The Most Important Things in Life Are Not Things
Dr. Jim Denison
Here are some of the least-important facts I know:
– Rubber bands last longer when refrigerated.
– There are more chickens than people in the world.
– Two-thirds of the world’s eggplant is grown in New Jersey.
– An ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain.
– A goldfish has a memory span of three seconds.
– It’s impossible to sneeze with your eyes open.
Here is the most important statement I know: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37, 39-40). As does your soul’s summer.
Last week we investigated the first great commandment, finding ways to draw close to God, to love him each day.
Today, we’ll explore the second great commandment. How will you love your neighbor as yourself this summer, thus proving that you love God? What will be your strategy for changing someone’s life, for living with significance and purpose, for making a difference that matters? How will you redeem this summer for God?
May I give you a proverb for these months, three words live by all summer long?
Learn God’s word (5-8)
When I was a high school senior, a dear friend gave me a topical Bible in which she inscribed two verses. They became the first biblical verses I ever learned: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, KJV). Let’s pitch our tents here and explore for a while.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart”:
“Trust” means to rely upon in total dependence. The Hebrew originally meant to lie helplessly face down, with no way to get up or save yourself. Not just believe intellectually, but trust personally. You do not “trust” the airplane pilot until you get on his airplane.
“In the Lord”—we all trust in something or someone to give us meaning and purpose. Some trust in the stock market, others in their job, others in their ability, health, parents, spouse, or children. The proverb says to put your trust in the Lord, to depend upon him for your life, meaning and future.
“With all your heart”—the “heart” is not just your emotions but your will and intellect. This is a command to trust in God with your decisions, plans, future; to trust him with your life, ambitions, and direction. With “all” your heart means that you trust completely and only in God to be your guide, source and strength.
“And lean not on your own understanding”—This is Hebrew parallelism, where the second line comments on the first. In this case, the second line restates negatively what has just been said positively.
“Lean” means to depend fully, to support yourself in the sense of leaning on a wall or a railing. When you have surgery you “lean” on the doctor to wake you up—you put your life in his hands.
“Not on your own understanding” is in the present tense; it actually says, “stop trusting in your own understanding.” To trust in the Lord with all your heart means that you don’t trust in yourself. You don’t trust your abilities, education, experience or circumstances to give your life meaning, purpose and direction. If you’re doing that, stop it now.
“In all your ways acknowledge him”—”All your ways” means every step, every action, every decision. Everywhere you go, everything you do.
There is no sacred/secular dichotomy here, no Sunday/Monday split. In every part of your life—your finances and friends and family and future.
“Acknowledge him” means literally to “know him” personally, intimately. Walk with God in everything you do, everywhere you go. God is not one of the electives in the school of life—make every choice with his will in mind. And take every step only after you ask him what to do. With this result: “and he will make your paths straight.”
The Hebrew means, “He will direct your paths” or “He will set you on the straight and narrow.” He will manage your life, guide your steps, take you where you need to go.
God wants to do this for us. He is waiting to “make your paths straight,” right now. But you must ask him to; you must follow his leadership. His will is your Global Positioning Satellite system, but it is no good unless you look at it and do what it says. It will not drive your car for you.
Bear in mind that walking down his paths will cost you something: “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops” (v. 9).
The “firstfruits” were the farmer’s first and best harvest. The ancient Israelites lived by the crops they produced, but the Law required that their first harvest be brought to God as a sacrifice.
Your “firstfruits” are your best resources. The first hour of the day given to God in prayer, Bible study and worship. Your best preparations for the class you teach or the ministry you lead. Your sacrifice to help a hurting neighbor, to reach out to a lost friend, to care about a lonely soul. Your best service to God, whatever the cost. When God directs your path, you walk down it whatever its price.
But then you position yourself to receive the blessing God so wants to give: “then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine” (v. 10). Then God can meet your needs and make your life abundant and significant. Then you can make a difference that matters. And only then.
Ask God first
So the proverb for the summer is these three words: Ask God first. Before you make your plans. Before you plan your vacation, your job, your activities, your days, your life. Lean upon his word and not your wisdom. Ask him to direct your paths, and believe that he will use your life. Depend on him. Ask God first.
What a counter-cultural decision to make. William Ernest Henley’s Invictus speaks for our self-reliant souls:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud;
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Only if you want to ruin it.
But most of us don’t really know that. We think that God helps those who help themselves. The Christian faith exists to help us live our lives better. To be a resource for us as we seek happiness and fulfillment, a means to our end. But it’s up to us. And when life is done we’ll sing, “I did it my way.”
Think about the popular movies of recent years. “Gladiator” is the story of a Roman general who became a slave, defied an emperor, and changed the world. “A Beautiful Mind” portrays a brilliant mathematician afflicted with paranoid schizophrenia who learns to conquer his illness by sheer will power. “The Sum of All Fears” shows us Tom Clancy’s young Jack Ryan, saving the world from nuclear war single-handedly. No one needs God. Why are these characters so popular? Because they’re the captains of their souls.
Think about the popular dramas on television. “CSI” shows us brilliant forensic pathologists, solving crimes each week by their intellect and investigative skills. “Jag” pits military lawyers against forces of evil each week, and of course the lawyers win. “ER” portrays doctors fighting death and tragedy; even when they lose, they lose with dignity. Why are these characters so popular? Because they’re the captains of their souls.
Who is the captain of yours?
Have you given your summer to God? Have you asked him to make straight your paths, to use your life, to redeem your days? To fill your barns to overflowing with significant service and meaningful living? Or are you the GPS of your summer, the map of your life, the captain of your soul?
When last did you ask God first with decisions of your business? Your marriage? Your family life? When last did you surrender your will, your ambitions into his hands? Intentionally? Consciously?
How does God want you to love your neighbor this summer? What ministry strategy might he have in mind for your life? Is there a family member to whom he wants you to draw closer? A strained relationship he wants to heal? A neighbor he wants to reach? A hurting soul he wants to help?
It’s now the “firstfruits” of the summer, the first of the season. Now’s the time to give it to your Lord. Ask him to make straight your paths, use your days, redeem your time. Ask him to change someone’s life and eternity through you. Ask him to help you love your neighbor as yourself. And he will. Ask God first.
Ask God now
Ask God first. A simple proverb for life, to be sure. But let me ask: are you living this way? Does your summer belong to God? Your Sunday? Your soul? Can he do with you anything he wishes? Lead you anywhere he wants you to go? Are you leaning on him today?
You can trust his will to be your best. Would he create your life and then lead you into ruin? Would he send his Son to die for your sins and then misguide your soul? Would he promise to meet all your needs according to his riches in glory and then refuse?
It’s just that I get busy. I get in a hurry. I have problems to solve. Tasks to complete. Work to do. It’s not that I intentionally, maliciously choose self-sufficiency over Christ dependency. It just happens.
God is waiting to listen to you today. And then to speak to you, if you ask him first. He will direct your paths, if you ask him first. He will fill your barns if you ask him first. He will help you love your neighbor as yourself, changing the lives you touch with his love and care. He will make this your soul’s best summer, if you ask him first.
Ask him to forgive your sins, to save your soul, to give you new and eternal life. Then ask him to guide your life today to help your neighbor know his love through yours. And ask him first again, tomorrow.
We focused in recent months on changed lives—Christ living his life through us. Jesus wisdom. Jesus character. Jesus personality. Jesus power. Working through us. Not us for him, but him through us. It can’t happen unless you ask God first. But it will if you do.
There was a man who was born into the kind of privilege the rest of us spend our lives trying to achieve and seldom do. But he nearly lost it all. Took it for granted. Abused it. Neglected it.
As an adult he had a chance conversation with Billy Graham at a family gathering, and that conversation turned him to Christ as Lord and Savior. And he began to learn to ask God first.
He asked God first when experts said Ann Richards could not be defeated and he had no chance to be governor of Texas. He asked God first when the critics said he had no experience to be president of the United States. He learned to ask God first on September 11th, and three days later at the National Cathedral, he spoke some of the most significant words in American history. He discovered God always gives the best to those who leave the choice to him.
Would you like to make the same decision?