It’s the single event no man can escape–ironically his own end (at least as we know it). Death is shrouded in anguish and fear for the man who relies solely on his own strength. It’s a reluctant step to take even for those who embrace faith in a larger purpose that reaches beyond their own understanding and existence. For the great poet and philosophizer, Kenny Chesney, once said, “Everybody wanna go to heaven, but nobody wanna go now.”
We do tend to put a little too much emphasis on the pleasures and trials that we experience here, don’t we? We fashion our own gods, whether knowingly or not, out of shifting relationships that have no secure foundation, and possessions that break down, tarnish, or disappear with no reason at all. When someone or something fails to measure up to the god-status we’ve given it, we’re wrecked– forgetting the fact that whatever change or loss we’re grieving was in many ways inevitable from the beginning. The higher the pedestal we place it on, the harder it falls.
There have been many times when I’ve caught myself stressing out about something–regarding work, money, or some other expectation that reality is falling short on– and suddenly been awoken with a simple question: “Why does this matter?”
We easily fall victim to the western consumer mentality that what we own has something to do with our happiness. If that were true, then a 2014 Gallup research poll would not have found Africa to be the happiest region on Earth and western Europe to be among the least. Simplicity reigns over the latest Apple release in the countries that rank at the top of the list.
I’m not meaning to be pessimistic at all. In fact, I mean the opposite. One of the greatest gifts I have as a Christ follower is the wisdom to find joy even in the midst of not-so-great circumstances. Jesus lived a life that illuminated the things that truly matter and exposed the trivial annoyances that don’t.
A fulfilling life isn’t about accumulating money, accomplishing tasks, or accessing pleasure. The belief of these things leads to our confused and desperate chasing of desert mirages. We arrive at what we were pursuing only to find that it isn’t the oasis we fantasized it to be.
What allows the Christ follower to love and find joy even while tears might fall is the trust that, as my late father said, “this life is a brief moment of what eternal life will be.” What matters most–the thing that allows everything else to fall perfectly into place (eventually)–is to love God through every issue and desire (Romans 8: 5-8; 5: 28).
It sounds so poetically simple, and yet we all fail at this every day. We share the rich young ruler’s worldview in Mark when we approach Jesus with questions or even arrogance about the more specific commands while we have unknowingly been forsaking the first and most important one all along: love God more than anything.
For me, it’s helped to re-examine how honest I am with myself. Our natural and defining inclination is to believe our own thoughts. How tragic that we hardly ever ask ourselves if what we believe is based on convenience in a broken world or a higher truth from the One who created us. One read through C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters and you’ll know what I mean.
J.I. Packer wrote in his widely respected book, Knowing God, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10; Prov 9:10…). Not till we have become humble and teachable, standing in awe of God’s holiness and sovereignty, acknowledging our own littleness, distrusting our own thoughts and willing to have our minds turned upside down, can divine wisdom become ours.
“It is to be feared that many Christians spend all their lives in too unhumbled and conceited a frame of mind ever to gain wisdom from God at all.”
Life as we know it could end at any moment. I, for one, have chosen to make mine a life that (I hope) no one will look back on and wonder what it would have been like if I were more passionate or intentional with my time and beliefs. I want people to hear others talking about me and think that maybe this Jesus guy is worth a closer look. I want everyone who knew me to know with absolute surety that I am happy… and that I was definitely ready to go right when I did. I want everyone to know that my last thought as I passed out of this life was “This is freaking AWESOME!”
To accomplish this, there’s a certain kind of almost-reckless joy that should be seen from me while I still have the opportunity. My relationships should be focused on something besides selfish gain, drawing others to wonder what compels us to love each other so fiercely. People naturally want to invest in the same product that the salesman proudly uses himself. It’s why I believe Jesus said that it would be by our love for one another that people would know we are his followers. Strange that it isn’t hinged on what we believe, but not so strange when we’re honest enough to admit that it’s by how others treat us (not what they believe) that we decide if we want to be influenced by them or not. Belief comes after the example. For a message that needs to spread, love is precisely the tactic to use and, not surprisingly, Jesus knew this.
Of course I’ll miss everyone I’ll have left behind. But more than my longing to see them again will be my longing for them to also be where I am one day. And maybe somehow the life I’ll have lived will somehow help them accept the truth of how to do just that.