Making a Life, Not a Living

(James 1:9-12)

Life is a journey, a series of adventures. And anytime we begin a new adventure we may have some doubts and worry about going. So many things can go wrong. What if we fail? What if we get lost? What if we don't meet the expectations others have of us, or we have of ourselves?

If we let ourselves focus on these things we would probably go about our lives in the most passive and unassuming way possible.

  • We wouldn't go and do or see anything different, and we wouldn't experience anything new.
  • We'd go about our daily routine with precision, not inviting new challenges or learning opportunities.
  •  We'd get lost in being defined by things external and we'd lose a sense of our inner self, who we are, and who God created us to be.
  • And we would not only get bored but we would not be living in obedience to God. You see God calls us to take a journey with him, to be adventurous and open to new opportunities and experiences. The destination may be far beyond our vision of who we are, after all only God knows where we might end up, but unless we are challenged beyond our comfort zone we won't grow.

The point is, in our life's journey God calls us to trust in him and be willing to take that first step. You see God wants to help us make a life for ourselves and families.

And as we embark on our journey, we must not ever forget that if God is the creator of our journey, he goes with us, he's not a spectator. God will guide us along the way and will provide all we need to make the journey possible. And no matter where we are on our life's journey, near the beginning or near the end, God will provide if we will only trust him. So I encourage each of us to turn to God each and every day and allow him to be our guide.

But regrettably too many people today are so focused on making a living; they don't give the time and energy to make a life.

Now what I mean by this is that many people today are so caught up in the competition of our culture, and the status that comes with being externally identified as successful, that they actually give up the things that make a fulfilling life so they can pursue a living.

Let me explain. Making a living values things like:

  • keeping up with the neighbors and friends,
  • putting a job before God, family, and church
  • being so caught up in status, image, and external acceptance that nothing else really matters.
  • working to make as much money as possible without regard for how we've been gifted by God.

Now conversely making a life values:

  • Being happy with ourselves and content with how God has gifted us
  • Providing what's needed for our family
  • Making our jobs no higher than fourth on our list of priorities
  • Focusing on a life pleasing to God and not getting all caught up with what others say or think
  • Using our God given gifts in a way that has a positive impact on our families, society, and church, while bringing glory to God.

Now there is any number of points to be made about how we can make and live a more complete life, but the one point I want to explore a little bit this morning is the idea of balance. But what I want to say about seeking balance may not be what you're expecting to hear.

Although I've spoken many times about the need for balance in our lives, I'm now rethinking that position and want to suggest that balance is not a key for making a life. As a matter of fact I'll assert that balance is not what God wants us to be seeking either.

Let's take a closer look at our scripture reading from James this morning. If you will take out your Bible or a pew Bible and turn to James 1:9-12. Follow along as I read the text again: Jas 1:9 The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. Jas 1:10 But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. Jas 1:11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. Jas 1:12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

And let me quickly read what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:10-11

2Co 12:10 That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2Co 12:11 I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the "super-apostles," even though I am nothing.

What I want to lift up from these passages today really isn't an exhaustive exegetical understanding or sound interpretation of the text, but rather the paradoxes presented, those things that seem contradictory:

  • Humility and pride
  • Rich and low position
  • Blossom and destroyed beauty
  • Weak and strong
  • Super-apostle and I am nothing I lift up these paradoxes as examples because both James and Paul are suggesting that as Christians we live with the tension of paradoxes.

Let's consider some of the more familiar paradox's we live with:

  • The need to follow God's law, while following the laws of our government
  • The issue of not supporting war, while supporting our troops
  • The need to love others while not approving of a persons behavior
  • Work time and family time
  • The issue of being strict with a child's discipline or more open with them allowing them to make their own decisions

The point is, our lives are full of paradoxes, and to deal with paradoxes we often times think of them in two ways: The first is, we treat each position of a paradox as polar opposites. So with this in mind common thinking is this:

  • If you don't like war you certainly don't support the troops, conversely if you support the troops you must favor war.
  • If you're weak you can't be strong
  • If you're humble you can't exhibit pride
  • If you're strict with your children you don't allow them to make decisions. This is the position many people take with paradoxes and it's this treatment of paradoxes that can lead to relationship issues, political arguments, and conflict in the work place, just to name a few.

Even within the Christian world one of the main reasons different faith traditions, or denominations, don't relate to one another well is because of the polarizing way we treat each other over some issues, for example: Baptism, Holy Communion, biblical inerrancy versus divinely inspired, the role of the Holy Spirit, and certain social issues such as abortion, homosexuality, stem cell research, and the like. In this case the issue isn't taking a position; the issue is the way we treat others after they take a position.

Now the other position some take regarding paradoxes is the idea of drawing a balance between the opposites. And I have to admit this was the position I held for a long time, and even spoke about sometimes.

Now on the surface drawing a balance looks like a healthy place to be, but in reality, is striking a balance even possible, and is it even a healthy position to take?

Consider the following:

  • What is the place of balance between war and supporting the troops?
  • What is the place of balance between humility and pride?
  • What is the place of balance between loving someone and not approving of their behavior?

Can an actual point of balance be defined, and is it really nothing more than a compromised position? How do you compromise between humility and pride, how do you define the balance between weak and strong, and what does super-apostle and I am nothing look like?

So I've concluded that a life of absolute balance isn't possible. And I've further concluded that a life lived in polarities or a life lived in the pursuit of balance is NOT what God expects of us. And this is because in both cases we are either being defined by external influences or we are defining an artificial point that works for us.

Think about it, people judge us and put us in categories, do they not? And we do the same thing with others and with ourselves. Who defines success and then determines if we're successful, others do. How do we determine the balance point between weak or strong, humble or prideful, and if we could, is this always where we need to be?

So I want to suggest another way. I want to suggest God is calling us to live with the tension of paradoxes, because it's within this tension and having to deal with the paradoxes real time that we continue to learn and grow. I want to suggest that our approach to paradoxes be one of Christ-centeredness, meaning we move along the continuum of paradoxes as Christ leads us, being focused on what Christ is calling us to do at a particular point rather than worrying about what's the right balance.

You see it is possible to not support war, but support the troops. It is possible to be humble, but have a healthy sense of self-pride. It is possible to be very strong, but to be weak as well. And in different contexts or situations we may need to be one or the other, or fall at some other point along the continuum to properly respond to the situation. All of this has nothing to do with balance, again because balance often times pre-supposes a compromise position, or a middle point between polar opposites. And actually real balance isn't really possible, because our lives ebb and flow with the realities of daily living, meaning the situation of life and the context of life is constantly changing, requiring our response to ebb and flow as well.

What I want to suggest is that what we need is what Robert Quinn calls an "integration of opposing values." This means our focus on issues ought to ebb and flow as life does, and that our focus ought to be on what Jesus would want us to do in addressing them as they happen, not on what society expects, and not on trying to draw a pre-conceived point of balance.

To reach a place of "integrating opposing values" we must begin by investing time in really understanding ourselves. As I mentioned last week in order to change society we need to first change ourselves, and then society becomes the change we make in ourselves. Well in order to change from making a living to making a life we need to take a hard look at ourselves, by first looking at what it is we really value. Now, for example, many folks will say they value their families, and there is no doubt that's probably true, but is the family really valued above and beyond people's impression of us? In other words are we willing to place our relationships above and beyond other people's perceptions of us, or is being viewed as successful, beautiful, and well-off what we really value, and is what serves to motivate us?

You see it's our hypocrisy regarding our values, and our self-focus that keeps us tied to making a living and this literally drains us of our energy. What's happening is we're allowing other people to define who we are and how we're viewed, and sometimes we can get so caught up in this vicious cycle of self-focus and caring about what others think, that we just get worn out, pushing everything that's really important to us further and further away until things like relationships begin to collapse.

We become what others think of us, and we start to value and begin to live into that image, sometimes to the point life becomes about making a living to fulfill this need to become what others want us to be. As a result we're no longer true to ourselves or true to whom God created us to be. So I suggest in order to maintain a sharp focus on making a life we need to become:

  • Purpose-centered - This means that our job and how we live our lives ought to be based on what God has gifted us to do and be, not on what will yield the highest income and most toys, or draw the praise and affirmation from others.
  • We need to become Holy Spirit directed - Which means we are following the leading of the Holy Spirit in how we respond to issues we encounter in life, basing our decisions on God's will, and not on our own desires or the impressions we want to make. " We need to become Others-focused - Do we have a clear focus on serving others, above ourselves, as commanded by Jesus.
  • And we need to become open to learning and growing through the paradoxes of life - Are we willing to acknowledge that life is full of paradoxes and God expects us to navigate the ebb and flow of these paradoxes using the example of Christ as our model. You see life is a journey of learning experiences and when we decide to stop learning we cease to grow, and we cease to live as God wants us to.

Now what's really amazing is when our values change and making a life becomes our focus we discover energy we didn't know we had. Life is now full, and we actually have more control over our lives instead of others controlling us.

Now to make all these changes we can't simply rely on ourselves. I suggest we need to find a mentor to help us out, we need to help one another, and hold each other accountable, and I strongly suggest that we stay connected with God.

You may have noticed the last couple of weeks that I've been projecting the image of communication bars and the question, "Can you hear him now?" on our welcome screen. I've printed a copy of this image on your message notes insert this week so you have it.

Now I don't know if you noticed it or not but on your cell phone there's typically five bars indicating how strong the signal is. Well as you can see on our image there are seven bars, seven being a biblical number meaning completeness or fullness. It's my contention that if we maintain a strong signal with God, and engage in the activities I've suggested, we will have a good life, a complete and full life, and a life pleasing and reflective of the very nature of God.

You know our life here in this world is just too short to be focused on simply making a living. If we choose this path, before too long we'll be facing death wondering if it was all worth it. Was the sacrifice of family, friends, and our relationship with God worth the short-lived admiration of others, or the extra toys we may have been able to acquire along the way?

I've spoken to a number of folks who are older and wiser, some were nearing death, and without exception those who worked hard to make a living had regrets, those who focused on making a life were at peace and felt good about what they had done with their life.

So again, as with many spiritual matters, the choice is ours, will it be making a living or will it be making a life?

You know our choice has the potential to change our society, as we discussed last week:

  • We can be the generation that makes a profound difference,
  • We can be the generation that breaks the chains of individualism, pluralism, and passive acceptance of society,
  • We can be the generation that teaches and experiences the blessings of making a life, a life firmly grounded in Christ, and focused on others.

And it continues to be my hope that our lives glorify God through our faithfulness and obedience to him through Jesus Christ our Lord,


Read other messages by Pastor Wade