This lockdown – with seemingly the world on hold for a time – is a good moment for us to take stock of where our lives are going and what they’re all about. This seems to be a time when all sorts of things are coming to an end, and other things are beginning. Maybe that looks like being true in your own life.
And I suppose when we do take stock of our lives, whether consciously or unconsciously, what we’re really wanting is to have a life worth living. That’s my title this evening: A Life Worth Living.
So I have four questions about a life worth living – and one Bible passage for us to look to for answers. That’s the apostle Paul’s prayer that we heard earlier – from the Letter to the Colossians 1.9-14. If you have a Bible to hand, please have that open in front of you.
We looked at the first part of this prayer last week with Ben Cadoux-Hudson. This evening we’ll review that, and take a look at the second part. So:
1. What Do People Think Makes Life Worth Living?
That’s my first question. I reckon some combination of four things covers what most people would say make life worth living.
The first is pleasure.
One of the things I’ve done during a lockdown without sport is to remind myself of that great summer of cricket in 2005 when England at last regained the Ashes from the Aussies. But there was a fascinating column by the fast bowler Simon Jones – one of the heroes of that England side – writing in the wake of their victory. He said this:
Now that the cricket is over and the players have all gone their separate ways, the euphoria has made way for a feeling of emptiness… The downside of the incredible Test series we have just taken part in is we will never experience anything like it again in our careers.
In fact because of injury he never played for England again. At the moment of greatest pleasure, life seems worth living, but as soon as it’s over – it’s over. What’s left? Emptiness. The pleasure of success doesn’t make life worth living in the long run.
So some look to pleasure to make life worth living. Others look to possessions. But whatever we have, we end up wanting more.
Nor will promotion do the trick. Climbing up the ladder in the end doesn’t satisfy.
Yet other people reckon they know what makes life worth living: it’s people. So 'Friends' is rerun endlessly on TV, and people long for that easy camaraderie that overcomes any trauma with a hug and a quip and a laugh. But not one of us can live up to the expectations of someone who makes us the centre of their life. People let people down.
Now all of these things in their right place and without abuse are good and God-given. Pleasure is God’s invention. Possessions are to be enjoyed. Promotion used for the good of others is admirable. Loving people is a key element of God’s plan for us. But making any or all of these things the be all and end all when we’re not in a right relationship with God leads to what Simon Jones called ‘emptiness’. They don’t make for the kind of life worth living that God made us for. So:
2. How Can We Find Out What Makes Life Worth Living?
Well, the answer’s been here in the Bible all along. What, then does the apostle Paul have to say? Look at verse 9. He tells these young, vulnerable and wavering Christians:
"And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you …"
Now I think we can detect there an answer to the question of how you can find out what makes life worth living. It’s this: get help from someone who has. That’s what happening with the Colossians. And the way to do that is to get together with some Christians and listen to them talk, and listen to them explaining the Bible. And ask questions. It’s really that simple.
And to make it even simpler, we’re laying on those online Christianity Explored and Discipleship Explored courses that Jon was telling us about earlier. With those Taster Sessions coming up, now is the ideal time to give one of those a go. If you want to find out what makes life worth living, get help from someone who has.
Then the next question is this:
3. What's a Life Worth Living Like?
That’s what Paul’s prayer for the Colossians in verses 9 to 12 reveals. And there are five main aspects of a worthwhile life that he prays will be true of them.
First, it’s a life spent pleasing God. That’s the beginning of verse 10. We need spiritual wisdom and understanding … (verse 10)
"… so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him …"
The reference point for how we spend our lives becomes Jesus – not ourselves and not other people.
Secondly, it’s a life spent doing good. Because that’s what God wants. He wants us to live lives that will benefit others and will benefit the world; doing good, not doing harm. So verse 10 continues:
"… bearing fruit in every good work …"
Thirdly, it’s a life spent getting to know God better. That’s Paul’s prayer at the end of verse 10:
"… increasing in the knowledge of God …"
That’s not only knowing about God, but living in personal relationship with him through Jesus.
Fourthly, then it’s a life spent experiencing the power of God. And we need that, because following Jesus is tough at times. That’s why Paul prays for the Colossians and for us in verse 11:
"May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience …"
He’s praying that all the power of the Spirit of God – the same power that made the world and that raised Jesus from the dead – will be at work in their lives. Why? So they’ll keep going as Christians in the face of all the hurricane-force pressures that are going to come on them that’ll be trying to drive them away from following Christ faithfully. It’s keeping going that counts.
It’s the same with love. It’s easy for a man to say to his girlfriend ‘I love you’. How can you tell if he means it? It’s not the intensity of the emotion or the vehemence of the words. I’ll tell you if he meant it or not – at the end of his life. Did his love last? That’s what counts. Real love lasts. Real love keeps going when it hurts – however much it hurts.
Real faith lasts. Real trust in God keeps on trusting however much trouble it brings – whatever the cost is. And that kind of persevering faith is what pleases God.
The life of faith can be hard – very hard at times. But we do not live the life of faith alone, and we do not live it by our own strength. We’re not up to it. We need the power for patience and endurance that comes from God. A life spent trusting Christ is also a life spent experiencing the resurrection power of God to enable us to stick with it through thick and thin.
Then fifthly, a life worth living is a life spent rejoicing. For all the hard times, deep down the Christian life is a joyful life, because it’s a thankful life, because of all that Christ has done for us and because we know we’re safe with him now and for ever. We know where we’re headed and it’s glorious. So Paul prays at the end of verse 11 and on to verse 12 that they will have endurance and patience …
"… with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light."
So it is wonderfully true of the Christian life that even though a hurricane might be raging on the surface, deep down there is always a current of thankfulness, of rejoicing, and of certain hope for the future. And that makes for a life worth living.
What’s a life worth living like? It’s a life spent pleasing God, not ourselves; doing good work, not doing harm; getting to know God better, not preoccupied with ourselves; experiencing the power of God, not giving in to pressures; rejoicing, not being without hope. So it’s a life spent working, growing, keeping going, and overflowing.
So how can we have such a life? That’s my final question.
4. How Can We Have a Life Worth Living?
The key is to take hold of the fact that this life is something that God gives us. It’s an answer to prayer. We don’t deserve it. We can’t earn it. Most people don’t understand that. They get completely the wrong end of the stick.
The Today Programme on Radio Four once asked people to come up with a ten-second Bible – a ten-second summary of the contents of the entire Bible. And some of them demonstrated this total failure to grasp the Bible’s central message. So here’s one example:
"God created a great universe which greedy humans threatened to ruin. His son, Jesus, came to remind us of the rules but he was tortured and killed. Do better or else!"
Do better or else. That’s what so many people think Jesus is on about. Or as someone else put it in the course of their ten-second Bible:
"A man walks on water
Saying 'Do what you ought ter!'"
Now of course it’s true that Jesus does tell us how to live. But to imagine that he came to earth from heaven simply to tell us that, is like thinking that the job of an air-sea rescue helicopter crew is to drop swimming manuals on the heads of drowning people. What they need is to be rescued from a deadly situation.
And that’s what we need. And that’s why Jesus came. He is our Lord. But he came to be our Saviour. Hence that thankfulness and joy at the heart of the Christian life. And that’s why Paul ends this account of his prayer (verses 12-14):
"… giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
So, in the light of that, how do we have a life worth living? Here’s an alphabet of salvation. This is what to do.
One. Admit that you’re in the dark. Apart from Christ, we are in, as verse 13 says, "the domain of darkness", the sphere of influence of Satan. We’re lost. We can’t see where we’re going. We’re ignorant. We’re headed in the wrong direction. And we need to get to the point where we understand the mess we’re in, and we admit it to ourselves and to God.
Two. Believe that Jesus died to rescue you.
"He [that’s God in Jesus] has delivered us from the domain of darkness"
Three. Confess your sins. In Jesus, says Paul in verse 14 …
"… we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
Redemption basically means that Christ paid the price to set us free. But if we want to experience the forgiveness of sins, then we have to ask God to forgive us. And that means facing up to our rebellion and all the ways we’ve lived that have not been aimed at pleasing him. It means being honest with God, and willing to change and be changed.
Four. Depend on God. Verse 12 says that it is God "who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints". It’s his doing. He rescues us. We can’t. We depend on him.
Five. Enter Christ’s kingdom. At the end of verse 13 Paul says God the Father has …
"… transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son …"
We become subjects of the kingdom of Jesus. He is our King as well as our Saviour. He rules our hearts and lives. We live to please him.
As we begin to ease out of lockdown, probably many of us are taking stock of our lives.
This prayer for the Colossians makes it clear that there is only one way to have a life that is really worth living – it’s the ABC of a life worth living. A. Admit that you’re in the dark. B. Believe that Jesus died to rescue you. C. Confess your sins. D. Depend on God. And E. Enter Christ’s kingdom. It’s that simple. But it’s a radical new direction. It’s a life worth living.
Join us again next week to hear more. For now, let’s bow our heads to pray.
Lord Jesus, thank you that you gave your life so that we could have lives worth living. Please fill each one of us this evening with the knowledge of your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding, in order that we may live lives worthy of you, fully pleasing to you. Amen.