The Greatest Use of Life

William James said…

“The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast us.”

The overwhelming majority of things we do during the day are profoundly temporary. Driving here or there. Having a meal. Watching TV.

Even at work, what we do is more often about fixing yesterday’s problems than realizing tomorrow’s dreams.

So how do we bring a sense of the eternal into each day? How do we ensure we spend our lives building something that will outlast our time here on earth?

The only two things that last forever are the Word of God and people. If you want to build something in your life that will last, look for ways to connect these two.

Look for ways to speak God’s Word into the lives of others. This involves more than quoting Bible verses, though that is certainly part of it. It involves bringing the presence of God into every conversation.

Paul said…

But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. (1 Corinthians 14:3)

This kind of prophecy doesn’t require a microphone or a podium. In fact, it’s most effectively done one-on-one.

Try it today. In every conversation, ask yourself, “How can I help this person experience experience more of God’s strength? How can I encourage him or her to keep pressing on? What words can I use to help them feel the comfort of God’s Spirit?”

It may require only a sentence or two, but every time you do this you’ll be building something that will last for all eternity.

Just Like New Year’s Day

I love New Years Day, not only for the bowl games and the black-eyed peas, but for the new beginning it represents. It’s a chance to press “reset.” You can close out last year’s books, leave yesterday behind, and look ahead with a fresh determination to the changes you know you need to make.

This is also why I love Mondays. It’s like a mini-New Year’s Day — and we get 52 of them to work with every calendar year.

Each Monday you can build on the success of last week, or you can wipe the slate clean and give it another go. Or, better yet, you can do a little bit of both.

Today, as you map out your strategy for the coming week, consider focusing on two areas.

1.) Is there a success can you build on? Is there an area in which you can set the bar a little a higher and demand a little more from yourself? Challenge yourself to move to the next level.

2.) Is there an area in which you failed to meet expectations? An area in which you could have done better, should have done better, but didn’t quite measure up? Rather than berating yourself, or throwing in the towel, give yourself permission to try again.
Dozens of items will find their way onto your to-do list this week; I’m encouraging you to zero in on two: one to build on and another to take back into the boxing ring.

Confronting both will keep you moving in the right direction.

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

It’s Monday, friends. It’s like a mini-New Year’s Day. Time to press reset and press on toward the prize.

One Thing I Do

Two hundred years ago Anna Letitia Baurbald wrote, “The most characteristic mark of a great mind is to choose some one important object, and pursue it for life.”

The mark of greatness hasn’t changed. Those who are great pursue one important object — and they do it for life.

Paul said, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-13)

Paul also said, “Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24) He’s telling us that successful accomplishment of our ministry and spiritual ideals should always be our objective.

What one thing do you want to pursue for the rest of your life? I encourage you to follow Paul’s example: put the past behind you once and for all, get your eyes focused on your goal, and pursue it with all your heart.

Lessons From the Crowd

Living in the Nashville area, I am something of a Tennessee football fan — both the Titans and the Volunteers. (Actually, my first love is Oklahoma State football, but that’s not central to today’s post.)

Most football fans are aware that Tennessee lost a thriller to Florida last Saturday — a heart breaking loss.

A quick recap: When Tennessee tied the score with a minute to go, the game seemed headed for overtime. Then, just as time ran out, the Gators won on a 63 yard precision pass play that no one — especially the Vols — saw coming.

After watching the game live on Saturday, I watched it again on the SEC Network playback later in the week, glutton for punishment that I am .

And that’s when I noticed the point I want to make today.

It happened just moments before the winning play. Florida, at their own 35, had just run the ball up the middle for a short gain. Then they wasted some time on the clock before calling time out.

Of course, as I watched the playback, I knew what was coming next.

But those in the stands watching it live didn’t know what was coming next, and the Florida crowd didn’t like the play call at all.

When the clock finally stopped with nine seconds to go, the fans began to boo — loudly. It appeared to them that their team had squandered an opportunity.

As it turns out, the Gators had squandered nothing. On the next play they scored the game-winning touchdown and the rumbling boos were replaced with thunderous cheers and joyous celebration.

Now, here’s my point.

The booing before the winning play was loud. Loud enough to distract a less-than-focused team. Loud enough to rattle a less-than-confident quarterback.

But the Gators, to my chagrin, paid no attention to the noise from the stands. They just ran the next play and won the game in highlight-reel fashion.

There are some lessons to learn here.

First. You can be one play away from an earth-shaking victory … and still get booed.

Second. Those booing you now might be cheering you soon. And vice-versa. Crowds tend to be fickle.

Third. Don’t let the grumbling from the bleachers throw you off your game — especially when you’re trying to correct a mistake. Simply do next what you know you’re called to do, and do it as well as you can.

Last, but not least — if you’re the Vols, cover the deep guy.

Two can stand back to back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple braided cord is not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

It Takes Two

John Maxwell tells a story about a young boy selling pencils door-to-door in his neighborhood for a nickel apiece. One prospective buyer asked him what he planned to do with the money.

He said, “I’m trying to raise a million dollars to help build a new hospital.”

The buyer said, “That’s a big job for just one boy, isn’t it?”

“It’s not so hard,” the boy said. “I’ve got a friend helping me.”

It’s amazing how much smaller even the biggest tasks become when you’ve got someone beside you. Too many times we tackle challenges alone and try to solve problems on our own — and ultimately we learn that working this way makes us vulnerable to discouragement and defeat.

When you accepted the call to ministry, or even the call to discipleship, you took on an enormous job. You can’t do it alone. It takes two, at least. You need someone to help you get the job done.

I challenge you this week to consider a few things.

• Take a minute to identify your partners. In each project, think about their role and your role, how you complement one another, and how you can build on one another’s strengths. Make it a point this week to focus on what’s right in the relationship, not what’s wrong.

• Take on a partner. In the areas where you struggle — personal, spiritual, career, ministry — ask yourself, “Who can I bring in to help me make this better?” Whatever you’re trying to accomplish, having a team member can get you there faster.

• Lend a hand. Is there someone you know in the midst of a massive pencil selling campaign? Maybe you can pitch in long enough to help them bring their project to the finish line.

Solomon talked about this idea in Ecclesiastes. He talks about how futile it is to work alone. He reminds us…

Two people can accomplish more than twice as much as one; they get a better return for their labor. (Ecclesiastes 4:9)

More importantly, Solomon reminds us that working with a team helps one bounce back more quickly from defeat.

If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble. (Ecclesiastes 4:10)

Solomon finishes this thought by saying…

Two can stand back to back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple braided cord is not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

Do you want to put your life in overdrive? Bring on a partner. Or two or three. See how much more quickly you move down the road of accomplishment.

The Willingness to Try Again

Albert Einstein once said, “I know quite certainly that I myself have no special talent. Curiosity, obsession and dogged endurance, combined with self-criticism, have brought me my ideas.”

He’s saying, basically, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

He may have understated his intelligence and talent, but he does so to make a point: For more than any other reason, he was successful because he was persistent.

I’m no Einstein, but I can also say that whatever success I have experienced can be attributed to this same principle.

I can also say that my failures weren’t so much the result of a lack of talent or the lack of worthwhile goals; they were the result of quitting too soon.

Solomon said, “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again.” (Proverbs 24:16)

When I struggle with failure in any area, I have to remind myself several times a day that the difference between my being a wise man and a fool … the difference between my being righteous and unrighteous … is determined by my willingness to get back up and try again.

Have you fallen down? Has it happened more than once? If you’re like most, maybe you’re ready to throw in the towel. But remember this: if a good idea is worth one good try, it’s worth a thousand more.

Take another look at the goals God has given you. Then get up, and try again.

Too Soon to Quit

Too Soon To Quit

B.C. Forbes said, “History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats.”

Or, as Norman Vincent Peale used to say, “It’s always too soon to quit.”

This is why Paul encouraged us…

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

The “proper time” sometimes takes a little longer to arrive than we like — until it feels like it will never arrive. This is when it’s time to engage your faith. It’s time to decide to dig in and stick around a little longer.

It’s never a good time to quit.

The Christian life — and more specifically, the ministry — consists of overcoming one setback after another. That’s because we’re in a spiritual battle and everyday we confront the enemy.

We may lose a little ground from time to time, but we will not lose the war. We have been promised victory — a harvest of righteousness — if we do not give up.

It’s always too soon to quit.

Thomas Edison

A Fresh Start

On December 9, 1914, fire swept through the factories owned by Thomas Edison in West Orange, New Jersey.

The damage totaled millions of dollars. Practically everything of Edison’s was destroyed, including journals and records of works in progress.

Since Edison was not a young man when this happened, many sent condolences and notes of sympathy, assuming the tragedy would prompt his retirement.

Edison’s response? “I am 67, but I’m not too old to make a fresh start.”

Neither is too late for your fresh start. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or how how much you may have lost in the fires of the past.

Today is a new day, a fresh start is yours for the taking.

I have friends who entered the mission field in their sixties. And friends who have launched new businesses after retirement. Chuck Swindoll planted a new church in Texas at the age of 64. My own dear gray-haired mother became a novelist at the age of 73; she’s working now on her sixth book.

To be clear, though, today’s post isn’t about age.

It’s about having the courage to start the next chapter in your life, regardless of how the previous chapter came to a close.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18-19)

God is ready to begin something new in your life. A fresh start. He has forgotten the former things; you can, too.

This new creation will spring up soon.  Do you perceive it? Will you receive it?

Taking Care of Business

Thomas Carlyle said, “Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.”

Vision is essential to leadership, as is seeing the big picture—no doubt about it. But great leaders also have the ability to see and do what is necessary today.

It’s the principle of first things first. Solomon said it as simply as it can be said: Develop your business first before building your house. (Proverbs 24:27)

This is what great leaders do. Where many flounder week to week, effective leaders make sure that, before anything else, top business gets done each day.

And they do this every day.

What’s your business? I mean your real business? What matters most to you? Is there anything on your agenda today that reflects this priority?

Long term vision is great, but we also need to make a habit of taking care of today’s business today.

How would you complete these two sentences?

1. My real business is __________.

2. I will develop it today by doing this: _______________.

If your real business is following Jesus, then do something today that makes you more like him. Give. Love. Serve. Forgive. Show mercy.

Develop your business (your real business) first, before doing anything else.

John Stott

A Life Well-Lived

One of the most influential leaders of the Christian church in the last century was a quiet and unassuming theologian named John Stott. He spent much of his life serving one church, All Souls Langham Place in London.

But he also served the global church. He preached all over the world.

He challenged evangelicals everywhere not just to preach the gospel boldly, but to live boldly and Biblically. He challenged us not only to tell the world about Jesus, but also to demonstrate the love of Jesus in caring for the poor and the disenfranchised.

Throughout his 70 year ministry he wrote several books. One of them, Basic Christianity, is a book that every believer should read.

When I think of a life well-lived, I think of John Stott. He lived well and he finished strong.

In the final days of his life, confined to bed, knowing the end was near, he asked for two things.

One, to hear Handel’s Messiah again and again.

Two, for a friend to read again and again from one book of the Bible: 2 Timothy.

Like the Apostle Paul, John Stott was prepared to say…

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)

I think that’s what we all want to be able to say. The good new is that anyone can.

No life need be summarized with a wistful phrase of regret. Anyone can go out on top. I’m not talking about going out rich or going out famous. I’m talking about going out content. Satisfied. Full of joy, hope, and expectation.

The best time to consider this, of course, is sooner, not later.

And here’s more good news.

It’s never too late. It’s never too late to start fighting the good fight. It’s never too late to become who you might have been.

Leaders like John Stott can inspire us all to stay in the race, or even get in the race … to live every moment as if it matters for all eternity — because every moment does.

Here’s to finishing well. And to making today count toward that end.

Country Church

Results Unknown

W.A. CriswellThere’s a story in W.A. Criswell’s biography that illustrates how you can never measure the impact of your ministry.

Dr. Criswell tells about the day of his conversion: It was Autumn, 1920. His church was holding a revival and W.A. received permission to skip school to attend a special mid-day meeting.

At the close of the service, he responded to the invitation and accepted Christ as his Savior.

Seven years later he was licensed to preach. He soon began a lifetime of ministry, including 55 years as pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas. He wrote more than 50 books, led untold thousands to Christ, trained hundreds for the ministry. He was one of the most influential pastors in America during the 20th century.

But this story is really about the man who preached that 1920 revival which changed the course of Criswell’s life.

His name was John Hicks. He had been a guest in the Criswell’s home during the two week revival, and young W.A. had been greatly impressed with the evangelist’s manner and character. This admiration compelled the 10 year old boy to attend every service and hang on every word the preacher spoke.

Years later, as Hicks lay dying in Baylor Hospital, his friend Wallace Basset sat with him during his final moments. Hicks said, “Wallace, my life is over, my preaching days are done, and I’ve never done anything for Jesus. I’ve failed, Wallace. I’ve failed.”

Apparently John Hicks never knew about the special contribution he had made to the kingdom of God: how one revival meeting held in a small Texas town — and specifically one sermon preached on an Autumn morning — touched the heart of a young boy who would, in turn, touch the lives of millions in the years to come.

The words of Paul come to mind:

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Maybe you can’t see the full results of your ministry at this moment. Maybe today it seems that your years of sacrifice and hard work resemble next to nothing.

The truth is that you’ve accomplished things that you don’t know about — things you may never know about this side of glory.

During these days when measurable results remain elusive, be steadfast. do not give in to despair. God is using you in ways that you cannot see.

Martin Luther King

Life’s Most Persistent Question

Of the many Martin Luther King quotes that bear repeating, one of my favorites is:

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”

Service is built-in to our job description, not only as pastors and missionaries and ministry leaders, but also as believers. One’s ministry — and ultimately, one’s life — will be measured by how this question is answered.

“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)

As America pauses today to remember an influential leader, let’s consider this persistent and urgent question: What will I do today to serve others in the name of Jesus Christ?