Yesterday was graduation Sunday at our church. On this special Sunday we take time to recognize all the graduates in our church – college, high school, and even kindergarten. This is something we do every year to honor our young people, as well as to encourage them as they prepare to face new opportunities and challenges. It is always special, usually heart-warming, and generally a little bittersweet as we reflect on the changes that will inevitably result from those first faltering steps headed in a new direction.
As I watched our 2012 high school graduates walk across the stage and listened to their long lists of accomplishments, I found myself wondering about each one. Most were headed off to college with definite desires and goals. Would they succeed or would life get in the way with unexpected twists and turns? What did the future hold for each of them? But more than what they might do or what challenges they might face, would they live a life that counts? I have to ask myself that same question. Am I living a life that counts?
What is a life that counts? A life that counts is not necessarily one that succeeds in a prestigious career, but it could be. It’s not a life that is marked with great wealth and success, but it could be. A life that counts is not necessarily being happily married with a house full of kids, but it could be. A life that counts may not be a single person, fiercely independent and on his or her own, but it could be. A life that counts may not be the one who sees all his or her plans and dreams come true, but it could be. In short, a life that counts has little to do with what we do, but everything to do with how we do it. How do we live a life that makes a difference, a life that really counts?
I believe that the answer to this question hinges on how we answer the following three questions.
- Who do I live for?
- To whom do I listen?
- How do I live?
Who do I live for?
Who or what is first in my life? The answer to this question will ultimately determine the things I do and the decisions I make. Do I live for myself, to make myself happy? Do I live to please other people and do things that they expect of me? What is behind the things I choose to do or not do? Jesus, Himself, taught: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). The driving force in a believer’s life should be the Lord Jesus Christ. He should be our greatest desire, the one we seek to bring honor and glory to by the way we live our lives. The psalmist stated it so well. “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26). The apostle Paul pointed out that everything we do should bring glory to God. “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
To whom do I listen?
There are many voices in the world today clamoring for our attention. It is easy to get swayed by one opinion or another. As we struggle to make decisions in our lives, to whom do we listen? There is one voice that a believer should seek to hear first. “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker, for He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand. Today, if you will hear His voice; do not harden your hearts,” (Psalm 95:6-8a).
But how do we hear God’s voice? How do we know what God is saying or what He wants us to do? I think this is probably one of the hardest things I’ve struggled with in my Christian walk – how I can know His individual will for my life. The following verses have helped me as I have grappled with hearing God’s voice personally.
1. God’s Word is clear as to the kind of life He wants me to live. When I live according to His teachings and instruction, I am showing a reverence and fear for my Lord. According to His Word, this is the beginning of wisdom and when I obey His commandments He will give me understanding.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever (Psalm 111:10).
“For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly; He guards the paths of justice, and preserves the way of His saints” (Proverbs 2:6-8).
2. God’s Word assures me that He will lead me. This is a day-by-day walk as I stay in fellowship with Him. I can’t discern His voice or know how He’s leading me if I’m not reading my Bible, praying, and seeking to grow in Him.
“He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young” (Isaiah 40:11).
“Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21).
3. God’s Word affirms that His sovereign will cannot be thwarted. God will do what He says He will do. I may miss out on some of God’s blessings if I am disobedient, but if I am sincerely seeking to know Him and be led by Him, I cannot miss out on His best for me. God is not playing hide and seek with us as far as His will is concerned. He wants us to know and do His will.
“God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19).
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
I’ve come to realize over the years that hearing God’s voice and discovering His will is something that happens day-by-day, one step at a time. Sometimes it means weighing offers or options and seeing which one best lines up with guidance I find in His Word. Sometimes it is not always clear. But I’ve found peace in knowing that if God sincerely desires me to go one way or another, He will make my way clear. My responsibility is to be obedient in the things I know, to seek His guidance in the wisdom of His word and through prayer, and to make choices and decisions that will honor God.
How do I live?
Once we have determined who we’re going to live for and who we’re going to listen to, the how of life seems pretty simple. As Paul told the Athenians: “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28a). But, in reality, knowing how to live and actually doing it are where we all struggle. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5). There is this constant enmity between the flesh and the Spirit in the believer’s life, but because of Christ we can live a life of victory. As Paul stated to the Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). We live and walk by faith. “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
A life that lives for God, listens to hear His voice, and walks by faith in Him is a life that will count regardless of career choices, bank accounts, or any other measure of success the world knows today. As we live our lives, walking by faith, sometimes we can’t even discern the direction our lives are taking as we just walk day-to-day, making the best decisions we know how to make. But then one day we may have the privilege of looking back over our lives and seeing how God worked all the various pieces and fit them together perfectly so that our lives could honor Him. And that’s a life that counts!