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 church 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 you 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 The 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 looking back on your life some day, and regretting those things you did and didn’t do.
Today we’re beginning a new series called The Business of Living. It is a series on managing the responsibilities you have in life—stewardship is another word for it. During the next four weeks we will examine what the Bible says about managing your career, your money, your spiritual life, your relationships, and today, we will 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...
The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways. (Proverbs 14:8)
We’re going to look at some ways to manage your life today 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? I asked this question in a Home Bible Study once 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... I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)
Earlier in his ministry Paul said... I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me...(Acts 20:24)
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 very end.” How did he make sure that it happened? He knew what kind of person he wanted to be, and everyday he did something to make it true. That’s why he said... I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:27)
Needless to say, Paul is using a metaphor in this verse. 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.
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. The Bible says... A prudent man gives thought to his steps. (Proverbs 14:15)
Secondly, in planning a life without regrets, you must....
2. Focus on what you want to give, 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 5000 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 have a friend, Brent, who decided a couple of years ago 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 told me, “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 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. The significance you have in life is determined by what you do—what you give, not what you get. The Bible says... Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. (Proverbs 11:4)
What is Solomon saying? He’s reminding us that what you do 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 once told me 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. I couldn’t believe what he was saying. It’s not as if a general practitioner 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. (We’ll talk more about your relationship to work in a couple of weeks.)
The principle here is simple: to live a life of significance, do what you love. Success, rewards, money, promotions—they may or not happen. Do what you love and your life will have 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... The desire of the righteous ends only in good. (Proverbs 11:23)
If you’re committed to doing God’s will, he will give you a dream of what you can accomplish in life.
Ricky Freeman was 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 OK 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 life. 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 stockbroker; 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 to...
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.
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 me this story recently. 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.”
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 throwaway moments. Every day matters. Look for the eternal significance in your work, your words, your relationships, and your actions.
CONCLUSION 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.
Steve May has been a pastor to pastors for more than 20 years, helping preachers and teachers to become more effective communicators of the gospel.