Heart Cry: Our Life Is What Our Thoughts Make It
I wish to read for you these verses from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. This is the Word of God,
“For I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now, as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ. And to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know. I am torn between the two. I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith so that through my being with you again, your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.”
May God bless to us the reading and the hearing of this portion of His holy Word.
Pray with me, please. Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.
I have to tell you, if this story isn’t true, it ought to be. It seems that Henrietta and Herman were taking a walking tour through their brand new house, a house which Henrietta had paid for with her money. A fact of which she frequently reminded Herman. As a matter of fact, in every room they came to, Henrietta would say, “Herman, this room would not be here if it weren’t for my money.” Herman never said a word. Shortly thereafter a furniture van pulled up out front. The crew began to unload spanking new furniture for every room in the house. Henrietta said, “Herman, if it weren’t for my money, this furniture would not be here.” Herman never said a word. Shortly thereafter a wave of interior decorators arrived, and with great flourish, they put all of the finishing touches on the place, turning it into a showplace of a home. Henrietta said, “Herman, if it weren’t for my money, this glorious home would not be here.” Finally, Herman spoke, he said, “Honey, I don’t want to make you feel bad, but if it weren’t for your money, I wouldn’t be here.”
All joking aside, that’s actually one of the basic questions of life, isn’t it? Why am I here? What is life all about? What is my life all about? What is it that makes life worth living? There are more than seven billion people living on the face of this earth. I would be willing to suggest that the majority of those people would say that what makes life worth living is having things like money or power or prestige. And as a matter of fact, you don’t have to look very far in order to find people who are grasping for all their worth after one, two, or maybe even all three of those things.
Now, in the midst of that reality, I want to lift up for you the incredible words written by Paul in the letter to the Philippians. Paul wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ.” Think about that. For to me, to live is Christ. Marcus Aurelius once said our life is what our thoughts make it. Given that that is true, it is quite obvious that Paul so focused his thoughts upon Christ and upon the things of Christ, that Christ in fact became his whole reason for living. For to me, to live is Christ.
Now, I think it’s worth remembering that earlier in his life, Paul had money. He came from a very wealthy family in the city of Tarsus. Earlier in his life, Paul wielded great power. He was among the most dominant and fearsome of the leaders of the Jewish people. Earlier in his life, Paul had experienced fame and prestige. His name was known all over that part of the world. Ah, but then, one day, on the Damascus road, Paul encountered the reality of Jesus Christ, and everything changed in his life. Suddenly, his mind, his spirit, his heart, his thoughts, were so captured by Jesus Christ that his whole life was turned around, and he went on to become the most winsome and effective missionary for Christ the world has ever seen. Now, what I find so amazing is that when Paul wrote those words, “For to me, to live is Christ,” at that moment, he was actually in prison, divested of wealth and money and prestige. Separated from friends and loved ones. Carrying a measure of guilt for those followers of Christ whose lives he had ordered snuffed out. Knowing that his great dream in ministry was never going to be fulfilled. Locked away under guard, under the sentence of death. And in that circumstance, amazing as it is to contemplate, suddenly, Paul cries out, breaks open his heart, and cries out joyfully and triumphantly, “For to me, to live is Christ.” How could he do that?
I believe that we can find an answer if we take those words and overlay them onto Paul’s own experience. And by so doing, I actually believe that we can find an answer to our own question. Why am I here? What is my life all about? What makes life truly worth living? Climb on board with me for a moment, and let me see if I can show you what I mean.
In the first place, Paul focused his thought upon the Christ who removed his guilt by giving him a conscience he could live with.
Christ gave him a conscience he could live with. Now, let’s admit it’s true. Most everybody—now, wait a minute, scratch most. Everybody, absolutely everybody, without exception, everybody carries a measure of guilt in life. I mean, we feel guilty because we know that in some instances our life has not measured up to what it might have been. We know that we have engaged in relationships that may have been false or deceitful. We know that we can see things in our past of which we now are very much ashamed. And that guilt is very much like a great weight. That guilt is the kind of guilt that Paul experienced. He knew that he was responsible for the lives of a number of Christians. He knew that he was responsible for the strained relationship with Peter, and for the broken relationship with John Mark. He knew that he was responsible for the missed opportunities and the failed ventures of his ministry. He knew that guilt—as a matter of fact, you get a sense of that in an earlier letter, a letter he wrote to Timothy, where he says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of which I am the foremost.” Words literally dripping with guilt.
We know the feeling, don’t we? We know the weight of guilt. We don’t quite know what to do with it. Loren Eiseley, the great anthropologist, tells of one day seeing an enormous eagle land on a mountain slope, and as the eagle landed, inadvertently, the eagle placed its leg in a trap which was affixed to the mountainside. The trap slammed shut. The trap was strong enough to hold the eagle’s leg fast, but the eagle was strong enough to begin to fly upward, and as the eagle flew upward, he yanked the trap out from its mooring on the mountainside. And Eiseley says he watched as the eagle flew higher and higher, but as the eagle flew, gradually, the weight of that trap began to draw off the strength and the endurance of the eagle until there came a point, Eiseley said, where the eagle actually plunged back to the earth to die. That’s a picture of what guilt does in our lives. It latches onto us and holds tight. It weighs us down. But the fact of the matter is, when Jesus comes into a life, Jesus is strong enough to break that trap of guilt apart. When we receive Jesus into our lives, we find in Jesus a winsome, forgiving love that sets us free from guilt. That’s what Christ did for Paul. He set Paul free from the guilt that was so much a part of his experience. He gave Paul a conscience he could live with. And what Christ did for Paul, Christ can do for us. He can give us a conscience we can live it. He cleanses our conscience. He set us free from the burden of guilt, and, therefore, we can with Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ.”
Ah, but then, Paul focused his thought upon the Christ who removed his hopelessness by giving him a conviction he could live by.
Christ gave him a conscience he could live with, and Christ gave him a conviction he could live by. Remember the circumstances in which Paul found himself at this point. He was in prison. There was no hope of release. He was cut off from the friends and the books he cherished. His dream of taking the Gospel to Western Europe, to Spain and the British Isles, that dream was shattered to pieces never to be fulfilled. He knew that at any moment a soldier of the Roman Legion could appear and haul him off to face his execution. No reason to hope. We know the feeling, don’t we?
The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a book a number of years ago called The Age of Reason. And in that book, Sartre declared that people no longer based their lives upon their beliefs, but instead they based their lives upon what they determined to be true through scientific inquiry. Let me just say to you that the times in which you and I are now living make that statement absolutely foolish because the reality is that now people are basing their lives upon all kinds of weird and strange beliefs. The tragedy of our time is not that people don’t base their lives on their beliefs, it’s that their beliefs are so often not worth believing in. You see, when we do not found our beliefs on someone we can trust, when we do not focus our thoughts on someone worthy of our devotion, when we do not build our lives on a sense of unshakable conviction, then we are, among all people, most hopeless. But Paul, even in a situation that seemed totally hopeless, Paul was filled with hope. So much so that he could say with conviction to the Philippians, “My imprisonment is for Christ.” You see, he came to see all that Christ had done for him, and that gave him a conviction he can live by. And the same is true for us. What Christ did for Paul, Christ can do for us. When you and I come face to face with the reality that Bethlehem is for us, that the life of the Galilean preacher is for us, that the cross of Calvary is for us, that the resurrection of Easter is for us, when we see that, that all of that is for all of us, when we see that, that gives us a conviction we can live by. That gives us a belief which can not ever be destroyed. And out of that belief arises a hope which can not be destroyed no matter the circumstances. What Christ did for Paul, Christ can do for us. He can give us a conviction we can live by. And then, we are able to say with Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ.”
And then, Paul focused his thoughts upon the Christ who removed his meaninglessness by giving him a cause he could live for.
Christ gave him a conscience he could live with. Christ gave him a conviction he could live by. And Christ gave him a cause he could live for. Here he was, sequestered in solitariness, the shadow of death falling over his life, he might well have wondered, “What in the world does it all mean?” And as a matter of fact, there are times earlier in his life when you sense in his writings that kind of a gathering sense of meaninglessness. I remember, for example, on one point, he says, “Demas in love with this present world has deserted me.” Another time he said, “In my first defense, no one came to support me. What in the world does it all mean?” Well, you and I know the feeling, don’t we?
I mean, if we are honest, we have to admit that we are troubled by the fact that, whether we like it or not, ultimately our lives are going to be marked by nothing more than a tombstone with a name and two dates on it. The date of our birth and the date of our death. Everything else will be gone. What in the world could it all mean? Well, there are some people in life who seek meaning in life through power. But if power were the answer, then Joseph Stalin’s life would have been worth living. But instead, the infamous Soviet dictator lived a life in which he was filled with fear. He was afraid even to go to bed at night. He had seven different bedrooms. Each one could be locked up tight as a safe. He stayed in a different one every night. He was so terrified of would-be assassins that he took extraordinary security measures. For example, he actually had a servant whose whole role was to monitor his tea bags, for Heaven’s sake. Remember that those who seek meaning in life through power.
Some people seek meaning in life through money. But if wealth were the answer, then Howard Hughes’ life would have been worth living. But instead, one of the richest men in the world became so paranoid about germs, so distrustful of other people, that he wound up holed up in a hotel room in Mexico until his health degenerated to the point where he needed to come to Houston in order to seek medical attention, and he died on the plane bringing him here. He died a cadaverous hermit with a four-foot-long beard and corkscrew fingernails, for Heaven’s sake. Remember that those who seek meaning from money.
And some people seek meaning in life through fame. But if fame were the answer, then John Lennon’s life would have been worth living. John Lennon was one of the Beatles. His name became a household word. But the fact of the matter is he was absolutely miserable. His biographers describe him as a frightened, tormented soul unwilling to go to sleep with the lights off, robbed of all joy in his life, afraid to touch anything because of the fear of filth. Remember that those who seek meaning in life through fame.
Ah, but you see, the great apostle Paul did not focus his life upon wealth or power or prestige. He focused his thought upon Christ, and Christ gave him a cause he could live for. Even in prison, he had meaning to his life. He had a cause he could live for. You remember, he wrote all kinds of letters from prison. Letters which, to this very day, are helping Christians in their walk with the Lord. You remember how we were told that he shared the Gospel with everyone he had contact with, including the soldiers who were guarding him. Christ, you see, gave him a cause he could live for. And what Christ did for Paul, Christ can do for you and for me. He can give us a sense of meaning in our lives. He can give us a cause worth living for no matter what. Then, then, we can say with Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ.”
Well, if you have never truly, truly offered your life to Jesus Christ, if you’ve never truly, truly experienced the things that I’m talking about today, then let me kindly suggest that now is a time for you to claim Jesus Christ as your own. I’m talking here about your life. Surely you are not going to make such a momentous decision about your life on the basis of the fact that some biology teacher told you that evolution invalidates the Christian faith. Surely you are not going to make such a momentous decision about your life on the basis that some guy you know living down the street who goes to church on Sunday but lives like a pagan the rest of the week. Surely you’re not going to make such a decision about your life on the basis of what you see in this or that individual, or even what you see in this or that church. I’m talking here about your life.
Why don’t you try this Jesus on for size? Why don’t you see if Jesus can make your life worth living? Give Christ the chance to help you to discover that the true worth, value, hope, and destiny of your life is found in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ alone. That, I think, is what Paul meant when he broke open his heart and cried out in joy and triumph, “For to me, to live is Christ.”
Soli Deo gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen, and Amen.