What Are You Living For?

July 15, 2018 | Ray Pritchard

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I know a man who likes to share his Christian faith using two simple questions. If he is meeting someone for the first time, he will ask them, “What do you do for a living?”

The person will answer, “I’m a doctor” or “I teach Spanish at the high school” or “I run a nonprofit” or “I’m a stockbroker” or “I’m a writer,” or whatever it is they happen to do.

That question works because we all do something. So it’s easy to get people to talk about what they do for a living.

We all do something.

Then comes the second question: “What are you living for?” Usually there is a moment of silence because people don’t know how to answer that question. But it’s a good one because just as we all do something, we all live for something, even if we don’t know what it is.

It’s good to pause and ask ourselves, “What are we living for?”

Some people live for money.
Some people live for fame.
Some people live for approval.

What are you living for?

A Question from Jesus

To help us answer that question, let’s take a trip back in time to a place called Caesarea Philippi, a Roman city located north of the Sea of Galilee. A huge rock cliff dominates the landscape. At the base of the cliff a stream flows on its way to the Jordan River. It is a critical moment for Jesus. All Israel buzzes with word of this man from Galilee. Who is he? By what power does he perform his miracles? What does he want?

After a wave of early popularity, the nation is now divided. True, he has a wide following among the common people. It is also true that among the rich and powerful, opinion is slowly crystallizing against him. In the distance, the drums of angry opposition are beginning to beat. Before too many months, their sound will become a deafening roar.

Are you ready to commit your life to Jesus?

Knowing all this, and knowing that it would end in his death, Jesus gathers his disciples in this quiet place to draw out from them a deeper commitment than they had yet given. It is here Jesus asks the famous question, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13) And it is here Peter makes his confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).

But the conversation does not end there, for Jesus is seeking more than a confession; he is also seeking a commitment: “Now that you know who I am, are you willing to commit your life to me?”

This is how Jesus puts the issue in Mark 8:34-36:

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it. 

What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 

Take a careful look at those verses. The New International Translation uses the word “life” twice and the word “soul” twice. But in Greek those are not different words. The Greek word is psyche, from which we get our English word psychology. Sometimes it refers to the immaterial part of man (his soul) as opposed to his body. But more often it refers to the whole man or to the inner conscious self we call the personality. The psyche is the “real you” that lives and breathes and makes decisions. “Life” is not a bad translation so long as we remember it means more than just physical existence.

What’s the Best Deal You Can Make?

With that background, we may paraphrase these verses this way:

“Now that you know who I am, are you ready to take up your cross and follow me? Before you answer, let me warn you that following me will seem in the eyes of the world as if you are wasting your life.

“The people of the world will never understand what you are doing. It will seem to them that by following me, you are throwing your life away.

“You always have another option. You can try to save your own life by following your own desires. Lots of people do that. They live as if their career was all that mattered. But the people who live only for this life in the end will find they wasted it on things that don’t really matter.

“They try to save it by living for themselves, but in the end they will lose it. They have wasted their lives on trivial pursuits.

“But if you follow me—though the way will not be easy, and you will often be misunderstood—in the end you will save your life. And the people who laugh at you now will not laugh at you then. They will see you were right and they were wrong. 

“After all, what good will it do if you become the richest man in the world or climb to the top of the corporate ladder or rise to the highest salary level in your company or win the applause of the world, what good will all that do if in the end you find out it was all wasted? What good will that shiny new Lexus do for you then? Will you be able to trade it in for another life? 

“No, you won’t.
“But if you want to live that way, go ahead.

“Millions of people do. In the end they will be sorry, but by then it will be too late to do anything about it.

“So what will it be? The way of the Cross or the way of the world?  You’ve got to invest your life somewhere. What’s the best deal you can make?”

That reminds me of the famous words of Bob Dylan:

“You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

On this point, Bob Dylan and Jesus agree. You’re going to serve somebody.

You gotta serve somebody

Who will you serve?
What’s the best deal you can make?

Was Jesus a Failure?

The life of Jesus is the best answer to that question. Consider the facts of His “career”:

  • He was born in an obscure village in an out-of-the-way province of the Roman Empire.
  • He never went to college, nor did he have any professional training.
  • He never had a bank account.
  • He owned no property except the clothes on his back.
  • He never held public office.
  • He never wrote a book.
  • He never had a wife or children.
  • His closest friends were blue-collar workers.
  • He felt at home among the outcasts of society.
  • His ministry consisted of preaching in the countryside, teaching in the synagogues, answering difficult questions, healing the sick, and casting out demons.
  • His opponents openly accused him of consorting with the devil.
  • Along the way, he made many powerful enemies by exposing corruption in high places.
  • Finally, his adversaries captured him, tried him in a kangaroo court, and put him to death.
Was Jesus a failure?

To be perfectly honest, by most modern standards we would consider him a failure. He never made it to the top. If ever a man seemed to waste his life, it was Jesus.

But consider this. After more than two thousand years . . .

  • His words are remembered and repeated around the world.
  • His followers number in the billions and can be found in every country on earth.
  • His personal integrity stands unsullied amidst the attacks of the cynics and the sneers of the ignorant.
  • His death, which seemed to be a tragedy, has become the means by which we can be reconciled to God.
  • His whole mission on earth, which seemed to be a failure, has now become history’s greatest success story.

How can this be? He was humiliated to the point of death and seemed to lose his life for no purpose whatsoever. Yet through his death God exalted him to the very highest position in the universe,

“So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).

Jesus made clear why he did what he did when he said,

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).

Out of one seed comes forth a vast harvest; but that seed must die in order to bring forth fruit. As long as the seed “saves” its life, it remains alone. But when it “loses” its life, it brings forth the harvest.

You can’t “save” your own life, but you can “lose” it

It’s simple, really.

If you try to “save” your life, in the end you “lose” it. But if you dare to “lose” it for Jesus’ sake, in the end you “save” it.

Jesus himself is the supreme example of this principle.

Career vs. Mission

There is yet another way of looking at this whole question of “losing” and “saving” your life.

That is to ask the question, Is your life a career or a mission?

There is a vast difference between those two concepts.

Is your life a career or a mission?

A quick glance at a dictionary reveals the essence of the difference:

—A career is something you choose for yourself.
—A mission is something chosen for you by someone else.

There is a huge difference between living for your career and being sent on a mission.

The Bible never talks about having a career.
You’ll never find the word in the Bible.

You won’t find the word “career” in the Bible

Having a career is not a biblical issue.
Having a mission is.

It is not that believers don’t have careers. We do. Some of us are painters, some are doctors, some are computer scientists, some are bankers, some are nurses, some are teachers, and some are writers. But the difference is this: The people of the world live for their careers; the people of God don’t. 

When your career is central in your life, then you are career-driven and career-minded while you climb the career ladder. You take a job and leave it two years later because it’s a “good career move.” You break all the significant relationships in one place and move across the country because your career demands it. Everything is calculated to get you someday to that elusive place called “the top.” When you get there, your career will be complete, and the world will applaud your achievements.

I am suggesting that being career-minded in this sense is precisely what Jesus meant when he said, “He who would save his life will lose it.” Your career may well keep you from fulfilling your mission in life, and your mission may never make much sense as a career.

—Your career is the answer to the question, “What do you do for a living?”

—Your mission is the answer to the question, “What are you living for?”

Your career is a ladder to climb.
Your mission is a journey you take.

Your career takes you to the top.
Your mission leads you to the cross.

Your career makes you a professional.
Your mission makes you a disciple.

Your career takes you to the top.
Your mission leads you to the cross.

Your career is about the here and now.
Your mission is about eternity.

If you are just here to eat, sleep, go to college, get a degree, get married, get a job, have some children, climb the ladder, make some money, buy a summer home, retire gracefully, grow old and die, then what’s the big deal?

All of that is okay, but if that’s all there is to life, then you are really no different from the pagans who don’t even believe in God.

It’s nice to have a career;
It’s far better to be on a mission for God.

Serving God in a Communist Prison

Not long after the fall of the Soviet Union, I had the privilege of eating supper with a pastor from St. Petersburg, Russia. During the evening he told us what it was like to grow up in a Communist country.

His father (a pastor for over forty years) used to tell his mother, “Some night we may be sleeping when suddenly there will come a knock at the door. When that happens, don’t be surprised if the KGB takes me away in the middle of the night and you never see me again. When that happens, don’t give up the faith. After I am gone, remember the Lord will never leave you.”

It’s nice to have a career;
It’s far better to be on a mission for God.

During the Communist years, many Christians were taken to the prison camps and psychiatric hospitals and were made to suffer because of their faith. Some believers spent twenty-five years or more behind bars for the sake of the Gospel. A few of them came out and wrote books about their experiences. But most of those who suffered for God did not write any books because they did not want any publicity. They viewed their time in prison as part of their ministry for God. Their attitude was, “If God can use me more effectively in prison, then that’s where I will serve him.”

Let’s put it this way: Jesus calls his followers to be totally sold out to his kingdom. That applies to all Christians all the time, not just to “full-time Christian workers” such as pastors or missionaries.

Suppose you are an electrical engineer or an attorney. Here is God’s job description for you:

  • You are a missionary cleverly disguised as an engineer.
  • You are a missionary cleverly disguised as an attorney.

It’s nice to have a career;
It’s far better to be on a mission for God.

It’s not wrong to have a career and do well by the world’s standards. Nor is it sinful to move across the country. But motivation is everything. Two people may follow the same career path, and both may end up at the top. Yet one may be living solely for his career, while the other sees his life as a divinely ordained mission from God.

One has lost his life; the other has saved it, just as Jesus said.

Ask yourself, did Jesus have a career? No; he had a mission from God to be the Savior of the world. Nothing he did makes sense from a career point of view. Being crucified is not a good career move.

Yet by his death he reconciled the world to God. Was he a success or a failure? The answer is obvious.

“So Much Wasted Time”

Last November David Cassidy died at the age of 67. He is remembered for his role in the 1970s sitcom “The Partridge Family.” According to his daughter Katie, his last words were, “So much wasted time.”

I think that’s the fear of many people:
That we will come to the end and look back with regret.
That we will come to the end and realize we wasted our one and only life.

Don’t waste your one and only life

Sooner or later we all come to the end of our earthly journey. What will we have to show for our time on earth? No doubt we can all look back on too much wasted time.

When I thought about David Cassidy’s final words, I remembered these lines by Benjamin E. Mays:

I have just one minute
Only sixty seconds in it,
Forced upon me—can’t refuse it
Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it,
But it’s up to me to use it.
I must suffer if I lose it,
Give account if I abuse it.
Just a tiny little minute—
But eternity is in it.

Dr. Mays was right. It may only be a minute, “but eternity is in it.”

Life is Not a Dress Rehearsal

In one of his sermons Ravi Zacharias tells the story of Robert Jaffray of Canada. He came from a wealthy family and in fact was heir to a large newspaper fortune in Toronto. When he was a young man, he learned the Chinese language and was offered a large salary by Standard Oil of New York if he would forego his missionary career and work for them.

He refused, so they doubled their salary offer.
He refused again.

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

They cabled him with this message: “Robert Jaffray. At any cost.”

He cabled back, “Your salary is big. Your job is too small.”

He spent 35 years as a missionary in China and helped translate the Bible into Cantonese. When World War II broke out, he and other missionaries were placed in an internment camp. He died there two weeks before the end of the war.

Did he waste his life?
It depends on your perspective.

C. T. Studd said it this way:

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

One day all of us will pass from this life into the presence of God.

What will we say on that day?
More importantly, what will the Lord say about us?

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

The martyred missionary Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

If you try to save your life, you’ll lose it in the end.
If you lose your life for Jesus’ sake, in the end you will save it.

If you live for your career, what difference will it make ten seconds after you die?

If you spend your life in the service of the kingdom of God, the road may not be easy, but ten thousand years from now you won’t regret your decision.

Life is not a dress rehearsal. We only get one chance to do whatever we’re going to do on planet earth. Soon enough, sooner than we think, our moment in the sun will be over.

Do you have a career, or are you on a mission for God? The answer to that question makes all the difference in the world.

I’d like to repeat those two questions I asked in the beginning and ask you to ponder them again in the light of what God’s Word says.

What do you do for a living? Most of us can answer that question easily.

What are you living for? That’s a harder question.

May God help us to live for Christ today and every day.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?