Well, there it went. January is already behind us. Every year, I marvel at how quickly the “newness” of the New Year wears off. If January 1 is an opportunity to set new goals and make a fresh start, perhaps February 1 should give us pause to evaluate where that fresh start is taking us. During this first month of 2017, I’ve been chewing on these words from author Don Whitney:
Even those most faithful to God occasionally need to pause and think about the direction of their lives. It’s so easy to bump along from one busy week to another without ever stopping to ponder where we’re going and where we should be going.
Whitney’s words remind me of something the apostle Paul wrote about a person’s life work:
Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. (1 Cor. 3:10-15, NLT)
We are all building a life: year by year, day by day, moment by moment. Every project we undertake, every dollar we spend, and every commitment we add to our calendar is like a brick in our wall, a piece of our life. It’s exciting to think that some of those “bricks” will be even more valuable at the end of our life than when we first set them in place. But it’s sobering to realize that some won’t. Some bricks will crumble away or, to use the imagery from this passage, burn up. They won’t prove to have any real, permanent value.
Before we moved to Lafayette, we lived next to an old cemetery. Several of the stones near our fence bore dates from before the Civil War. Many others were so old and worn that the names and dates were no longer readable. Living next to that cemetery was a constant reminder that my life won’t last forever.
And that’s a reminder I need often. When I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I chase a lot of things that don’t really have any lasting value. Building “a good life,” one that looks like my neighbors (only better, of course!), is always tempting. But in the end, it will prove as short-sighted as a Civil War general investing in confederate currency or a technology company stockpiling floppy disks.
We all desperately need an investment that won’t flat-line when we do. We all want to spend our lives on something that will really pay off, really be worth it. So, to borrow Paul’s terminology, what are the “gold, silver, and jewels” we can build our lives with? What kind of investment will prove to have real, lasting value?
Paul’s investment, his “gold standard,” was pouring himself out for the sake of others. His “life work” was spreading the good news of God’s grace. And that work was built on Paul’s own relationship with Christ—what he called “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:8).
Paul was confident that this investment was worth it. Near the end of his life, he wrote these words:
As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” (2 Tim. 4:6, NLT)
If you are in Christ, then your foundation has already been laid. But how you build on that foundation is up to you. Why not make it your “life work” to know Jesus and point others to him? The investment you make in the gospel—both in your own heart and for the sake of others—will always be worth it.
The first month of 2017 has come and gone. Take time now to thank God for his grace to you. Ask for his wisdom to evaluate where you’re going and where you should be going. And ask him to help you build well—for the next eleven months and beyond.