Do you find that there are times when you just have to ask, "Why?" Why do they call it a TV set when you only have one? Why do doctors call what they do "practice?" Why are there interstate highways in Hawaii? Why is it that when you transport something by car, it's called a shipment, but when you transport something by ship, it's called cargo? Why isn't the word "phonetic" spelled the way it sounds? Why do tugboats push their barges? And, last but not least, why do they put Braille dots on the keypad of the drive-up ATM? Sometimes you just have to ask, "Why?" A first year college student went to take his final exam in meteorology. The exam consisted of one essay question which read, "Why is the sky blue?" In answer to this essay question the student wrote the following:
Ah...A two point question. As to the first point 'Why?' This is a question that has plagued scholars, philosophers and theologians throughout the ages. Who am I, a mere first year college student, that I should attempt to answer this eternal mystery. I must humbly submit that I do not possess the divine wisdom to answer this first point.
But as to the second point, 'Is the sky blue?' The answer is 'Yes'
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?
WHY? That is the question that everyone asks at some time in their life. And sooner or later everyone seems to ask these two questions,"Why am I here" and "Why is this happening to me?" Hard questions. To put it simply, "What is the meaning of life?" (Long pause) Do You have an answer to that question? The way you answer this question will determine how you live your life or even if you actually LIVE IT. For your definition of the meaning of life determines how you will then live your life. If you think life is something you endure until you die, then that is how you will live. You will endure your existence until it's finally over. If, on the other hand, you think life is an adventure of growing in faith and hope, then you will really live and enjoy each day.
A man named Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychologist, discovered this great truth in the midst of a Jewish concentration camp during WW II. While seeking to survive the horror of this imprisonment, Frankl began observing his fellow prisoners in the hope of discovering what coping mechanism would help him endure this horrendous existence. What Frankl discovered was this; those individuals who could not accept what was happening to them, who could not make their present suffering fit with their faith, who could not find its meaning in their world view... they despaired, lost hope, and eventually gave up and died. But those individuals that could find a meaning from their faith, were then able to find hope for a future beyond their present suffering, and so could accept what they were enduring as a part of their existence, and they survived.
So what is the meaning of life? If you don't have an answer the world will be quick to supply you with one. A bumper sticker proclaims "The one who dies with the most toys wins!" - proclaiming life as a materialistic quest. For many their philosophy is, "Eat, Drink and be Merry, for tomorrow you may die." But in light of events like Ethnic Cleansing, Columbine High School, and the Baptist Church in Texas, these reasons for living seem hollow and vain. And we must ask ourselves, are we offering our children a faith that gives meaning to life, a faith that is worth dying for or simply a life that's not worth living? In light of all the evil and the good that is in our world, how is one to discover the meaning to this life - a meaning that can help us face all that comes our way?
I think the meaning of life can be summed up in eight words found in:
Ephesians 6:6 (NKJV) not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, DOING THE WILL OF GOD FROM THE HEART,
This is what life is all about. We are to be "doing the will of God from the heart." God created us, He is the author of life and if we are ever going to live life to the fullest, it will be by living in the will of God. Does that make sense?
When I talk about God's will, I am referring to two things: God's moral will, the Bible, which tells us how to live; and God's sovereign will or providence - His predetermined plan for everything that happens in the universe. Our response to God's moral will is to be obedience. Our response to his sovereign will is to be submission.
I think that "doing the will of God from the heart" involves: actively obeying God and passively submitting to the circumstances that a Sovereign God brings into your life.
So, the answer to our first question; "Why am I here?" is to actively do the will of God. Now I know that that sounds overwhelming but hang on as we look at a little history.
Back in Jesus' day there were two religious groups that both claimed to know how to find the meaning to life. As good Jews, the people of God, they turned to the scripture to answer that question. The first answer was supplied by the Sadducees and the second by the Pharisees . The Sadducees took the conservative approach to the scripture. They said that if it isn't in the Laws of Moses, it doesn't matter. The result was that they preserved the message that came down to them, but they were too rigid and couldn't adapt to change. They didn't even consider the words of prophets like Amos and Isaiah to be binding. Even so, that approach left them with 613 laws to remember and follow every day to do God's will. If you asked one of them what the will of God was they would say, "Here are 613 laws, memorize them."
The other group, the Pharisees, took a different approach. So that they would not become rigid like the Sadducees, they were constantly interpreting the law. To adapt to new situations they were constantly adding new interpretations to the laws of Moses. These new interpretations were meant to fill in the gaps left by those 613 laws handed down from Moses. The result was that their understanding of the will of God was even more complex than the Sadducees. If you had asked one of them what the will of God was, they would have said "Here are the 613 laws of Moses, and here is a library of commentaries on those laws. Memorize them."
Both the Sadducees and the Pharisees believed the meaning to life flowed from the "will of God", and God's Will could be discovered by dedicated study of God's Word. A scribe or priest had time to do all that studying. But what about a fisherman or a homemaker or a farmer? How were they supposed to do God's will and take care of their families? They didn't have the time or the resources to learn all those laws. The common people were still in need of an answer.
Jesus made it clear for all to understand what the will of God was. In the text of Matthew 22, Jesus has silenced the Sadducees, the conservatives. We can imagine that the Pharisees, the liberals, felt threatened. And so before he could do the same to them, they sought to catch him off balance.
Matthew 22:34-36 (NKJV) But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?"
They got someone who knew the laws of Moses better than anyone else and they asked this cleaver guy to devise a question to trip Jesus up. This guy was a lawyer , he knew how to manipulate words, and he came up with a real doosy of a question. It was, "Of all the laws, which is the greatest?" You see, everybody had their favorite law and if Jesus didn't pick it, they would be offended. They could also get him for excluding all the others and say he was against all the laws save the one he picked. Jesus answered and said,
Matthew 22:37-40 (NKJV) Jesus said to him, " 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 "This is the first and great commandment. 39 "And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."
This was radical stuff. It revolutionized the whole "Will of God" enterprise. You know how miniaturization has revolutionized the electronics industry - what used to take a room full of vacuum tubes can now be put on a computer chip. The ability to perform complex mathematical calculations now fits in the palm of your hand or in your shirt pocket. That is what Jesus did to the will of God. He took volumes and volumes of law and commentary and put it in a few simple words. He put the will of the Almighty God of the universe in a nut shell that you can carry around and look at any time. This teaching could put the Pharisees and Sadducees out of business. Any farmer or homemaker could learn Jesus' answer and thereby know how to do the will of God. They wouldn't need to go to the Sadducees and Pharisees anymore to get them to explain what God's will was. It was ingenious. It didn't exclude any of the other laws that God had given to the people. Instead it summed them up. This double commandment was the law and the Prophets in a nutshell. "The Law" referred to the books of Moses and "The prophets" to the rest of the Old Testament. The whole kit and caboodle was now in a reader's digest condensed form.
So to answer our first question, "Why am I here?". We are here to love God and love our neighbor. Is this your reason for living or is it merely to avoid trouble and pain? Why did you get out of bed and come to church this morning? Is it out of a sense of duty - to get someone or something off your back? Or is it to express your love - to worship and enjoy the family of God? The meaning of life is quite simple: "Love God and your neighbor." You can try to serve another purpose if you want. But your meaning of life will not give your life any meaning. The only way to find meaning is to make God's definition of the meaning to existence your own.
Legend has it that a there was once a wealthy merchant who traveled through the Mediterranean world looking for the distinguished Pharisee, Paul. He encountered Timothy, who arranged a visit. Paul was, at the time, a prisoner in Rome. Stepping inside the cell, the merchant was surprised to find a rather old man, physically frail, but whose serenity and magnetism challenged the visitor. They talked for hours. Finally, the merchant left with Paul's blessing. Outside the prison, the concerned man inquired, "What is the secret of this man's power? I have never seen anything like it before." Did you not guess?" replied Timothy. "Paul is in love." The merchant looked bewildered. "In Love?" "Yes," Timothy answered, "Paul is in love with Jesus Christ." The merchant looked even more bewildered. "Is that all?" Smiling, Timothy replied, "Sir, that is everything."
Love truly is everything. It was at the heart of all Jesus did. He healed the sick, because he loved. He raised the dead, because he loved. He preached the gospel of peace, because he loved. He died and rose again, because he loved. And he calls us to follow His example:
John 15:12 (NKJV) "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
You have to decide that you will live to glorify God and love your neighbor. It is a conscious commitment that all you do will be in service to God and others. If loving God and your neighbor is your reason for living, then your life will have meaning. God's love will define your actions. And his hope will fill your life.
Now let's look at our second question, "Why is this happening to me?" Listen believer, it is happening to you because it is the will of God.
God's moral will is revealed in the Scriptures and we don't have to ask, "What is God's will?". We know His moral will. Jesus tells us that we are to love God and love our neighbor. Our response to God's moral will is obedience. Now, we all struggle with selfishness so it is often hard to love God and our neighbor. As hard as obedience can be, I think that believers have a greater problem with God's sovereign will than His moral will. We are to obey God's moral will as revealed in the Scriptures, but we are also to submit to God's sovereign will of providence.
God's sovereign will involves everything that takes place in life. All events in time proceed from His plan, and absolutely nothing takes place by chance. Let me give you several things that the Scriptures reveal about God's sovereign will:
1. It is Certain:
Daniel 4:35 (NKJV) All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, "What have You done?"
God's sovereign will cannot be frustrated by men, angels, or anything else. The sinner who tries to defy God's plan may shake his fist to the heavens, but God has determined how many times he shakes it, and whether that man will live to shake his fist tomorrow.
Ephesians 1:11 (NKJV) In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,
The things that happen in this life are simply the working out of what God has planned from eternity.
2. God's sovereign will is Exhaustive:
It includes the germ as well as the galaxies. God determines who lands on park place. James says, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that." Not only our lives are under God's sovereign control, but so are our actions. God determines the president's personal plans:
Proverbs 21:1 (NKJV) The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.
God determines the numbers that come up when the dice are thrown:
Proverbs 16:33 (NKJV) The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD.
God rules over all the affairs of men:
Daniel 2:21 (NKJV) And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise And knowledge to those who have understanding.
Daniel 4:25 (NKJV) They shall drive you from men, your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make you eat grass like oxen. They shall wet you with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, till you know that THE MOST HIGH RULES IN THE KINGDOM OF MEN, and gives it to whomever He chooses.
No one can act outside of God's sovereign will or against it. Centuries ago, Augustine said, "Nothing, therefore, happens unless the Omnipotent wills it to happen: he either permits it to happen, or he brings it about himself." God calls ALL the shots, He rules over all. Why is that? Because He is God. The sovereignty of God is asserted, either expressly or implicitly, on almost every page of the Bible.
The Christian who has a mature understanding and trust in God's sovereign plan is spiritually prepared for anything. He doesn't understand why he had to endure some difficulty, but he will know that his experience was part of the sovereign plan of an all-wise and loving God. All of our "Why is this happening to me" questions must ultimately have the same answer - our loving God, in His sovereign wisdom, willed it so. His plan is perfect.
Now let's be honest, when circumstances don't go the way we want them to, the way we've planned, we usually get upset. Would you say that that was true? While I was typing these very words my computer crashed causing me to lose some of the work I had done. This upset me! But why? If we believe that God controls every event in time, if we believe that nothing happens apart from His sovereign plan, then why do circumstances upset us? The answer to that question is this; we get upset by circumstances because our will conflicts with God's will. We don't like God's plan. We want it our way. Listen believer, it is not only important that we live in obedience to God's moral will, it is also important that we live in submission to his providential will.
What ever it is that we are going through, we may be sure that our Father has a loving purpose in it. We need to learn to submit to God's providential will even when we don't understand.
Let me give you a biblical illustration of a man who submitted to God's will of providence even when it meant great pain to him. Eli was the high priest of Israel. In 1 Samuel 3, we learn how God revealed to the young child Samuel that He was about to kill Eli's two sons for their sinfulness. The next day Samuel communicates this message to the aged priest. It is difficult to conceive of a more difficult message for a parent to receive. The message that his children are going to be suddenly killed, under any circumstances, would be a great trial for any father. Yet, this was the message to Eli. What was his response when he received these tragic words from Samuel? What did he say when he heard the awful news?
1 Samuel 3:18 (NKJV) Then Samuel told him everything, and hid nothing from him. And he said, "It is the LORD. Let Him do what seems good to Him."
Believers, that is submission! He knew God and he trusted God. He didn't argue with him or try to talk God out of his plan. He simply bowed to God's sovereign will in humble trust. When is the last time things went contrary to what you wanted and you said, "It is the Lord, let Him do what seems good to Him?"
Another biblical example would be that of the life of Job. According to scripture, Job was "blameless and upright". If ever there was a man who might reasonably expect Divine providence to smile upon him, it was Job. For a time things went great for him. The Lord blessed him with seven sons and three daughters. He prospered him in his business until he owned great possessions. But suddenly things changed. In a single day Job lost not only his flocks and herds, but his sons and daughters as well. News arrived that his cattle had been carried off by robbers, and his children slain by a cyclone. How did he receive this news? Notice carefully his reply to a catastrophe that is beyond what we could even imagine:
Job 1:20-22 (NKJV) Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD." 22 In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.
Have you ever suddenly received real bad news? I have. I was awakened early one morning by a phone call. When I answered the phone my brother said, "David, Dad died." I was devastated! I hurt worse than I ever had. I had just lost my father. But, Job lost ten children and all his wealth.
Notice that Job traced his afflictions back to their first cause. He looked behind the Sabeans who had stolen his cattle, and beyond the winds that had destroyed his children, and saw the hand of God. He said, "The Lord has taken away." But not only did Job recognize God's sovereignty, he humbly submitted to it. Job trusted God because he knew God. He knew that God was sovereign, and in this he rejoiced.
When loss after loss came Job's way, what did he do? Did he cry about his "bad luck"? Curse the robbers? Murmur against God? NO; he humbly bowed before Him in worship. Believer, we, like Job, must learn to humbly submit to God's providential will.
Our desires are often different than God's will for us, but if we really love God, we must humbly submit to His will. Look at Jesus' attitude as he prays that his circumstance may be different:
Luke 22:41-42 (NKJV) And He was withdrawn from them about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done."
Jesus is saying, "I don't want to go to the cross. Is there any other way to save the world?" He knows that Judas is on his way with the chief priests and elders to arrest Him. He knows that He'll be mocked, insulted, spit upon, scourged, killed. More, He knows that the wrath of holy God will shortly fall upon Him.
Note that little word "cup". "Father," he says in His prayer of vs 42, "if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me." The word "cup" contains very graphic Old Testament imagery.
Psalms 11:6 (NKJV) Upon the wicked He will rain coals; Fire and brimstone and a burning wind Shall be the portion of their cup.
The cup was the symbol of God's wrath. Whoever had to drink that cup had to confront the wrath of the Most High. That wrath of God was nothing to blink at, and therefore, the cup was no small thing either.
But notice Jesus' attitude, "Nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done." Jesus wanted it different, but he humbly submits to God's will. How often do we pray, "Father, take this circumstance from me." It's probably not too often that we pray, "Nevertheless not my will, but Yours, be done." We need to learn to submit to God's sovereign will for our lives.
Let me give you a non-biblical illustration of a man who humbly submitted to God's will of providence when it was very painful.
Adanirum Judson was the first American missionary to be sent over seas. He went to Berma. Fourteen years after leaving America all he had to show for his labor were graves of his wife and all his children. He was alone, he experienced imprisonments and life threatening situations, he contracted diseases of a dangerous nature. Yet he was faithful to remain, he never quit. He said, "If I had not felt certain that every trial was ordered by infinite love and mercy, I could not have survived my accumulated sufferings." He didn't see his situation as "bad luck" or an attack of the devil. He saw all his trials as "ordered by God." His theology gave him strength. He humbly accepted God's sovereign will.
"Your will be done" - The Heidelberg Catechism gives a paraphrase of those words this way, "Help us and all people to reject our own wills and to obey your will without any back talk. Your will alone is good. Help everyone carry out the work they are called to as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven." (Q/A 124)
Believers, the answer to the question, "Why am I here?" You are here to live out God's moral will of loving God with all that is in you and loving your neighbor as yourself. And the answer to the question, "Why is this is happening to me?" It is happening to you, because it is God's sovereign will for your life. Submit to it with humble dependance.
The all Wise, all Loving Creator of the universe has given us life, and if you really want to enjoy it, obey His moral will and submit to his sovereign will.