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What we want in life

What we want in life #6

"I want my life to have meaning"

Ecclesiastes 2:10 & Luke 10:25-28


1. Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz spent the entire summer driving 10,000 miles across America in a rented car. In 30 states they interviewed 1,000 people asking them just one question: What is the meaning of life? Those they asked were amazingly responsive and willing to talk. They ranged from young to old, blue-collar workers to CEOs, residents of Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Portland and a whole lot of other places in between. The answers became the basis for their very readable book, Search for the Meaning of Life (Bruce Bickel & Stan Jantz, Search for the Meaning of Life, Nashville: Word Publishing, 2001.).

2. The answers were not always what might be expected. Virtually no one defined the meaning of life in terms of money, possessions, power or success. Those who did were careful to say that all these things were to be used to benefit others not ourselves.

3. There were many people who just didnít know. They did not have meaning to their lives. Interestingly, the interviewers found that those who didnít know were pretty evenly divided between religious people and non-religious people. Maybe itís just that some people arenít good at answering questions but it does seem that being religious doesnít necessarily mean that you can articulate why you are alive.

4. One interview was with the owner of a successful high-tech business in Portland, Oregon. The interviewers said, "There was intensity and pressure in the air throughout the office as deals were being made and business was transacted. But behind the closed door of his private office, this business owner was still and somber. We had just asked him this question: ĎWhat is the meaning of life?í" (Bickel & Jantz, page 204).
At first this businessman refused to answer the question. Then he told what had happened to him a week earlier:
"I was having my annual physical. Just when I thought the doctor had finished, he said he had one more question for me, ĎAre you doing what you were put on earth to do?í I couldnít give him an answer. I just cried."

5. We all want our lives to count for something. We want to live for a reason. We want to matter. We want to make a difference. On the day we die we want our lives to have meaning.

6. If Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz had interviewed you, how would you have answered the question: What is the meaning of life? More personally, what is the meaning of your life?

I. Solomonís frustration Ecclesiastes 2:10

1. We donít get much help from one of the wisest men who ever lived. His name was Solomon and he was a very frustrated wise man.

2. Solomon lived about 3000 years ago. He was the king of Israel when that nation reached its economic and political peak. Because of the military successes of his father David, Solomon ruled during a period of peace. His army was strong enough to protect the nation from any aggressor. It was a period of enormous prosperity when Solomon became one of the wealthiest men in the world. He was a renaissance man long before the Renaissance. He was into art, literature, botany, philosophy, politics and religion. He was renowned for his wisdomóphilosophers and monarchs traveled the world to come and hear what he had to say. Relationally he was a major polygamist with a thousand wives and concubinesómost acquired as a way to seal political treaties with other nations.
Some would say that he "had it all." Fame. Fortune. Culture. Relationships. Sex. Power. If anyone should easily answer the question about the meaning of life Solomon is our man.

3. Solomon wrote a philosophical treatise that found its way into the Jewish Old Testament and therefore into our English Bible. It is called the book of Ecclesiastes. It is Solomonís long answer to the meaning-of-life question. There should be a sense of anticipation because his answer should be the final word. Hereís what Solomon wrote:
Ecclesiastes 1:1-2

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless."

4. To document his perspective on the meaninglessness of life he wrote a chapter on each meaningless pursuit of his life. If you have a Bible like mine it contains short subject headings. Take a look:
Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 Everything is meaningless
Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 Wisdom is meaningless
Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 Pleasures are meaningless
Ecclesiastes 2:17-26 Toil is meaningless
Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:12 Riches are meaningless

5. What a total bummer! This guy had it all and tried it all and summed up everything as zero. He is like some modern superstars who get everything they are after and end up deeply disappointed with life.

6. All of this is to say that the search for meaning may not be satisfied by looking in the usual places. Have you ever really wanted something and then been deeply disappointed when you finally got it? At least from Solomonís experience, all the big successes of life donít make life meaningful. He tried it all and came up empty. There must be a better answer.

II. Lawyerís question Luke 10:25

1. A lawyer once asked the meaning question in a different way.

2. Luke 10:25
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

3. It sounds like this lawyer was less than sincere. It was a testótesting and tricking more than asking and seeking. Thatís okay; some people are like that. In most ways, it doesnít much matter. At least he was talking to Jesus and at least he was asking. It was a good question regardless of his motives.

4. When he asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life it sounds like he was trying to get himself written into Godís will so he could live forever. But, thereís more to it than that. The original words in the New Testament for "eternal life" literally mean "the life of the ages." Itís true that eternal life lasts forever but that is not its main feature. The main feature of eternal life is that it is the life of eternity. Itís the "good life; the meaningful life." It is much more about quality than quantity.
Compare this to a foreigner seeking to become an American. I have talked with many citizens of other countries trying to get a visa, a Green Card and eventual citizenship. It is the American way of life they seek. The visa, Green Card or citizenship are really the means to seek and seize the opportunity America affords. Here are jobs, freedom, affluence, education for children and more. It is the quality of America they want. When they say they want America they donít mean an American prison with a life sentence; they mean the very best America has to offer.

5. When the lawyer asked Jesus how to get eternal life he didnít mean living forever in hell. He meant getting the good life of heaven. He wanted the life of God. He wanted a life that meant something.

6. While he used different words than those used by the two researchers who traveled America he could have asked Jesus the same question: What is the meaning of life? Either way, Jesusí answer would be the same.

III. Jesusí answer Luke 10:26-28

1. Luke 10:26-28
"What is written in the Law?" Jesus replied. "How do you read it?"
The lawyer answered: "ĎLove the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mindí ; and, ĎLove your neighbor as yourself.í"

"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

2. Do this and life will have meaning.

3. The lawyer asked a follow-up question. He was treating Jesus like a witness in a courtroom. He was digging into the technical definition of a "neighbor" because there were some very religious people in Jerusalem who taught that your neighbor is only someone who is like you. There were Jews who were willing to love other Jews but no one else. Some people take the same approach todayóthey are willing to love people they like but hate the people they donít like.
Jesus answered with the famous parable of the Good Samaritan. You can read it for yourself in Luke 10. From that story Jesus taught that real love is best demonstrated when we are dealing with the least lovable people not the most lovable people. Think of someone hard for you to love. Thatís who Jesus had in mind.

4. But letís not play the lawyerís game and get bogged down in definitions and technicalities. Letís grasp the main point to Jesusí answer. The meaning of life comes from loving God and loving others.
® The meaning of life is not in living for ourselves. It is in living for others.
® There is a mystery here. If we live for ourselves life will lack meaning and satisfaction. If we live for God and others life will have meaning and satisfaction.
Comparison: When people move to northern states like Minnesota we try to explain to them how to safely drive on slippery roads. One of the basic lessons is to turn into a skid. It is counter intuitive. All your experience and instinct tells you that if the car is skidding to the right you should turn the car hard left. It is the worst thing you can do. Turn into the skid to get control of the car.
There is a technical explanation that you and I may or may not understand but the bottom line is that it works.
Itís the same logic and reality with finding meaning in life. Our instincts tell us to turn into ourselves and take care of ourselves and then life will be meaningful and good. It is the worst thing you can do. Turn into God and into others and you will have meaning in life. There are theological explanations that you and I may or may not understand but the bottom line is that it works.

5. Letís consider a "sidebar." In magazines, sidebars are those columns inside of articles that tell you a sub-story or give you a relevant and related nugget of information.
The sidebar is that Jesus called us to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.."
In other words, each of us is different. Some of us live out the meaning of life and love God as parents, others as singles. Some are laborers, some are educators, some are artists and some are professionals. God has individualized us all. Just as we have physical DNA in all our cells we also have individual DNA in our souls, strengths and minds. You and I need to be who God designed us to be and love God and others out of our distinctiveness.
Wayne Gretsky is nicknamed "The Great One" because of his amazing ability to play hockey like no one else. Some say that he is the greatest hockey player in the history of the sport. Did you know that when he was growing up his desire was to be a baseball player? Fortunately, he was smart enough to play the sport God designed him to play rather than the one he wanted to play.
Each of us needs to ask God who we are and what God wants us to do well and then live out the love of God by being us. Donít try to be Wayne Gretsky or Bill Gates or your cousin Pete. Be youóand love God and others with all your soul, your strength and your mind.
One more sidebar. We are all tempted to compare ourselves with others in our quest for meaning in life. Sadly, we make the comparison on the basis of gender, profession, title and societyís rankings of success. Thatís all wrong. The comparison is not in what we do but how we do it. Be the best gardener, astronaut, author, job seeker or disabled person you can be for God. Live out the love of God and others in whatever you do.

6. So, how does all this give us meaning in life? Loving God and others has a long list of benefits: 1.) God is loved and pleased; 2.) Our neighbors are loved and benefited; 3.) We have satisfaction of our hearts, souls, strengths and minds.

Last Wednesday marked the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Many of the public speeches and the follow-up headlines quoted from Lincolnís Gettysburg Address saying that those who died did not die in vain. In other words, their deaths had lasting meaning. Thatís what happens to us when we love God and love others in our lives. Our lives have lasting meaning. We are not living in vain. "Vain" means "empty" or "meaningless." The key to a full life, a meaningful life and an eternal life is to "ĎLove the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mindí; and, ĎLove your neighbor as yourself.í"

7. How are we going to do this? It begins with a personal commitment of life to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Itís like becoming a citizenóyou deliberately declare your life and allegiance to something new. It will change your identity, how you live, what you say and even the taxes your pay. Life will never again be the same. Become a Christian with that kind of a life commitment to Jesus. Then, be who you are designed to be only be that person for God and others more than for yourself. Got a heart? Be passionate for God and others. Got a soul? Be spiritual for God and for others. Got strength? Be strong for God and for others. Got a mind? Be thoughtful for God and for others.


1. Back to Solomon. When he came to the end of writing his frustrations in Ecclesiastes his intelligence and wisdom finally kicked in. Despite all the pessimism of most of his twelve chapters, he finishes with some very different words (which is probably the only reason his writing made it into the Bible).
Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:

Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing,

whether it is good or evil.

2. At the end of life the last page of our individual biographies will be written and God will read and review our stories. May God put down your volume and say that your life fulfilled what he put you on earth to do. May God be pleased with all your life means to him and may your neighbors, friends and families cheer and affirm Godís delight. Then and now . . . may your life have meaning, for Jesusí sake. Amen.

September 14-15, 2002 Wooddale Church

© Leith Anderson 2002

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