Over the next several weeks, I want us to look at seven words that can change your life this year.
Word #1 is a little intense.
Now I like talking to people.
In fact, one of the best parts of our move from the United States to South Africa has been the fact that we are constantly meeting new people who have had so many different experiences than my wife and I have had.
It is fascinating.
It is especially fun when find out that some of the people you would least expect have done some of the craziest things — jumped out of airplanes, hitchhiked across Africa, swam with sharks, tickled a tiger.
But no matter how different our lives are, no matter how many different experiences each one of has had, there is one experience we are going to all have in common.
We are going to die.
And after that we are going to stand before God.
That is a reality.
It is a reality that is going to happen to every single one of us unless Jesus comes back.
Now people react to that reality in all sorts of different ways.
Some people are scared out of their minds about it. Other people spend their lives running away from it. Other people, it makes them angry to even think about it.
The fact that we are going to die is one of those realities that people respond to in many different ways. The most common response however is just to ignore it.
Death is the most obvious fact on the planet, but there’s hardly anything most people they think about less.
Which honestly is just not that smart.
For one thing, death is a pretty big event. It will change your life, I guarantee it. It makes sense to be prepared for it, especially since you are going to stand before God afterwards.
There are all kinds of reasons it is foolish to go around ignoring death and what comes after but one of the chief of the reasons is because death and the judgment that comes after reveals what is valuable in life.
The analogy for me would be diamonds.
It is the big moment. You are going to ask someone to marry you. You are standing at the store and you have got two rocks in front of you and they both look perfect.
Only thing is, one is real and the other one is fake.
If you are going to spend any money, you are going to want to spend your money on the one that is truly valuable, and if you are going to know which one is truly valuable, you are going to need some sort of instrument to identify the difference.
In life, death is that kind of instrument.
There’s lots of stuff to do in this life. You definitely don’t want to waste the one life you’ve got doing things that don’t matter in the end. With so much coming at you, so quickly, it is not always easy to know what is really important. You need something to help you make the right decisions. And what I am saying is that death and what comes after is this amazing instrument that helps you identify what is really worthwhile and what is not.
Maybe I can give you an illustration of that from the book of James.
James 1:12 to be exact.
If you look at the text, James says something that seems a little crazy at first.
“Blessed is the man who perseveres in trials.”
I realize that is something you probably have heard before but if you stop and think about it, it is actually a pretty shocking statement.
Take it apart word by word.
Trials means difficult situations.
You might picture somebody being squeezed until he can barely breathe. That’s the idea. James is talking about times in life where outside circumstances are pressing in on somebody and squeezing the air right out of them.
Perseveres doesn’t mean just survives.
James is talking about continued joyful obedience to God’s Word.
James is saying that the man who doesn’t quit when it starts getting difficult for him to obey God but instead keeps on doing what is right with an attitude of joy even though he is in this situation where it is extremely hard to do that and to feel that way, that man is blessed.
In other words, he has got it good.
It might help you get your minds around a radical statement that is if I give you a couple real life situations.
We are talking about a man who is in an accident and he is paralyzed from the neck down. Bad enough. To make matters worse his wife leaves him as a result. And yet he trusts in God’s Word and even though it is really hard, he rejoices in what God is doing in his life.
Or take a lady who is married to this really difficult husband who is ungodly and mean and selfish and gambles their money away and mistreats her, but she keeps on trying to honor him and she keeps on trying to submit to him and she keeps on trying to love him just because she loves God.
What would most people say about a people in those kind of situations? If they were going to make a call, just say it like it is, what would they say about them?
I think most people would look at situations like that and say, pitiful!
Poor deluded people. Maybe they’d even look at what was going on and say, pathetic.
James says, blessed.
Now come at it from another angle. Stop and compare those two with somebody who was in perfect shape physically, had all kinds of money, we’re talking instant pleasure at his fingertips, and he has all that even though he is living in absolute disobedience to God.
Who has it better?
Most people would look at those situations and say there was no comparison.
The guy who has it all.
They would say he is the one who is blessed, but James says just the opposite.
He looks at the person who obeys God even though it is hard and he says, blessed.
There’s actually no is in the Greek. It is not blessed is the man. It is blessed man. The man who perseveres in the midst of trials is blessed by God. He is a recipient of God’s favor. It is like God smiles on him.
The man who is paralyzed, his wife leaves him, and he keeps on obeying God…blessed.
That attitude is out there. That is such a completely different way of looking at things, that you have got to say to yourself why?
Why does James say that?
He says that because he is not ignoring death. He says that because death and really more specifically what comes after death reveals what is really valuable in life.
That’s the point.
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial “for.” This is the reason. “Once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love him.”
It is not blessed because he is some sort of stranger person who thinks that difficult situations are better than easy ones. It is blessed because James hasn’t forgotten the fact that there’s an end to all the difficult things that go on during this life.
And once that end comes, in other words, once a person has died and been approved by God and he has been found faithful, that person is going to be given something by God Himself.
It is called the crown of life.
There is an eternal reward that God gives to those who keep on doing what is right even when it is not easy just because they love Him. He gives it to them after they die and that eternal reward is so much more valuable than anything a person might receive by compromising in the middle of difficulties. It is so much more valuable that we can look at the person who is going through the most insane difficulties and who continues to obey God in spite of that and say, that man has it good.
To appreciate what is important in life you cannot ignore death and what comes after.
You ignore death and you are going to make some serious mistakes in life.
Which is pretty easy for us to understand I think. At least in theory. If we are Christians, we know we are going to die and stand before God. We know that we shouldn’t ignore death and what comes after it because it keeps our life in perspective and what is important in our life in perspective.
This is not rocket science.
But the problem is that while many of us know all that and understand all that and agree with all that, we still kind of do, ignore death and what comes after.
We are step beyond most unbelievers in that we totally know we are going to die and that we totally agree that there is something really good that is coming after we die but when it comes to the practical day to day issues of life sometimes it seems like we haven’t moved all that far ahead of the unbelievers all around us because there is hardly anything we remember less than the fact that we are going to die and then stand before God.
It is like we have instant amnesia.
We remember death and judgment every once in a while, like during a good sermon or at a funeral or something like that and we can talk just beautifully about the shortness of life, we have these deep conversations about it where we sound all profound but even still, the feelings we get at the funeral or after the sermon or during our discussions only last for a little while. In fact if we are honest they pretty much vanish as soon as we leave the graveside or turn on the television or go out with some friends. And when it comes to the way we are living our lives those feelings leave barely the smallest impression on us. Even though we were so moved at the moment, we suddenly forget death, our own mortality, and we go right back to thinking and acting as if it is not really going to happen to us.
We go about living our lives like we weren’t going to die. To quote Calvin, we live our lives like we “were somehow going to be able to establish immortality for ourselves on this earth.”
Which I am trying to say as loudly as I can, is just not smart.
It is not smart for anyone, but is especially not smart if you are a believer, because the moment you forget death and judgement is the moment you start getting confused about what is really important in life.
That is what I am getting at.
The moment we forget death and judgement is the moment we start thinking compromising with sin is better than obeying God. It is the moment we start thinking living for now is better than living for heaven. It is the moment we start envying unbelievers. It is the moment we stop living all out and making crazy radical sacrifices for the glory of Jesus Christ. It is the moment we start saying blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, IN THEORY, while we stop believing blessed is the man who perseveres, in our hearts. It is the moment we become lukewarm.
Which is why instead of ignoring death, you need to think about it. Long and hard. This is a word that can change your life.
I guess I should probably get a little more practical.
Back to James.
James gives us three practical steps in verses 2-11 that we need to take if we are going to end up being the blessed man he talks about in verse 12. In other words, he gives us three steps we have take if our lives are going to make sense in light of our death and we’ll look at those three steps tomorrow.