What, to you, makes a satisfactory life?
This is the question Dave Schlabach asked recently during revival meetings at my church. I thought of my reservoir of goals, dreams, and desires and wondered which of them, fulfilled, would give me reason to say, “Now this is a life well lived.”
All of them? One or two key achievements? What should satisfy me? Of what does happiness consist?
Here is what I learned from Dave, gleaned from my scribbled notes.
Every life experience is unique.
Acts tells the story of Peter, imprisoned and chained between two guards when an angel of the Lord came, released him from his chains, and led him out through the locked prison gates to freedom. John the Baptist, servant of God and the forerunner of Christ, was imprisoned for weeks and then beheaded on a whim of the king.
Paul and Barnabas, missionaries and evangelists for Christ, almost lost their lives in one town when plans were made to stone them, but they heard of the threat in time and escaped. Stephen, a passionate minister of the gospel, was stoned to death.
Blind Bartimaeus, who sat by the roadside crying to Jesus for help, was miraculously healed. The Apostle Paul prayed three times for God to heal his “thorn in the flesh,” (which some people believe to be blindness), and God told him, “My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Things don’t turn out the same for everybody.
And it’s not necessarily because of the choices you’ve made or the way you’ve lived your life. All the men mentioned above were godly men who dedicated their lives to the gospel. They approached similar situations and came away with very different results.
It would be easy for John the Baptist, if he had lived long enough to hear Peter’s story, to think: “What did I do wrong? Why did God miraculously rescue him and not me?”
It could also be easy for someone like Bartimaeus, who was healed, to look at someone like Paul and think, “Well, he must not have enough faith.”
Both responses are wrong.
Focusing on the journey leads to frustration.
John 21:15-23 (NIV) tells us of an interaction between Jesus and Peter soon after Jesus had risen from the dead. Jesus prophesied how Peter would die (by crucifixion). In response, Peter looked at John, another disciple, and said, “Lord, what about him?”
“If I want him to remain alive until I return,” Jesus said, “what is that to you? You must follow me.”
So often, like Peter, we compare our experiences with others. We want to know if our experiences are better than others, if they are normal, or if they are worse. We think this determines whether our life is “good” or “bad.” But if we base our life significance on where we fall in the spectrum of experience, our life is going to feel frustrating and unfair.
Satan would love us to focus on our life experiences, but the truth is, they do not determine the quality of our life. We hear sometimes of people from the poor and lower classes committing suicide. But we also hear of the suicides of rich people, movies stars, those who have “everything.” One man said that when he got everything he wanted, he found out he didn’t want it anymore.
It doesn’t matter which side of the spectrum we are on, if we focus on our experiences, it’s just not good enough.
Following Christ is the reason we journey.
Jesus is saying to us what he told Peter: “This is not about him. This is about you. Follow me.”
Revelation 12:11 (KJV) says, talking about the saints: “And they overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”
Or, as the NIV puts it: “They did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”
The Christian life is all about dying. Each one of us who follows Jesus must come to it in one way or another. Death to self, death to my own desires, death to me being the boss of my life. Perhaps, in certain parts of the world, death in a physical way.
Following Christ gives a deep inner meaning to life that is not determined or lessened by outward circumstances. Perhaps, if we need a measuring line for the quality of our lives, it should not be how well things are going at church, or in our businesses or careers, or with our families, but how much time we spend abiding in Christ.
Like the saints in Revelation, I want this to be my testimony: She loved not her life unto the death.
She wasn’t concerned with how her life compared to others or with how much good she could get from it. She accepted the things that came her way. She lived to make others happy. Even in hard times, she knew within herself a well of well being, a river of life.
She walked with Jesus, and that made all the difference.