What am I Doing?
Pausing to Think About the Meaning of Life
There can be few people in this world who have not wondered at some point in their lives what it's all about. And yet for the most part people are so preoccupied with what is going on in their sphere of activity that they hardly ever try to figure out what they are doing.
The other day I met a man whose great joy in life was drinking. Going to the pub to drink, smoke and chatter with friends was the most important thing in his life. And he probably would have continued going on that way, oblivious to life's wider implications, had he not run out of money and could no longer sustain his lifestyle. His empty bank account made him pause and ask himself the question: "What on earth am I doing?" He saw the lack of money to sustain his alcohol addiction as a crisis at first and only later saw it as a blessing. And the blessing was that it forced him to THINK. The result was that it led him in the end to the bigger questions in life such as why he existed in the first place. He concluded, rightly, that if life had no meaning that it wasn't worth living. And since that seemed so meaningless he concluded that it had to have a meaning. The long and short of it was that he found our Internet site and is now following our Bible study program of reading 10 chapters a day. He has a thirst to know the Lord and is investing his time in what he is now convinced matters.
Every day as an Internet Pastor I meet people going through crises. The pattern is, in every case, identical. So long as things are going fine people don't worry about the bigger issues of life, as to why we're here, and what it is we need to do to ensure happiness in the eternities. In every single case the Lord sends a crisis not to punish, torture, or have fun with people, but to make them stop, THINK and CHANGE DIRECTION. It reminds me of my small son who the other day was just sitting and smashing up a toy. He thought it was tremendously fun until he got a sharp whack from me forcing him to THINK about what he was doing. It wasn't fun any more after that. And the Lord does exactly the same thing to us - we are in reality so blind that we engage in pursuits of self-destruction without knowing what we are doing, and it takes a loving Father in heaven to intervene with some calamity to reveal the stupidity of our course. He does this, by the way, with our full consent, even though when it happens we usually do NOT want to consent to anything corrective, for we gave that consent to Him before we were born into this world. And if we have accepted Christ as Lord and Saviour, we have re-covenanted with Him to do with us as He sees fit for our eternal salvation.
Those of you who know me also know that I can sometimes appear tough and unfeeling. But I do assure you my motive is almost always deep concern and a wish to stop self-destructive tendencies in people. Right now I am watching a dear friend in Christ spiralling out of control as he repeatedly and stubbornly rejects the path of discipleship mapped out by Christ. He has lost wife, children and friends in his precipitous course of folly. This man simply will not see what he is doing, so convinced is he in his self-sufficiency. The prophetic eye can sadly see only too clearly where he is headed - towards the pig-swill of the prodigal son. Some are so resistant to the truth that God must take them through desperate circumstances before they will repent. And others, sadly, are so utterly demon-possessed that even they will eat pig swill and learn a perverse sort of contentment with it until it finally kills them. Yes, Satan gets alot of people in the end.
At the moment I am talking with a dear Christian lady of deep faith whose husband six months ago suddenly and mysterious packed his bags and left home. Both have an active and fulfilling ministry in their Church. She is, of course, bewildered, since they had such a good relationship and there were no signs that anything was wrong in the marriage. In her desperation to understand she searched the net and found our homepage. She is now leading a new ministry to help ladies with marriage problems and has found answers to many of life's perplexing questions through the articles on the Church's website. As soon as we met we felt a burning witness of the Spirit that we were to form a prayer partnership, she praying for my lost wife and I her for her lost husband. The fact that I have been waiting for over ten years gave her hope and indeed the Lord has since shown her in a prophetic dream that her husband would soon come home.
In such stories we can see multiple purposes being fulfilled in the divine plan. It is very clear that the Lord wanted this lady's husband to leave her for a while so that she could more cleary see that He had another calling for her which she was blind to because she was so satisfied in her music ministry. Many new spiritual doors have opened for her, enrichening her spiritual life amnd drawing her closer to both the Lord, her loved ones, and those in need. And of course we must conclude that there is something in this for her husband too.
But not everybody reacts that way. It is up to us to choose how we respond to adverisity, challenge, and even disappointment. You may recall me telling you the story of a young engaged Christian couple, the girl being killed by a hit-and-run driver. The boy, who had always been an active Christian, rapidly lost his faith. I tried to explain to him that such tragedies can happen for many reasons, some of which he could come to understand, others requiring ther future life in heaven before all things to be explained clearly. He is not the first to experience such a heart-shattering experience. He blames the Lord for being mean, cold-hearted, uncaring, and malicious, instantly forgetting all the goodness that the same God had showered on him before. You see, he chose not to understand because he would not see the wider picture.He allowed his grief to utterly crush him and turn him to hate. And yet I have met many other people who have been through similar tragedies who have chosen not to blame God but to trust that all He permits is for a wiser purpose whose foundation is love.
When I was a young man in my early twenties I fell in love with a young Scottish lady. I was determined to make the conquest of her heart my life's goal. I failed miserably and went into a self-centred mourning for some time. One day the Lord gave me a dream to show me what married life with that woman would have been like. It was hell. She was cold and unfeeling, and utterly wrapped up in her own inner world. After that I praised Him that He had been so "cruel" as to not give me my heart's desire.
Human judgment is notoriously poor especially when it comes to people. I guarantee there isn't a single person in this room today who has not at sometime met a person whom they thought was simply wonderful who turned out to be a rogue, and they have been utterly shocked at how easily fooled they were. To teach my family something about that I bought the classic, Pride and Prejudice, by the English authress Jane Austin, in the film version. It has so captivated them that they have seen it many times already. As the title suggests two of our greatest spiritual obstacles are pride and prejudice. Pride blinds us to our own defects and weaknesses and prejudice to the goodness and strengths of others. In the end both pride and prejudice give way in the story and the couple who seemed most unsuitable for each other proved to be the perfect match.
Our heavenly Father is the supreme matchmaker not only of men and women in their romantic aspirations but in career, family and economic circumstances, and indeed everything that concerns us. He assures us that He is so intimately involved with His creation, and so aware of every little incident, feeling and thought in our lives, that not even the humble sparrow escapes his gaze. Far from being distant, callous, unfeeling, and unmerciful as many who have experienced terrible tragic loss believe in their narrow-sightedness, He is in truth so aware of every single minute detail of our lives that He planned it all out before we even came into existence. Knowing our desires and every choice we would make beforehand, He has carefully engineered every circumstance in our lives that will lead us to ultimate happiness provided we make the ultimate choice, which is to surrender ourselves to His gracious care and direction. In short, provided we yield ourselves to His will. Now we may not - indeed possibly cannot (in this mortal sphere) - understand how He can have billions of people before His watchful eye continuously and simulteaneously know, knowing every move we are going to make, but I assure you He does.
I first came to appreciate how this could be possible when I became acquainted with a choreographer who was producing a musical. We can go to a play or a dance performance and be entertained for an hour or two without ever realising that the performer's every single bodily movement has been carefully designed. We assume, I think, that somewhow it all "comes together". But I was astonished - no, amazed - when the choreographer showed be a fat book the size of several large atlasses which contained every single move the dancers had to make second by second. The detail was, for me, astonishing. Moreover, he had evidently changed things many, many times in order to get perceisely the desired effect. The amount of work which had gone into this flabbergasted me. He must have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours preparing every single body movement and gesture for each artiste just for two hours' performance.
Thereafter I realised the infinite care and attention to detail the Lord gives to our lives. He knows our minds and hearts so well that He can predict with 100% accuracy what we are going to choose in every situation. Using this information He places us into situational contexts with other people whose every detail He knows also, knowing how we will respond. He knows that many choices will face us, and that many of the choices we make are wrong ones, so He must engineer other circumstances to ensure that we have a high probability of making the right choices. Sometimes we never do, leading ultimately to spiritual destruction, and yet He is still painstakingly trying - nudging us to make the right choices without ever denying our free will.
I am, as I grow older, more and more astonished by the care that Yahweh puts into the care of each one of our lives. Nothing happens, good or evil, without His permission and for the benefit of all. He cannot, and will not, violate our free agency, and if we stubbornly choose the path which leads to destruction He cannot ultimately prevent us from doing what is in our heart to do, even though in His infinitely deep Fatherly heart He would wish to forcibly prevent us from entering the kingdom of darkness. The fact that he doesn't intervene when the going gets tough sometimes, if the circunstances have been caused by our own rebellion, is not because He doesn't care but because we have prevented Him from caring to the extent that he can intervene. He, no more that you or I, can imprison a son whom we are 100% convinced is about to launch into a life of evil, in order to prevent him from doing the evil intentions of his heart. That is the tragedy of this world and that is the principle which most unthinking people cannot seem to grasp because they want God to violate His principles of righteousness to give them what they feel they need and most have to be happy.
I am not saying that this is the complete picture. There is more to it than that. Our lives are all inter-connected. What if God needs two special people working together to prevent a war and one of those people chooses to go another way? He cannot force the disobedient one to do what he does not want to do. Very often couples ordained for marriage never find each other in this life because, instead of following the Spirit of God, they follow their own carnal lusts instead. In such circumstances two suffer for the folly of one. Which brings us to another element in the equation of life which you must understand: much of the suffering we experience in this life may not necessarily be because I we have done something wrong but because someone else has with whom we had a special calling. Now you might say: "Well, couldn't the all-knowing God arrange circumstances to get around this sort of problem so that the innocent do not suffer?" Sometimes, no, because there is no human material left to do what needs to be done. And very often it is in such circumstances that the Lord has to directly intervene. He did so in Noah's day and He will do so in our own in order to wind up the present world system. And when we face such circumstances it is well to understand and perceive that sometimes the long-term goal cannot be achieved here on earth but must be completed in heaven. Even when the innocent suffer there is an ultimate purpose - many a soul, I believes, enters this life to suffer and die in order to prick the consciences of those who would not otherwise repent. I also believe the innocents are rewarded abundant°y for such sacrifices.
It is perhaps a little na´ve of me to try and probe the mind of God in what is the most complicated dynamic system in existence, namely, that of billions of human beings with free choice interacting. In the end we must, if we are honest with ourselves, admit to God having control of everything by an act of faith for there is no way that I or anyone else could ever map out one person's life accurately enough to satisfy their many questions about the meaning of it all. We are often given the solution and meaning to many of life's most vexing questions but I suggest these are usually in the minority, for we are, in any case, to live this life by faith and not by sight. Yet as we mature in the things of God through a consistent and faithful walk in Him we are better able to see more clearly the hand of God in all things. I find that today I can more clearly perceive the invisible hand of the Lord in the lives of people than I could, for example, a decade ago. And the more I perceive, especially of the follies that people fall into, the more troubled I become, not because of the mistakes they make on their own but mostly because I see that I cannot intervene in the way I would like to. And I would suggest that that is one of the greatest qualities that any man or woman may aspire to, namely, to understand that there is a Master Hand at work which knows what it is doing and that our interference will, unless we get direct revelation from the Lord to intervene, cause only destruction. We must learn to allow people their free choices, for if we do not, we shall simply alienate ourselves from them and be even less able to help them as we might wish. Freedom is something we instinctively hold dear and it is freedom that Satan attacks the most. He has always appealed to the benefits of surrendering that freedom and has created such Nimrodian social systems as fascism and communism which are expert at denying it - and there are few people who want a big dose of communism or fascism who are themselves already slaves. Yes, the feeling Israelites wanted to remain slaves in Egypt when the going got tough in the desert - they were not willing to pay the price of freedom. You see, for most people freedom means a life free of suffering. Absolutely not so. Whether you are a slave or a free man you will suffer, the difference being that one kind of suffering leads to spiritual death and is profitless, and the other to santification and eternal character development.
Freedom actually lies at the heart of everything this world was made for. That is why there is so much suffering here. People who refuse to believe in a good and just God usually point to the ills of this world without carefully thinking through what they are saying. For what they are in fact saying is: Give me a world free of suffering, no matter what the cost. What they don't understand or realise is that the world they want is a cheap and easy way out that takes away all personall responsibility, and would like to give it to someone else. And that is dictatorship. It's Satan's way. They want order at alll costs. Well, communism and fascism have given people that sort of order but at a terrible price: the suffocation of the human soul.
As we discuss these principles I think most of us will agree that the issues are crystal clear. But we have had to invest time and effort in obtaining our understanding. Worse, for the lazy, it means we have to do something about our lives and not expect others to take our responsibility for spiritual growth. Most people would, if the truth be known, like God to order everything up in their lives for them without their ever lifting a finger. But such a God would be cruel and uncaring indeed for we would stagnate in our spiritual growth - worse, we would turn into vegetables. And the world is full of those - people who have been sitting around in spiritual atrophy, making no advance in their understanding or in their relationship to God because they are waiting for Him to do something. He won't. True faith- biblical faith - is active faith - it must be about the Lord's business on His terms and not ours. We can choose to sit and do nothing and the Lord will not intervene unless in your selfishness you are retarding someone else's spiritual growth. Which brings me to a new concept, namely, the collective responsibility we all have.
We are all a giant family - a family of families, in fact, and as such we have both family as well as individual responsibilities. To understand the circumstances of life we must also appreciate that salvation and perfection in God's timetable is not just about individuals because our utimate destiny is not about independent human units. We do not stand around alone in heaven - it is only in hell were people are alone. We are placed in biological families and in spiritual families (churches) to prepare us for the felowship we are to have in heaven. We were not designed to be alone. Indeed, everything we do leads us into some kind of human company for we all need and crave it. Aloneness is not a part of Yahweh's plan. Thus in looking at Adam he declared: "It is not got for man to be alone". We must therefore realise that life's circumstances are not designed just to fufil personal needs but societal ones as well. Many of the questions we ask about life are therefore wrong, being founded on selfish New Age-type propositions which think only about "self-realisation". But God's picture is far broader, for self can only be realised in community. Ultimately, then, the goal is Community Realisation, or as the Apostles' Creed puts it, "the communion of saints". And as anyone who has been married knows, in order to create a marriage the partners must sacrifice various wants and perceived needs. What we may think needs "realising", therefore, may, in the end need sacrificing for the ultimate happiness not just of ourselves but of others too.
I would therefore suggest that God in fact created us with desires which can never be fulfilled but were placed there to teach us the higher love of Christ through an act of voluntary sacrifice. If it is obvious we cannot ever possibly do all the things we would like to do - the majority of our fantasies being unrealisable - then it must surely follow that similar things may be true in the spiritual realm. This principle of self-limitation is taught again and again in scripture, not because God wants to deny us desires which he ultimately is responsible for placing there, but because He desires to show us there are different hierachies of needs, real and imagined. Thus a man cannot be a General and a Private soldier at the same time, and to be one or the other he must sacrifice the good things of one of them. And so it is on the spiritual plane as well - comforts for one kind of life must be sacrificed on order to obtain comforts for another. Or to put it another way, we must sacrifice the pleasures and comforts of a life without God, which do not in any case last (even though they may seem to) in order to obtain those of a life with God, which do last, and which mutiply and grow the more glorious day by day.
So realise that many of life's tragedies may well be designed to take away something lesser in order to give a person something better. When I think of the many wonderful careers Christians have had to sacrifice in order to walk with God and obtain that which is of eternal worth and which brings the greatest happiness and joy I am reminded of these things. The picture is alot bigger than we suppose.
May you ever be conscious of what it is the Lord is seeking to do in your life and not suppose that the loss of good and pleasant things is necessarily bad. To obtain the priceless pearl which Yah'shua (Jesus) talks about means giving up everything else we may own. The trouble is, people forget the pearl and accept the plastic beads - the cheap imitations - instead. May you not make their mistake. Amen.
Sabbath Day Sermon, Arvika Congregation, Saturday 29 April 2000
This page was created on 2 May 2000
Last updated on 2 May 2000
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