Don’t Waste Your Life

Ephesians 5:15-17

October 5, 2003 | Brian Bill

Note: This sermon is based on a message by Rick Warren and is used by permission as part of the 40 Days of Purpose Journey.

I like looking at bumper stickers.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • Answer my prayer…steal this car.
  • Don’t follow me.  I’m lost too.
  • If everything is coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane!
  • Few women admit their age; few men act it.
  • Sometimes I wake up grumpy; other times I let him sleep.
  • Where there’s a will, I want to be in it.
  • My hockey mom can beat up your soccer mom.
  • America needs a faith lift.
  • Don’t worry about tomorrow; God is already there!

Here’s one more: “Life is too precious to waste.”  How do you and I keep from wasting our lives?  The Bible gives us the answer in Ephesians 5:15-17: “Be very careful, then, how you live-not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”

How can we be careful about how we live?  By making sure we’re not being careless.  The Greek literally means, “don’t stumble through life; don’t just drift.”  Think it through, know what you’re here for and identify your purpose.  The New Living Translation puts it this way: “Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do.”

I have some good news because starting next week, we’re going to look intently, for 40 days, at what God wants us to do with our lives by studying His five eternal purposes.  But before our first kick-off rally on Saturday, let’s give some attention today to three important questions of life.  

  • What does God want? 
  • What does it take? 
  • Why should I do it?  

Question #1: What does God want?  

If you were to read through the entire Bible, you could summarize what God wants in a couple of words.  He wants my whole life.  There is not a single verse in the Bible, not one, that says you can be a Christian and live your life any old way you want to.  God wants all of you.  He doesn’t want part of you.  He doesn’t want half of you, He doesn’t want most of you…He wants all of you.   Have you settled into a comfortable, casual Christianity?  If you were to put a % on the depth of your devotion, what number would you give yourself?  50%?  75%?  95%?  Bill Hybels has said that if I’m 99% sold-out to Christ, I’m still 1% short.  What about you?  Does God have all of you?

If it’s really true, then it deserves everything you’ve got

I like how the New Living Translation renders Romans 6:13, “Give yourselves completely to God since you have been given new life.  And use your whole body as a tool to do what is right for the glory of God.”   C.S. Lewis once said, “The only thing Christianity cannot be is moderately important.”  If it’s really true, then it deserves everything you’ve got.  It’s either all, or nothing.  It’s either true, and that should determine the rest of your life, or you should just chuck it and go do whatever you want to do.  

There are still a lot of people trying to sit on the fence because they say, “Well, I don’t know what God wants me to do.”   Look at Deuteronomy 10:12: “And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”  Did you notice the word “all”?  All your heart and with all your soul?”  It’s so easy to say, “Well, I’ll serve God in my spare time.”  It’s like I have this pie: I have my social life, and I have my career life, and I have relationships, I have my family life and over here I have my retirement life and this piece here is my spiritual life.   Many of us treat our spiritual side as one slice of a pie.  We couldn’t be more mistaken.  God wants the whole pie to be under His control.  He wants it all.  He wants your whole being.  

Look at Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and money.”   Notice the word “cannot.”  He doesn’t say you “should not” serve God and money, He says you “cannot” serve God and money.  It’s impossible to serve both because there’s no way we can have two number one priorities in our life.  We’re always going to have a No.1, and everything else is going to be 2, 3, 4 and 5.  

Now there are a lot of things besides money that can certainly push God out of First Place in your life.  Work can push God out of First Place; free time, sports, and hobbies can push God out of First Place; friends can push God out of First Place in your life; school work can push God out of First Place; dating can push God out of First Place; even your own family can push God out of First Place in your life.  Friends, we cannot serve God and something else at the same time because He wants to be totally in charge of our lives. 

Let me ask you a question.  What, or who, has first place in your life?  Is it your career?  Is it raising your family?  Is your number one goal saving for retirement?  Is it trying to maintain good health?  You see, all of those things are good.  In fact, God created them.  And God approves of every one of those things, except when they occupy First Place.  In Exodus 20:3, God says, “You will have no other gods before me.”  And whatever is in First Place in your life is your god.  

Luke 9:59-62 records an encounter Jesus had with some individuals who did not want to give Him first place.  As He was walking down the street, He went up to a man and said, “Follow me.”   The guy responded by saying, “Okay, I will follow you.  But Lord, let me first go take care of some things I’ve got to take care of.”  Now, that little phrase, “Lord, let me first” is a contradiction.  You can’t say “Lord” and “me first” at the same time.  If you’re saying “me first,” He’s not your Lord.  He’s not in charge.  He’s not No. 1.  

So, you have to decide who’s going to be Lord in your life.  Is it you, or is it God?  Is it going to be God first, or is your mantra, “me first?”  Let me ask you a very personal question.  Where are you saying to God, “me first”?  Where are you saying, “God, I’ll live for you, but let me first find somebody to marry.  God, I’ll live for you, but let me first finish my schooling.  God, I’ll really serve you, but let me first get the kids out of the house.  God, I’m really going be on fire for you, I’m going to do it all, but let me first achieve financial independence.  Let me first pay off my mortgage.  Let me first build my career.  Let me first finance my kid’s college education.”  And God says, “If I’m not first, none of this is going to be in right perspective.”  

In Luke 14:16-20, Jesus told a parable in which He said, “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.  At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’  But they all alike began to make excuses.”  When people are busy, they can come up with excuses pretty quickly.  Notice what comes next: “The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it.  Please excuse me.’  Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out.  Please excuse me.’  Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’”

Now, think about this.  These three guys are invited to a banquet by the king and they all turn him down.  The first guy uses his wealth as an excuse: I just bought some land and I have to go look at it.  The second one pointed to his work as an excuse: I’ve got to go and plow my field.  The third guy used his wife as an excuse: I just got married.  So here’s my question to you: what excuse do you keep giving to God for putting yourself first?  

Have you been trying to live a part-time Christian life?  The first question is this: What does God want?  He wants all of you.  He wants you to acknowledge Him in all your ways. And any time you sit on the fence, you lose. 

Question #2 – What does it take?  

What does it take to not waste my life?  What does it take to become all that God wants me to be?  Well, I’m going to say it in one word.  It’s a word you’re not going to like.  It’s a very unpopular utterance.  We cringe when we hear this word.  Are you ready?  Here it is.  It’s the word “discipline.”  And a groan went out across the land.  Proverbs 10:17 says, “Whoever practices discipline, is on the way to life.”  You cannot be a disciple without discipline.  In fact, the two words, “disciple” and “discipline” go together.  

Notice 1 Timothy 4:7 in the New American Standard: “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.”  Now, what in the world is discipline?  Here’s the best definition I’ve ever heard: discipline is delayed gratification.  It’s like the bumper sticker I saw that says, “Hard work has future payoff; laziness pays off now.”  Discipline is doing the difficult now, in order to enjoy the benefit later.  Now some of you don’t even need this definition, because you’re incredibly regimented.  You plan your work and you work your plan.  Some of you are very disciplined in your physical workouts.  Some of you never miss a favorite T.V. show.  You and I are disciplined in some areas.  You know where we’re disciplined?  In the areas we want to be.  We do what we want, don’t we?  

There’s another word for discipline that we like better.  It’s the word “habits.” A habit is what you do over and over without even thinking about it.  If it’s a habit, it’s a part of your life and your whole life is designed, shaped, controlled, and developed by those habits.  And if you want your life to change, your habits are going to have to change.  

The NIV puts it this way: “Train yourself to be godly.”  The only way to keep spiritually fit is by doing some spiritual exercises.  Let me mention just two.  

  • One is called the discipline of letting go.  We can’t keep adding things to our schedules without letting go of something else.  

Hebrews 12:1 hits it on the head: “Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress” (NLT).  I want you to notice two words: the word “weight” and the word “sin.”   These two things keep us from being all that God wants us to be.  Now, we have a pretty good idea of what “sin” is.  But what’s a “weight”?  In the Greek, it literally means, “a burden.”  A weight, or burden, is something that’s not necessarily wrong; it’s just not necessary.  A weight can be all kinds of things.  It could be a dating relationship, it could be an expectation, it could be an activity, it could be a club, it could be a memory that you refuse to let go of, it could be a fear, or it could be a job.  There are a thousand different kinds of weights.  And the Bible says, “to grow, I must learn to say no.”  

You and I can’t say, “yes” to everything.  We have to say “no” to some good things in order to have time for the best things.  We cannot do it all and have it all.  One of the reasons we have a hard time letting go of activities is that we tie our identity to them.  But if you are serious about fulfilling your purpose in life, you have to make space for God by cutting some stuff out.  We can’t keep adding things to our schedules.  Most of our lives are way too overcrowded.

This is concerning because beginning next week, for 40 days, we’re going to ask you to add four new habits to your schedule. 

  • Read a daily devotional reading from the “Purpose Driven Life Book”
  • Participate in a weekly small group for 6 weeks
  • Memorize 6 different Bible verses (one a week) 
  • Commit to go “7 for 7” in attendance at our weekend services

I’m telling you right now as your Pastor who cares about you; you need to decide what you’re going to cut out before you start 40 Days of Purpose.  You can only put so many irons in the fire before you put out the fire.  If we burn the candles at both ends, we’re not as bright as we think we are.  Your life’s already overcrowded, but not everything in your life is of equal value.  So you need to ask, “What am I going to stop doing?”  Whenever you add a new activity to your calendar, you should also say, “What am I not going to do?” 

There’s always a cost when you put God first in your schedule, but the rewards are worth it

Maybe you’re going to need to give up an hour a week of T.V. for 40 Days.  That might kill some of you, I don’t know.  You can stay home and watch Friends, or you can join a group and make some friends.  Maybe you need to go to bed 15 minutes earlier during 40 Days, so you can get up 15 minutes earlier to do your daily reading.  You just can’t keep adding stuff on.  There’s always a cost when you put God first in your schedule, but the rewards are worth it.  

  • Another discipline is to put first things first.  

A good example of this is found in Luke 10:40-42.  Jesus had come to visit two sisters named Mary and Martha.  We learn that “Martha was distracted by all the preparations.”  Do any of you identify with that phrase?  Martha was distracted by her many duties and tasks and became disturbed because her sister wasn’t helping out.  

She then marched up to Jesus and boldly declared, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?  Tell her to help me.”  Why was she so mad?  Because Mary was just sitting at the feet of Jesus.  But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you’re worried and upset about many things,” in other words, she had spiritual ADD.  Jesus then said, “but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better…”  

Let me ask you, do you find yourself like Martha?  Do duties on your to-do list distract you from becoming fully devoted to God?  Are your days so busy, that you don’t have time to stop, even for 40 Days and figure out the purpose of life?  Statisticians tell us that we will live an average of 25,550 days.  Don’t you think it would be wise to take 40 of those days to figure out what you should do with the rest of them?  

Notice the phrase, “Mary has chosen the better part.”  You know why I like that?  Because it means it’s a choice.  You say, “I just can’t get it all done.”  You’re right, but it isn’t all worth doing anyway.  You don’t have to do it all.  A lot of things in your “all” are self-imposed and they’re really not mandatory.  You just do them, maybe out of expectations, or habit, or perhaps because you just like doing them.  Friend, listen to me on this.  You’ve got the time to grow spiritually.  Do you want to make the time?  Will you make the choice to make the time?  Will you, like Mary, choose the better part?  

Listen to Psalm 39:6: “Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain…” That one ought to go on the dashboard of our cars!   And, Proverbs 10:27, in the Living Bible, gives us the key to finding more time in our life: “reverence for the Lord adds hours to each day.”  Put God first, and He says, “I’ll bring everything else into focus and give you the time you need to do what you need to do.” 

Some of you might be thinking to yourself: “I can’t do this because I’m just not very disciplined.”  Here’s some good news.  You don’t have to do it all by yourself.  Philippians 2:13: “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” God gives you the desire, and then He gives you the willpower.  As Zechariah 4:6 declares: “Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord.”  

Here’s what I’m saying.  Make the choice and say, “God, I want you to have all of me in these next 40 Days, and these are some of the things I will cut out of my life in order to make time to develop some new habits so that I might grow closer to you.”  Take some time right now and identify some distractions you can delete during the next 40 Days…

What does God want?  He wants all of you, every part of you.  What’s it going to take to grow?  It’s going to take discipline.  You can’t be a disciple without discipline. 

Question #3: Why should I do it? 

Why should I make the effort to grow spiritually?  Why should I let go of some things to make time for God in my life?  Well, there are many benefits and we can spend the rest of the day just talking about those.  But even if there were no rewards at all, I can tell you the reason why we ought to do it in two words: the Cross.  Jesus gave His life completely for us and He expects our lives in return.  

Look at Romans 12:1, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship.”   Listen.  It cost Jesus to die for you and it’s going to cost you to live for Him.  But He deserves it, because you would have a destiny with disaster if it weren’t for the Cross.  But because Jesus died for you, you owe Him your life.  

God is on the move, reconciling the world to Himself, right here in Livingston County! When I returned to the office after the “Community Forum” interview on Tuesday, I received a phone call from a guy who lives in Pontiac.  He said he listened to the discussion and wanted to ask me some questions.  This is what he said…and I’m not making this up: “I’m trying to figure out my purpose in life but I’m not a very religious person.  I try to help people and be nice but is there a bigger purpose out there?”

I affirmed his desire to help people by telling him that serving others is part of God’s purpose for his life.  I then went on to explain the other four purposes and told him that it doesn’t matter if he’s not “religious.”  I was able to share that Jesus wants a relationship with him.  He then asked if he could get a free book and more information about the 40 Days of Purpose journey.  He had already heard from the interview that he could go on the website and listen to the sermons.  I dropped a bunch of materials to him in the mail and will follow-up with him this week to invite him to the kick-off rally.

Let me make a comment at this point about whether we are trying to take people away from other churches.  With our pervasive promotional activities, one could wonder what we’re trying to do.  Our heart is to focus on the 60% or so of people who don’t go to church anywhere.  We want to reach lost people with the gospel of Christ and disciple them to become life-changing agents in this community, this county, our country, and on the continents.  We are not interested in “sheep stealing” from other churches.  In fact, when I meet people who attend another church, I like to encourage them to get involved in their church.  Having said that, while we’re not intentionally taking sheep from others, if some wander over here, we’re going to do our best to feed them!

Don’t miss out on what’s going to happen next week, and make sure your friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members join you in the journey of a lifetime.  If you’re not in a small group, don’t leave here this morning without signing up.  If you don’t have the time, make the time.  

2 Corinthians 6:1 in the Message reads like this, “We beg you, please don’t squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us.”  “Only one life will soon be passed, and only what’s done for Christ will last.”  Nothing else is going to matter.  Have you ever wanted to be a part of a miracle?  Well now’s your chance.  I was reading Habakkuk this week and 3:2 jumped out at me: “LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD.  Renew them in our day, in our time make them known…” God has given us the opportunity of a lifetime in the next 40 Days…don’t let God’s purposes pass you by.  Don’t sit on the fence.  Don’t watch from the sideline.

Would you please take out the blue card in your bulletin?  

  • Who do you want us to pray for this week?  Is there someone you are thinking about inviting to church or to a small group?   Write down their first names, or just their initials, if you want to keep it private.  The staff promises to pray for each of these names this week at our staff meeting and the prayer team will offer up intercession on Tuesday night and throughout the week.
  • Will you sign-up to join a small group?  If you are not yet plugged into a 40 Days group, please fill out the other side right now and drop it in the Mercy Fund Offering in a few minutes.  You were handed a pencil when you came in because we really want you to get into a group.  Remember, this is only a 6-week commitment.  You can do this!

[Take time right now to fill out these cards]

Let’s bow our heads for prayer: “Father we already know that you’re going to do some amazing things in our midst when we begin the 40 Days of Purpose.  Lives are going to be saved, families are going to be changed, friendships are going to be made, and miracles are going to happen.  We already thank you in advance.  And we thank you for what’s already happened in the hearts of people.  I thank you for those that stepped out in faith to host a group.  Help them to realize they are already a success because faith pleases you.  I thank you for all those who wrote down names of friends, relatives, and loved ones that they want to invite to a group.  Thank you for their love for you and others.  But most of all, I thank you for the Cross where you became full payment for our sin.”

Now allow me to lead you in a prayer.  Just follow along in your heart, “God, I don’t want to be a fence sitter anymore.  I don’t want to be a casual Christian, a part time believer, a lukewarm servant.  I want to give you my whole life, every part of me.  I need your help in developing the habits, the disciplines I need to grow spiritually.  So help me to let go of things that don’t really matter, and to put you first in my life.  Help me to know what to cut out, so I have time for what’s important.  Thank you for giving your life for me.  I want to be a part of what you’re going to do here in the next 40 Days.  In your name I pray, amen.”

We’re going to prepare our hearts for the next 40 Days by celebrating communion as a way to remember what Jesus did for us on the Cross.  2 Corinthians 5:15 says, “He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.”   He died for all.  Jesus gave His life for every one of us in this room.  Some of us have trusted Him and recognized that and enjoyed His forgiveness in our lives.  For others of you, it may be the first time you’ve heard that Jesus died for you.  He loved you enough to die for you and to offer you forgiveness.  

He died for us so that we would live for Him.  In the depths of His love and care for us, He has a purpose for our lives that is beyond what we can even ask or imagine.  Only Jesus can bring forgiveness and fulfillment, and only He can make us fruitful.  We couldn’t celebrate one day of purpose in our lives, except for the fact that Jesus Christ chose to leave Heaven and come to earth and give His life for us.  He didn’t have to do that.  He did that because He loved us.  He did that because He wants us to enjoy His purposes in our lives.   

He loves you, individually, right here, right now.  His blood was spilled for you.  Why do we take communion?  Certainly not because it’s a religious ritual.  He asked us to do this because He wants each and every one of us to take what happened at the cross personally.  Jesus died for you.  Jesus was resurrected for you.  He ascended for you.  And one day He will come back for you.  

I came across another bumper sticker with some pretty good insight: “What is a ‘free’ gift?  Aren’t all gifts free?”  This is a celebration for believers, for those who have trusted in the fact that Jesus died as our sin substitute and that He offers Himself as a free gift to us.  

The bread represents Jesus’ body.  We remember that He loved us enough to die for us.  The cup stands for His blood.  We remember that He forgives us.  The Bible tells us in Ephesians 1:7: “Through the blood of His Son, we are set free from our sins.  God forgives our failures because of His overflowing kindness.”   

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?