At 78 years old, Ben had been the CEO of a well-known company, launched several successful products and made a lot of money in the process. When I asked him if he was satisfied with the last three quarters of a century, he said, “Not really.”
I asked, “Oh? Then why did you do it that way?”
“Because that is what I thought I was supposed to do.”
In other words, he had followed the pattern handed down by his parents. He allowed himself to be influenced by the pursuits of his friends and got caught in the flow of society and culture — chasing dreams of money and success as presented throughout the media. He didn’t do too much thinking, just followed and assumed he would be fulfilled.
But before we judge Ben too harshly, let’s ask ourselves the same question: Why are you living your life the way you are? What motivates you to do your job or get that degree?
Just doing what is expected?
Most people are content to adhere to a life script that looks something like this:
- Spend your elementary years watching cartoons and playing make-believe games with your friends.
- Try not to stand out too much during middle school in order to make it to high school in one piece.
- Don’t say anything that will make you unpopular, and do your best to get OK grades in high school so you can get into college.
- Go to college so you can get a diploma in order to get a job.
- Get a job in your chosen field in order to make a living.
- Get married to find companionship.
- Build a life creating the 2.5 kids, obtaining the dog and cat, buying the brick house with the two-car garage and taking the annual vacation.
- Regularly invest in your 401(k) plan so that you can retire as soon as possible from that job that you only slightly enjoy (on a good day).
- Retire and become a couch potato, a snowbird or a perpetual RV traveler so that you can, well …
- Wait for life to end.
I know I haven’t painted this life in the best of lights, but I can’t tell you the number of individuals, including Jesus followers, ages 65, 75 or 85 with whom I have spoken who have described their lives in similar terms.
But we are called to think about the One who created us and consider His purpose for doing so.
Do what is most important.
Once while Jesus was teaching, one of the religious leaders asked Him what the greatest commandment was, or as we might ask today, “What am I here for? What is most important that I should be doing?”
Jesus responded with these words:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The very core of our purpose emanates from the principle of love — love for God, love for our fellow man, and even love for ourselves.
Frequently, when we think about love being our purpose, we set out to love in some grandiose way. We may want to start a nonprofit that helps children of single moms or open a recreation center for underprivileged teens. We might even determine that we have been called to serve the poor in some third world country.
While all of these are worthy endeavors, what God is calling us to in this passage is even bigger. Now this might leave you a little puzzled. What could be bigger? And are you even capable of anything bigger?
Do the “extraordinary” in the ordinary.
You see, we often believe that in order to effectively love others, we must create a foundation or do something on a magnificent scale. However, I want to suggest that doing the extraordinary is actually found in doing the ordinary. For example, consider this — which would you rather do, coordinate a charity 5K run for the victims of school violence, or spend an afternoon driving your grandmother to all her appointments? If you’re like most, you probably found your thoughts gravitating to the 5K, a more noteworthy effort. And yet, we’re called to loving that is ordinary.
Now please don’t misunderstand — many are indeed called to do noteworthy frontline work. If you will allow Him to, God will use you in significant ways. But it is important that we get to the extraordinary through the ordinary.
We see a perfect example of this in the encounter Jesus had with the disciples in John 13:1-17. It was at the Passover supper that Jesus grabbed the bowl of water and the towel and began to wash the disciples’ feet. His followers were thrown a curve ball because Jesus was their master, their teacher, the Son of the Most High, and washing feet was not what a person in charge did. This was a lowly servant task. They didn’t know what to think.
But as Jesus finished washing their feet, He said,
Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
In others words, in the “ordinary” we find the “extraordinary.”
So what is Jesus telling us when He said, “Love your neighbor”? Is He saying that we should sponsor children in poverty-ridden nations? Yes! Is He urging us to make sure those around us have plenty to eat? Certainly! Does He desire that we help with craft lessons in VBS? Of course! But all of those ideas have something in common: We are usually loving, in some way, those who may not know us very well. But how about if you spend the afternoon cleaning up the kitchen — even though it is your roommate’s turn — because he or she is busy with a big work project. Or what if you were to take care of grocery shopping for a friend who is recovering from a surgery?
This is where the ordinary becomes the building blocks of the extraordinary. From creating philanthropic foundations to serving meals at the local soup kitchen to helping a young child cross a busy intersection — “loving your neighbor as yourself” may look like any and all of these. These seemingly ordinary activities are actions of love, which all by themselves are extraordinary.
But here’s a secret I have learned. Luke 16:10 indicates a principle that those who can be trusted in the small, ordinary things, will eventually be entrusted with the larger — the extraordinary. If I desire to be used to love others in what we’d consider more significant ways, I must begin by loving those who may be difficult (family and roommates certainly fit this bill) first.
So, back to my original question: Why are you living your life the way you are? Why do you (me, any of us) do what we do?
Jesus’ call is clear — we’re to love God and love our neighbor. Those two commandments should shape and motivate everything we do in life.
As 78-year-old Ben expressed, purpose and fulfillment are not found in the money, titles, and possessions that our world tells us are essential. Rather, purpose and fulfillment come from loving — beginning with those closest to us, even those who may seem unlovable. We are to love in the practical everyday details of life. For example, does your church need help doing some repairs? Why not volunteer. Does the child next door need some tutoring in a subject in which you excelled? Perhaps you could make yourself available. Or even closer to home, does your roommate detest a particular household chore? Why not do it instead. What practical, everyday actions can you take to love your neighbor?
You see, by loving in the ordinary, we please and honor our extraordinary Father. This is why we are here!
Copyright 2018 Barry Ham. All rights reserved.