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A Wasted Life?
‘What a waste!’ said the woman at the party to my friend. This woman was talking about Bishop Sandy Millar, who had practised very successfully as a lawyer for ten years, before leaving it all behind to become an ordained minister in the church.
‘A waste?’ exclaimed my outraged friend. ‘Yes,’ said the woman, ‘such a waste! He could have made a fortune and been at the very top of the legal profession. Think of what he could have achieved!’
‘Think of what he has achieved!’ replied my friend – who was thinking of the impact of Sandy’s ministry on thousands of people around the world whose lives had been changed, marriages enriched and churches renewed. She was thinking of the thousands who had found faith, love, hope and peace through encountering Jesus Christ as a result of Sandy’s ministry.
In the New Testament passage for today the apostle Paul tells us the ‘very purpose’ of our lives (2 Corinthians 5:5). He tells us what our ‘goal’ should be (v.9).
Many have given up a successful career, a high salary and – in the eyes of the world – all their prospects, in order to serve God in ‘full-time ministry’ with little or no pay. They know that there is a high calling and purpose that far exceeds what the world can promise them.
Of course, those called to serve God in their roles and places of work have an equally high purpose and calling, if they are doing what they are doing in order to please God and for the sake of his kingdom.
So many people waste their lives. They have no purpose, meaning or goal. Other people do have a goal, but it is the wrong one. They end up chasing something that is ultimately meaningless. Many reach the top of the ladder of success only to find that it is leaning against the wrong wall.
Each of the passages for today tells us how to avoid wasting our lives. They tell us how to find the purpose and goal for which we were made.
1. Don’t be a pleasure seekerProverbs 21:17-26
Many people today lead hedonistic lives. Hedonism is the pursuit of pleasure as the ultimate goal. Hedonists become addicted to the things that give them pleasure.
‘You’re addicted to thrills? What an empty life!
The pursuit of pleasure is never satisfied’ (v.17, MSG).
The writer is not saying that there is anything wrong with pleasure. There is nothing wrong with enjoying good food and ‘oil’ (v.20). ‘There are precious treasures and oil in the dwelling of the wise, but a self-confident and foolish man swallows it up and wastes it’ (v.20, AMP).
Relationships are far more important than riches: ‘Better to live in a tent in the wild than with a cross and petulant spouse’ (v.17, MSG).
The purpose and goal of our lives must never revolve around material things. Rather, ‘Whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honour’ (v.21). This should be the aim of our life – to pursue a right relationship with God and a right relationship with others.
Love should be our aim. ‘Sinners are always wanting what they don’t have; the God-loyal are always giving what they do have’ (v.26, MSG).
The irony is that those who pursue righteousness and love find what the hedonist is seeking: ‘life, prosperity and honour’ (v.21b). But these are a by-product. They should not be our aim or purpose.
Jesus said, ‘Seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well’ (Matthew 6:33).
Lord, help us to seek your kingdom – to pursue righteousness and love in everything we do and not to waste our lives in pleasure seeking.
2. Make pleasing God the main thing2 Corinthians 5:1-10
Paul’s aim in life was not pleasure seeking. His main aim and purpose in life was to please God: ‘Pleasing God is the main thing, and that’s what we aim to do, regardless of our conditions’ (v.9, MSG).
We may face physical challenges. Our physical bodies may not be able to do we used to do. One day ‘these bodies of ours’ will be ‘taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven’ (vv.1–2, MSG). When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we are promised all the blessings of the kingdom of God. Yet we still feel weak and sinful, still experience hardship and frustration, and still live in a broken world. How much of the blessing of the kingdom must we wait for in the future, or on the last day, and how much do we experience here and now in the present?
In this passage we see that there is a balance between what we will experience in the future and what we experience now. Now, we are ‘away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight’ (vv.6–7). In the future, we will be ‘at home with the Lord’ (v.8). What is mortal will be ‘swallowed up by life’ (v.4). We will not experience the full blessing of the kingdom yet.
Nevertheless now, in the present, we experience a foretaste of the future. God has given us his Spirit as a ‘deposit, guaranteeing what is to come’ (v.5). ‘The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less’ (v.5, MSG). That deposit is not just an assurance – it is a piece of the not yet of God’s blessing, reign and rule in the now. That is what the Holy Spirit brings.
‘That’s why we live with such good cheer. You won’t see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don’t get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead’ (v.6, MSG).
In the meantime, ‘We make it our goal to please him’ (v.9). ‘Sooner or later we’ll all have to face God, regardless of our conditions. We will appear before Christ and take what’s coming to us as a result of our actions, either good or bad’ (v.10, MSG).
Lord, help us to make this goal the focus of our lives. Lord, I want to please you in everything I do, say and think. Help us as individuals and as a community to please you in this year ahead. May our worship please you. May our plans for all our meetings and actions, and our lifestyle please you.
3. Understand what pleases GodMicah 5:1-7:20
It is possible to have a wasted soul. God warns, through Micah:
‘Do you expect me to overlook obscene wealth
you’ve piled up by cheating and fraud?
Do you think I’ll tolerate shady deals
and shifty scheming? …
No matter how much you get, it will never be enough –
hollow stomachs, empty hearts.
No matter how hard you work, you’ll have nothing to show for it –
bankrupt lives, wasted souls’ (6:10–14, MSG).
At times, the prophet Micah looks forward (for example, see 7:7–20). At one point he looks further ahead than he probably realises. He sees a ruler coming from Bethlehem, ‘Whose origins are from of old, from ancient times … And he will be their peace’ (5:2,5a). He will be known as ‘Peacemaker of the world!’ (v.4b, MSG). The New Testament and the Christian church have always understood this to be a prophecy about Jesus.
At other times, the prophet Micah looks back. He looks at all that God has done for his people (see 6:3 onwards). He redeemed them. He led them (v.4). He urged them to ‘remember’ (v.5).
God is a God of astonishing love and mercy: ‘Mercy is your specialty. That’s what you love most. And compassion is on its way to us. You’ll stamp out our wrongdoing. You’ll sink our sins to the bottom of the ocean’ (7:18–19, MSG).
Thank the Lord for his amazing love made possible through the death of Jesus for us. Thank God that he has ‘hurled all our iniquities into the depths of the sea’ where there is ‘no fishing allowed’ as Corrie ten Boom used to say.
What will our response be to this amazing grace? How can we please God? How can we avoid wasting our lives? What does the Lord require of us? (6:8). Micah presents this challenge: ‘And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God’ (v.8). This threefold challenge gives us the purpose and goal of our lives.
First, to ‘act justly’ (v.8c). Justice is very high up on God’s agenda. Injustice causes so much of the world’s suffering today. I have to make this a higher priority in my own life and in our community. We must do more to see that the poor, the marginalised and the voiceless receive justice.
Second, we must ‘love mercy’ (v.8c). God has shown us such mercy. Our response should be to show mercy to others. As Joyce Meyer puts it, ‘People do not need to be pressured to perform perfectly; they need to be loved and accepted.’ We need to bring the message of the gospel of God’s love and mercy to as many people as possible. We need to show mercy to the prisoners, the homeless, the elderly and the poor.
Third, we need to ‘walk humbly with [our] God’ (v.8c). We should never see ourselves as better, above, or more important than other people. A proud person overestimates their own importance. They cannot laugh at themselves. ‘Don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously’ (v.8c, MSG). We cannot do any of this unless we are walking in a relationship with the Lord.
These three go together. It is meaningless to walk in relationship with the Lord if we do not act justly and show mercy. True faith is evidenced by how we live. This is why Paul writes that ‘the things done while in the body’ (2 Corinthians 5:10) really matter. We will be judged by them. They are the evidence of our faith.
Lord, help us to rise to Micah’s challenge. Help us to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. Help us to pursue righteousness and love, and to make it our goal to please Jesus.
2 Corinthians 5:10
‘We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that everyone may receive what is due them for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.’
In the light of that, I am so glad to read in Micah: ‘Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression … you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea’ (Micah 7:18–19).