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Songs of Faith – Sermons of Grace: What’s Worth Living For And Dying For?

March 8, 1998 | First Presbyterian Church Orlando | Romans 14:11

Songs of faith. Sermons of grace.

Here’s my Scripture in a verse: “God has highly exalted Jesus and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.”

Here is my song in a stanza: “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.”

Here is my sermon in a sentence: There are so many people today looking for some great ideal, some noble cause, some consuming purpose to which they can ultimately commit themselves—and we know who holds the answer.

Now, let me see if I can weave all three together…

Frances Havergal was born in 1836 in Worcestershire, England, and she was reared in a minister’s home. She had one goal in life, and that was to be a true servant of Jesus Christ. At the age of four, she began memorizing the Bible. By age seven, she was writing beautiful poetry. She went on to become a noted linguist, musician and Bible student. It wasn’t easy. She fought the ravages of ill health all of her life and she died long before her time. She is best known for her hymn “Take My Life,” a hymn remarkable not only for the quality of its poetry but also for the circumstances under which it was written.

In December of 1874, Frances Havergal attended a week-long house party with ten of her friends. Here are her words describing that event: “There were ten other persons in the house, some unconverted and long-prayed for, some converted but not rejoicing Christians. I prayed: ‘Lord, give me all in this house!’ And He just did! Before we left that place, everyone had gotten a blessing. The last night of my visit, I was too happy to sleep and spent most of the night in the renewal of my own commitment. Then these little couplets formed themselves and chimed in my heart one after another until they finished with ‘Ever, only, all for Thee.’”

Those five couplets, one line for each of the ten people there, became the hymn by which we now remember Frances Havergal today. Just five years after she wrote those words, at the age of 42, she was told by her physician that her physical condition was deteriorating rapidly and she did not have long to live. As the shadow of death fell over her, the last words to grace her lips were the last words of her hymn:

Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.

Here is a hymn we need to sing today, for in this time when self-centered living and pleasure-oriented lifestyles and unfulfilling existences are the norm, the value of total commitment to the Lord of body, mind and possessions ought to be exalted. I’m not sure anyone could say it better than one of our college students in this church who, in the midst of a conversation we were having, said to me: “I suppose it would be easy for me to jot down a list of some things that are worth living for, but what I really want to know is if there is anything or anyone worth dying for!” Well, that’s a question everyone sooner or later has to ask and to answer.

Some people answer the question by making a commitment to self.

You can build your life upon and in and around yourself. You can make your own life your ultimate concern. You can determine that you can put the focus of everyday upon what is best for you and you alone. You can adopt the same attitude that led William Ernest Henley to write his poem “Invictus.”

Out of the night that covers me
Black as a pit from pole to pole
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

When we hear those words, they sound so brave, so noble, so courageous, don’t they? But if we stop to think about it for a moment, if we are honest with ourselves, we are going to have to admit that an attitude like that is foolishness. Mark this down: The seas of life are too broad for anyone to sail them all alone. The oceans of our experience are entirely too rough for any of us to stay at our own helm all of the time. Try to go it alone in life and sooner or later you get sunk by loneliness or sucked under by wasted opportunity or smashed to pieces on the rocks of someone else’s attempt to go it alone.

Take the case of Absalom. You can read his story in the second book of Samuel, chapter 18. Absalom was the child of a king—king David. He possessed a great mind—he was even more brilliant than his father, but he knew how to use that mind for his own purposes. He had a marvelously winsome personality, which attracted people to him by the droves, but he took sadistic pleasure in manipulating those people to serve his own ends. He was devilishly handsome, but he was inordinately proud of that fact. He was in the driver’s seat of life, or so it seemed looking in from the outside, but he made the fatal mistake of trying to control his own life. So he turned away from God and away from his father, and he proceeded to organize a revolt designed to drive his father from the throne of Israel and place himself upon it. His life revolved around no one but himself. In the ensuing battle when the tables turned against Absalom, his response was to wheel his horse around and ride for his life. As he fled, running full speed aboard his horse, his long, flowing hair, which he dearly loved, got all tangled up in the branches of a tree. The horse simply ran out from under him and left him dangling there in mid-air, thrashing and flailing all about. Thrashing and flailing, that is, until one of David’s soldiers plunged three quick darts into his heart. Absalom lived only for himself. He ruled a very small kingdom—his own life. But as always happens when the commitment is to self alone, he brought that kingdom to terrible destruction.

“I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” You can say that if you like. You can put yourself at the center of the universe and you can choose yourself as your ultimate concern in life. But all I can say is: “Remember Absalom. He lived for himself alone, and he died by himself alone. How sad.”

Some people answer the question by making a commitment to the crowd.

In the society of which we are a part, there is a terrible pressure exerted upon us to conform, to be like everyone else. And because we want to be accepted and loved and included, we surrender to the pressure of the crowd. We go along in order to get along.

Take the case of Zedekiah. You can read about him in Jeremiah and in parts of II Kings. Zedekiah was the king of Judah and at that time, Judah was under siege by the armies of Babylon commanded by King Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah sensed the magnitude of the crisis but he didn’t know what to do about it. So he turned to the crowd, he turned to the people around him for their advice. Their advice was unanimous. Every last one of them said: “Stand and fight.” Now at that point Jeremiah, the prophet, came to Zedekiah and said: “The Lord commands you to surrender.” Zedekiah had a spine like a wet noodle and he wavered back and forth for a while. However, he couldn’t bring himself to go against the crowd. So he fought. He was severely defeated. He and two of his sons were captured and he was made to watch while his two sons were executed. Then two of King Nebuchadnezzar’s men took Zedekiah and held him by his arms while a third soldier picked up a hot iron and branded him. At that point, King Nebuchadnezzar said (and I want you to hear this): “Zedekiah, when you could see, you wouldn’t see; now when you want to see, you will not see.”

I am speaking especially now to those who are young people—not to you alone. I am talking to everyone, but I am talking especially to those of you who are young. Look at the price the mob slave pays. Look at the cost of following the crowd. It has destroyed more than one life. You can still make that choice. You can make your commitment to follow the counsel of the crowd regardless, but all I can say to you is: “Remember Zedekiah. When he could see, he wouldn’t see, and so that when he wanted to see, he couldn’t see. How sad.”

And then some people answer the question by making a commitment to Christ.

Here is what I have learned in my own life: To make a commitment to Jesus Christ is the most exciting, the most thrilling, the most dynamic, the most fulfilling thing you can ever do in your life. Jesus is not only worth living for—He is even worth dying for!

Some of history’s greatest people have known that to be true. Michelangelo, may be the most gifted man of his day or any day—and what did he do with the immense talent? He spent his life trying to portray Jesus and the life Jesus lived. Johann Sebastian Bach, whose musical gifts were legendary, and how did he use those gifts? He spent his days copying down the melodies Jesus hummed in his ear. Christopher Wren, whose architectural genius has never been surpassed—and how did he apply that genius? By raising great cathedrals to the honor and glory of his Jesus. Leonardo da Vinci poured his paints at Jesus’ feet as an act of self-offering. Albert Schweitzer, a Ph.D. three times over, followed Jesus out into the deepest jungles of Africa. Madame Curie and Blaise Pascal, scientific scholars known the world over, yet they clutched the cross of Jesus Christ to their hearts until their lives were gone. Mother Teresa, born to wealth in Yugoslavia, but out of love for Jesus Christ, walked away from it all, lost herself in the poorest slums of Calcutta, and in the process became the most admired woman of our time.

But ordinary people have encountered and experienced the same thing—people like Stan. Stan was an up and coming young businessman. He worked for a company that entertained a lot, and they served a lot of drinks there. And Stan began to take those drinks and he began to take more and more of those drinks, and then he got to where he couldn’t stop taking those drinks. He had a wonderful wife and two wonderful daughters. He began to think: “I’ve got to stop this for the sake of my wife and my girls.” But he couldn’t stop. One night he was at home and he had a glass in his hand and he said: “I’m going to put this glass down.” But he couldn’t put it down. Despair overwhelmed him. After everyone else was asleep, he took his pistol and went down into the basement. He put the gun to his head, but he couldn’t pull the trigger. He couldn’t stop drinking and he couldn’t even end the life that was going to destroy the people he loved the most. He dropped to his knees on the floor and he cried out: “Jesus, kill me. Jesus, destroy me. Jesus, take my life.” And in that moment, Jesus did. Stan said: “Jesus, take my life—and Jesus did just that, but not the way Stan expected. No, Jesus lifted him up off that basement floor and Jesus began to help Stan to master what Stan couldn’t master alone. Stan went on from that night to turn his life around. I know, because he was a member of my congregation.

Jesus does that for a life. Jesus. All I have to do is mention His name. Jesus. That name which is above every name. That name at which every knee shall bow. That name at which every tongue shall confess. Jesus. He is worth living for and He is worth dying for. Our own Dr. Bill Bright reminds us that there is a throne in your heart and mine—we are the ones who will determine who will occupy that throne. Give the scepter to yourself, and your heart’s going to be broken. Give the scepter to the crowd, and your heart’s going to be crushed. But give the scepter to Jesus Christ, and your heart’s going to be filled with peace and power and joy, and your life is going to be marked by discipline, devotion, direction and fulfillment. That’s what Jesus does for a life. And that’s what Jesus wants to do for your life. Make the words of the hymn your own today:

Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee,
Take my heart, it is Thine own
It shall be Thy royal throne.
Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.

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