July 15, 2007
I wonder how many of us present live by the refrigerator. You might respond that all of us do. I’m talking about the other side of the refrigerator door, though, the part that you see before you open the door. Kay keeps us reminded of things that we need to remember by plastering our refrigerator door with notes, pictures, and such things as that. Do you have those things on your refrigerator door, too?
I noticed one of them in particular this past week. It says, “Lord, I have too much to do, but it is all important. Help me to set priorities so that I don’t feel lost in the pace and the pressure. Give me the wisdom and energy to accomplish what’s necessary without wasting time or effort. And help me to make the best use of my day, remembering that time is a precious gift from You.” That is a good prayer, isn’t it? And it is a practical one for most of us. Those of you who are raising families right now know all too well what it is to have a busy pace of life. Those of you who are caring for loved ones who have difficulties understand very well this prayer. Many of you who are involved in the activities of the church here understand what it is to have a lot of things to do and it all being important. And that means that our search for how to make the best use of our time, how to live with strength and power, how to deal with the responsibilities that life brings our way is especially urgent.
So, this morning we would like to investigate the idea of living strong, living with the right sort of outlook on life, not being overwhelmed by the responsibilities that are there, while at the same time not being so careless and indifferent that we never feel like there is anything that we personally need to be doing. Living strong is very much the approach to life that the Lord displayed as he met the hectic pace of his own ministry, all the while keeping control of it and not letting those pressures take control of him.
Maybe a good way for us to begin in our thinking about this would be just to take for a moment a look at the wisdom of the ages on this theme. The Proverbs of the Old Testament offer a collection of wisdom, or principles and guidelines, for living life well. These are “short lessons from long experience” about how life works. And one of the contrasts that come up repeatedly in the Proverbs has to do with responses to the demands of life.
On the one hand there is the response of laziness and carelessness. The Proverbs used the term “sluggard” to describe this sort of a spirit or this sort of an approach to life. It says very much, “Here I am. Why doesn’t somebody do something for me?” The sluggard is pictured in Proverbs 26:14 as being “hinged to his bed.” It is a humorous picture in which it is almost like one of his sides is hinged there and he just turns from one side to another without ever getting up. In Proverbs 19:24 the picture of this sort of spirit is of someone who can pick up a morsel of bread and reach out his hand to the dip, but he just doesn’t have the strength to raise it to his mouth again. And in Proverbs 6:9-11, the picture is a little bit more complete. The passage says, “How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” Notice that that spirit is the one which is completely indifferent to any demands of life. It gives no thought beyond how I feel at this particular moment in time and whether I am enjoying it. This spirit is not going to put itself out for anything of anybody.
On the other hand, the proverbs describe the mindset or the approach to life which is so busy that it is packed with turmoil and strife, and it makes every day a crisis and every activity something which might blow up in a person’s face. In Proverbs 15:16-17, there are these two statements. It says, “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.” Notice here the approach to get everything out of life that we can get, to experience all the things that are possible in this world while leaving out respect for the Lord and love for those who are closest to us. Here is the individual who is the type A personality who is always doing something but who leaves off a relationship with God and love for those closest to him. I noticed that this “better than” concept comes up two more times in the next two chapters. Proverbs 16:8 says, “Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.” Notice that the better things are righteousness, love and reverence for God. A life that pursues injustice instead of righteousness, hatred instead of love, and turmoil instead of reverence is not going to be a blessing to anybody no matter how much he does. In Proverbs 17:1 it says, “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.” Each one of these concepts is talking about the values by which we pursue our schedules and our activities in everyday life. And there are two extremes. There is the person on the one hand who is indifferent to it all, and the person on the other hand who is torn up by it all. God expects, advises and calls his children to not live off there on one of those extremes.
The Christian Approach
The way I would describe what I find is the Christian approach in the New Testament is “responsible contentment.” I don’t know if you every thought of putting those two terms together, but the passages especially from the apostle Paul, who gets so much done in his ministry is very much befitting of this description – responsible contentment – as the Christian approach. Think of the letter to the church at Philippi as an example. You may remember that this little letter has a tone of joy while it is being written from a prison somewhere, and that Paul concentrates in this book on the spirit of Christian living. In 3:13-14 he says, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Notice that straining forward idea. You never would find the “I-don’t-care-anymore” spirit in the great apostle Paul.
On the other hand, with so many demands and so much to do, he appears to not have been torn up by it all. In the next chapter (4:11-13) he says, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Now notice that responsible desire to stretch forward to what lies ahead with that calm contentment which says, “I can live for the Lord in whatever circumstances I face in life.” Responsible contentment!
You see the same thing in Paul’s writing to Timothy toward the end of his ministry. If anything, it becomes more vivid here. When Paul writes I Timothy, he is urging Timothy to fulfill his ministry, but notice he says in I Tim. 6:6-8, “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” There is the person who is not torn up by a need to possess things and to gain more and to go through the stress that might come with that.
On the other hand, Paul says in 6:18-19 this about the use of our possessions! “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” There is godliness with contentment, which is great gain. There is also godliness with service, which is laying hold of life eternal. Those things are not opposites. They belong together in the same life, a life of responsible contentment.
So think of the Christian approach, the Christian mindset. The Christian mindset involves realistic living. A while back I wrote a little piece about this in our bulletin, and I have been thinking about this more and had some questions and comments about it. I want to kind of enlarge on it a little bit here.
How would you put in words the realistic living approach that Christians are to take? I think we can gather it together in five statements. The responsible contentment we have been trying to describe can be identified with these five statements.
First, the Christian thinks to himself realistically, “I cannot do everything.” For some of us that is a revelation, and it is a confession that we almost have to be forced to make. To some of us, that statement can become an excuse. I am not using it in either of those two ways, but “I cannot do everything” is a realistic look at myself in which I understand that nobody can do everything. The Lord does not expect us to do everything by ourselves. In fact, he would teach that if you and I think somehow that we are individually the indispensable ones of the earth and that we only can do everything that needs to be done, he would regard us as being proud and having too high an estimation of ourselves.
In Romans 12:3 Paul says, “By the grace given to me, I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has given him.” Not more highly than he ought to think – in other words, I ought to understand my own limitations and realistically admit I can’t do everything. I have an old friend who lives in the Los Angeles area who told me something one time 25 years ago, and I have thought of his statement. I thought it was strange at the time. His statement was, “One person can only do so much good.” It is an interesting statement, isn’t it? I can’t do everything.
Secondly, the Christian thinks, “In fact, I can do nothing apart from the Lord.” I am not in this pursuit on my own strength alone, and the Lord realistically teaches us that apart from him, as far as what really matters in life, we can do nothing. We can pursue a lot of things that we will lose on the day we die. But apart from him, we can do nothing that will last. John 15:5 has him saying, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit. For apart from me, you can do nothing.”
In a very real way, then, our concern has to be not “I have to bear fruit; I have to bear fruit,” but “I have got to abide in Christ; I have got to abide in Christ.” The Lord teaches here that as we abide in him and as we do what we can, the fruit will come in the Lord’s own time. Waiting for the Lord has very much to do with abiding in Christ, staying attached to the vine, filling our place in life for Him.
I can’t do everything; I can do nothing apart from the Lord. The third statement is thought, “I can do something.” If some of us have a hard time admitting point one, some of us have a hard time facing this fact here. I can do something. The same verse that says that we are not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think also says that we have been given a measure of faith. The principle applies even in what Paul wrote in Philippians 3:13: “This one thing I do.” There is a place for me to start, and if I will do one thing at a time and if I remember that I am not the whole body but I am one member, then I can see myself as capable of doing something that will make a difference in life. There are things that I can do. There are kind words that I can say. There are good works that I can help with. There are practical things that I can accomplish in life. I can do something because the Lord made me to be able to do something.
Fourth, realistically the Christian says, “I can do all the things that I really need to do.” I may not be able to do everything that I wish I could do. I have learned that I won’t be able to do everything that somebody else wants me to do. But I can do all the things that I really need to do in the Lord’s service. The Lord does not ask anything of us that we cannot do. He doesn’t make demands of us that we cannot meet. Paul’s contentment in Philippians 4 arises largely from his conviction that he can do all things through the one who strengthens him. Abiding in Christ, we draw the strength that we need to bear fruit. Isaiah 40, which we read earlier, says that those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. There is something that he does for us that strengthens us. There is something from the experience of waiting that makes us stronger and better able to face life.
I can’t do everything; I can do nothing apart from the Lord; but I can do something; in fact, I can do all the things that I really need to do in life. And fifth, “whatever I do with this spirit will be enough.” There are some of us who live by the “whatever” approach to life. That is not what I am talking about here. What I am talking about here is that if I accept myself as the Lord made me, do what I can from his strength, then whatever I do with this spirit will be enough. So many times I have visited aged faithful Christians who were in the sunset years of their lives. They are people who have sacrificed and served and have done so much, and I hear folks say, “I just don’t know if I have done enough.” Well, enough for what? We certainly haven’t done enough to save us because we are not going to be saved by our works, but enough given the opportunity and whatever talent we had and whatever other responsibilities were pressing on us in life, with the circumstances that were available. It will be enough when we have done our best to be what the Lord wants us to be. And there is an ability that comes with this to lay everything at his feet and to let him deal with it. That is a part of realistic Christian living.
Responsible contentment says about life: I can’t do everything; I can do nothing apart from the Lord; I can do something in his service; I can do all the things I really need to do; and whatever I do with this spirit will be enough. This week if you have a lot to do and it is all important, I encourage you to approach it with this spirit. This week if you have been occupied with your own comfort and that alone, I encourage you take another look at approaching life with this spirit.
Peter said, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” I appeal to you to set your hope fully on his grace this morning. If we can help you in either confessing Christ and assisting you in being baptized into him, or if you are someone who could benefit from the prayers of your brothers and sisters in Christ, would you let it be known by coming right now while we stand and sing together?