have all been washed away by the tide.
Your life doesn't have to be that way. It doesn't have to be washed away and forgotten. You can live a life of significance. You can become the person you want to be, you can accomplish what you want to accomplish. The key is to live today like it matters for all eternity--because it does.