Measuring our lives

Death Wish! What a great title for an action movie. (I wish I had come up with it!) Charles Bronson starred in the original Death Wish back in 1974. Bronson played Paul Kersey, a man who becomes a vigilante after his wife is murdered and his daughter is assaulted. Death Wish was a huge success and generated a movie franchise lasting four sequels, spread over a twenty year period. Bronson starred in Death Wish 1 at age fifty-three, and capped off Death Wish 5 at the ripe, young age of seventy-three. Obviously, this made for a rather unusual action hero. In Death Wish 2, a sixty-year old Bronson has a gun pointed at a criminal and utters this classic one-liner: “Do you believe in Jesus?” The criminal frantically assures Bronson that he does. Bronson then replies, “Well, you’re about to meet Him.” (I won’t tell you what happens next, but I’m sure you can figure it out.) Death Wish became a subject of parody for its over-the-top violence and the advancing age of Bronson. An episode of The Simpsons showed a fictional ad for Death Wish 9 consisting of a bed-ridden Bronson saying, “I wish I was dead.” While this spoof was amusing, it exposes the futility of personal retaliation and vindication.

I think the Death Wish movies epitomize the heart of our society. Our human tendency is to exclaim, “What goes around comes around. If you mess with me; I’m going to mess with you.” If someone takes something or someone away from us, we feel the irresistible urge to take matters into our own hands. After all, we need to avenge and vindicate ourselves. The underlying motive behind this type of thinking is a quest for our own glory. This is in direct contrast to Jesus Christ, who was driven by a desire to turn the other cheek, forgive wicked sinners, and glorify God. Instead of giving in to His own desires, Jesus lived for God’s glory alone.

On the eve before His crucifixion, Jesus prays, what is likely, the greatest prayer in the Bible. John 17 nicely divides into three sections. In the first section (17:1-5), Jesus prays for Himself. The key word here is “glory.” Jesus requests the Father to glorify Him with the glory they shared from eternity. In the second section (17:6-19), He prays for His disciples. The key word is “kept.” Jesus asks the Father to preserve His disciples. In the third section (17:20-26), Jesus prays for the church. The key word is “one.” Jesus desires for His church to be one with each other. Each section forms a unified whole that reflects Jesus’ desire to glorify God. Nowhere is this clearer than 17:1-5.

In 17:1 John writes, “Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You.” In the opening line of Jesus’ prayer He looks for glory in the last place people would look for it—the cross. In this verse, the glory of the Son and the glory of the Father are one and the same because Jesus is God. The word “glorify” (doxazo) means “show honor” or “reveal the wonderful character of something or someone.” Jesus “glorified” God in His life and death. He revealed many aspects of God’s character: His power, His holiness, His compassion, His grace, His love, His wisdom—and so on. His life was the ultimate expression of glorifying God. “These things” refers back to all that Jesus has spoken in John 13-16. After sharing His heart with His disciples, Jesus lifts up His eyes to heaven and launches into prayer.

The term “Father” (pater) is used six times in Jesus’ prayer. Jesus spoke Aramaic and the Aramaic term was Abba, which means, “Daddy.” Jesus is intimate with God the Father and you can be too. But perhaps your earthly father has significantly sinned against you, and you now have an inaccurate view of your heavenly Father. God wants you to know that He can bring healing to your wounded heart. Today, will you call out to God as your Father and let Him care for you? This is a prayer that God will always answer. The phrase “the hour has come” shows that Jesus knows the purpose and timing of His ministry. He is not overtaken by unknown circumstances. The cross has been strategically planned from eternity past. The cross itself “glorifies” the Father and the Son. Thus, Jesus’ request is that He may be given the strength to continue to be faithful as He goes to the cross. Jesus is praying that He might die well. He wants to be faithful in the face of suffering and death.

Have you ever contemplated the importance of glorifying God in your death? While it is important to live well; it is also important to die well. Today, whether you are young or old, will you ask God to prepare you to die well? Will you ask Him to be glorified in the way you accept your mortality? Will you begin to pray, “God, use even my memorial service to glorify You and bring many to faith in Christ?” To return to the opening illustration, Charles Bronson (Paul Kersey) lived a long life. Yet, his life was miserable. For him, there were always more sinners that needed be killed. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, lived a relatively short life, yet He died for sinners. Philosopher William James said that the value of life is computed not by its duration but by its donation. Except for the obvious necessity of the cross, Jesus could have continued performing amazing deeds if He had lived longer. But such deeds wouldn’t have enlarged His supreme donation—His life and death, which provided our great salvation. The work that He completed is still bearing fruit by His Spirit. It is important to remember that one’s harvest is not always reaped in this life. God’s work through our lives will continue bearing fruit long after we’re gone. This means it’s not how long you live, but how you live and how you die that matters.

You and I should be primarily concerned about God’s glory. There’s nothing wrong with being concerned about Aunt Gertrude’s hangnail or a sick pet. God cares about every detail of your life. Moreover, every request is small to God because He is a great God. However, God is ultimately most interested in His glory, and He wants you to share this passion. So when you pray for someone, please be sure to include God’s glory in your request. When you pray, “Lord, bless me,” you should quickly add, “so that I may be able to bless You.” This entails a motive check. It’s so easy to be preoccupied with ourselves—our marriage, our family, our work, our ministry.

Spend time searching your heart this week (Ps 139:23-24). Ask the Lord if your life is driven by a yearning for His glory. Ask Him some penetrating questions: “Does my marriage glorify You?” If not, “What would it take to strengthen my marriage so that it glorifies you?” If you are contemplating marriage, ask the Lord, “Will my marriage glorify You?” If not, there’s no ultimate purpose in getting married. Ask the Lord, “Does my family glorify You?” If so, “What can I do to further enhance my family so that You receive more glory?” Ask the Lord, “Does my ministry glorify You?” If so, what can I do to ensure that this next year brings You even more glory? Ask the Lord, “Does my work glorify You?” If not, “What can I do to correct my faulty behavior or attitude?” Every area of your life is meant to exude God’s glory. This is why Paul says in 1 Cor 10:31: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 

In 17:2, Jesus reveals that God’s glory is revealed through the free gift of eternal life. Jesus prays, “[May the Son glorify You] even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.” Jesus affirms that God the Father has given Him “authority over all flesh,” which is an awesome statement by a peasant carpenter. This phrase once again confirms that Jesus is God. But Jesus’ words are specifically targeted to all whom the Father has given Him. Five times in His prayer (17:2, 6 [twice], 9, 24), Jesus refers to believers as those whom the Father has given Him. This is incredibly profound!

The Father gives believers to Jesus, and the Son gives these believers eternal life. Through and through, eternal life is a gift from God through Christ. If you have never received the free gift that Jesus offers, would you do so today? Jesus offers eternal life to anyone who will simply ask Him for it. In one of the clearest passages in the New Testament, John 6:37-40, Jesus says: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” In one of the final verses of the New Testament, Rev 22:17, Jesus says, “Come. And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.” Please receive the gift of eternal life today. Trust in God’s Word, not your works; His promise, not your performance. As you do, you will experience the joy and assurance of being in a right relationship with God. There’s no greater confidence in the world.

Jesus now makes a somewhat parenthetical statement and defines “eternal life” in 17:3: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Most Christians assume that “eternal life” means to go to heaven when you die. This is certainly true—eternal life is a quantity (i.e., duration) of life. It refers to an unending life with God. But eternal life can also refer to a quality of life. In this context, Jesus is referring to a quality of life that brings about “abundant life” (10:10). He explains that this occurs through an intimate and personal knowledge of God the Father and Christ the Son. The word translated “know” (ginosko) is often used in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) and in the Greek New Testament to describe the intimacy associated with a sexual union. Ginosko can carry the idea, “to know by observation and experience—an intimate experiential knowledge.” Why is knowing God a key to experiencing eternal life? Because right thinking precedes right living. We cannot experience true intimacy with God (i.e., eternal life) apart from right living. So how can we know God and experience eternal life?

  • Read through the Bible regularly, focusing especially on Jesus’ life in the Gospels.I encourage you to make a Bible reading commitment for this month. Don’t think about next year just yet. Start with today. After you’ve gained some reading success, make a goal for next year, and be sure to focus on Jesus’ life. I think it’s critical to keep Jesus before us at all times.
  • Obey what you read in the Word.James 1:22 says, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” Our prayer must always be: “Lord, help us to experience transformation, not just information.” We don’t want to wind up like spiritual blowfish—puffed up with knowledge (1 Cor 8:1). Instead, we want to apply God’s Word every time we read it. This week, would you consider reading less and applying more? I would not be disappointed if you only read one verse as long as you disciplined yourself to apply that verse. Many Christians read several chapters in the morning and forget everything that they’ve read by the time they finish their last sip of coffee. Better to read a verse and apply it.
  • Enjoy God in creation.On a trip to Alaska I was awed by the beauty of God’s creation. I was drawn closer to God because His autograph (creation) was showcased. Admittedly, the Lord also convicted me of the sin of failing to appreciate His beauty in creation. I sensed the Lord saying, “I didn’t place you in Iceland or Timbuktu. I put you in one of the best places in the world—Texas. Yet you don’t always appreciate My beauty.” OUCH! Consequently, I’ve decided to spend more time seeking to know God in creation.
  • Change an attitude.No one likes to experience change, except perhaps the babies in our nursery. Yet, we must always be seeking to grow in our relationship with Christ. This means adjusting our attitudes so they better reflect Christ. Are you jealous of a coworker? Do you resent one of your children or siblings? Are you bitter with your spouse? Today, ask the Lord to change one of your attitudes. Don’t try to change every negative, unhealthy attitude. That would overwhelm you. Just ask the Lord to reveal one sinful attitude at a time. The Holy Spirit will enable you to become more conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29).

Jesus concludes 17:3 by affirming that He was “sent” by God. More than forty times Jesus speaks of the fact that He was sent. He had a mission to accomplish. We, also, have a mission to accomplish. When we are done, God will take us home. Make knowing God and Jesus the passionate pursuit of your life.

In 17:4, Jesus imparts one of the greatest principles in the New Testament. Praying to His Father, He says, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.” Jesus now looks back on the entirety of His earthy ministry and declares that He has glorified God by completing the work that God entrusted to Him. Jesus’ work was to reveal the Father, live a perfect life as a man, and redeem humankind. The work that God gave Jesus to do was focused on the cross (e.g., 12:23-24). When Jesus utters His final prayer, the cross still lies ahead, but by faith, He anticipates the successful completion of His mission. Jesus considers it a certainty because He had purposed to do the Father’s will. The verb translated “accomplished” (teleioo) is used earlier in John 4:34 where Jesus said to His disciples, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.”

Jesus reveals that God is glorified through the accomplishments of His obedient servants. What has God called you to do? If you’re a high school or college student, He most likely has called you to graduate. If you are married, He’s called you to fulfill your marriage covenant: “for better or worse, till’ death do you part.” If you’re involved in a ministry, He yearns for you to continue to serve Him for the rest of your days. In each of these scenarios, it is easy to become weary, impatient, frustrated, and angry. It is natural to consider giving up. But the Lord wants you to accomplish the work that He has called you to do. He has placed you in an area of ministry that is unique to you. Your relationships are ones that only you can have; He wants you to serve Him faithfully. 

This section closes in 17:5 with Jesus saying, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” In 17:5, Jesus clarifies and elaborates on His request in 17:1. This verse alludes to Jesus’ existence prior to His birth in Bethlehem. Jesus claims that He existed before the world existed. This implies that the material universe is not eternal but was brought into being by God. Before that, nothing material existed. But God existed eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Again, Jesus demonstrates that He is God. Christ prays that His full glory will be restored, that His divine attributes will be fully displayed as a means of enhancing the Father’s reputation. He would enter into that glory in a new way—as the God-man, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. It is this glorified God-man we shall see in heaven. Jesus looks beyond His imminent suffering to future glory in the Father’s presence (cf. 17:24).

The reason that Jesus glorified God throughout His life and finished well is because He made prior commitments. Decisions in life must be made in advance. If you are making decisions based upon your emotions, you are not setting a course for your life that will result in the accomplishment of the Father’s will. When did Jesus steel His attitude to be one of total yieldedness to the Father’s will? Prior to the beginning of His public ministry He lingered in Jerusalem in the Temple discussing Scripture with the religious leadership of Israel (Luke 2:41-50). At the outset of His public ministry Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness fasting (Matt 4:1-11). Several times during His public ministry Jesus retreated to be alone in prayer and meditation (Matt 14:13, 23; 17:1; 26:36). From the very beginning of Jesus’ life and ministry, He made sure that He would carry out the Father’s will.

If you wanted to preserve your virginity until marriage, you had to make this decision in an advance before temptation struck. If you want to remain married for the rest of your life, you need to make that determination before you even think about getting married. If you want to honor your parents, you have to make this a core conviction. If you want to stand strong and witness for Christ, you need to come to this conclusion before the world’s hatred hits. It’s very difficult to live for Christ when you’re hoping that things are just going to work themselves out. This rarely happens. The Christian who perseveres and overcomes is the one who makes up his or her mind before trials and temptations come. We are all weak and susceptible. We can all potentially give God a black eye and fail to glorify Him. This is why it is so important to make God’s glory your all-consuming passion.

When I was growing up, I used to enjoy Tombstone pizza commercials. You may recall they coined the slogan: “What do you want on your Tombstone?” Of course, the dilemma was: pepperoni or sausage? But the commercials would have a man being put before a firing squad or facing the death penalty and being asked his final wish, “What do you want on your Tombstone?” Today, on a far more serious note, I would like to pose the same question, “What do you want on your tombstone?” At any time, you could die. Whether you are a police officer, a soldier, a student, or a housewife, there’s no guarantee that you will live a full life. So the question, “What do you want on your tombstone?” is critically important. What I want on my tombstone is one thing: GLORY! I want God’s glory to be the topping of my life. In order to experience this, I strive to live a life sold out to Jesus Christ.