Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was wondering about the things that really matter in life. I’d like to do all that I can to please Jesus. I know that you must have thought a lot about this, and so I would like to ask your opinion. What are the things that really matter?
You’ve thrown me what I like to call an easy "softball question." Not long after Julie and I were married, we heard a New Year's sermon by Larry Lea. It was entitled, "Four Things That Really Matter." I remember Larry saying, “If these things occur in your life, you will have had a successful and fulfilled life.”
Julie and I still use those four things as a model for success living. As far as we‘re concerned, Larry’s insights are right on target for living a fulfilling life. So I’d like to share Larry’s conclusions with you, but as I go along, I’ll include some of my own illustrations and observations.
I’d like to begin with a story:
A number of years ago the phone rang, "My name is Jim. You don't know me. I visited your church once. I'm out at Tucson Medical Center, and the doctors tell me that I'm dying. And I need to talk to you right now.”
When I arrived at the medical center, I recognized Jim—he was the golf professional at a local Country Club. Through tears he revealed, "I've got to get healed. The doctor tells me I have liver cancer.” He continued, in a rapid-fire succession, “I have six months to live. But, I'm going to beat this thing. I'm not going to die. I'm going to think positive about it. I'm not going to die. I'm going to get healed. I want you to help me.”
I wanted to ascertain if Jim was a Christian—because if you're going to ask God to heal you, you should at least start the process by committing your life to Christ as your Lord and Savior. It was soon obvious that Jim had never received Christ. It was difficult for me to ask God to heal him and make him well, when he had no relationship with Jesus. On the way to the car, I prayed for God to give to me the right moment to share the gospel with Jim.
I'll never forget the words he uttered as I got up to leave, ”Roger, if I only had these 53 years to live over again, there are a lot of things I'd do differently.” It's amazing how the things that matter the most come to the forefront when a person is facing death.
Here are the four things that really matter:
1. The Person of Jesus Christ Really Matters Philippians 3:8-10
Why did Paul make his relationship with Jesus Christ his highest priority? Because Jesus Christ is the most important thing in life.
Over the years, I’ve performed more than 300 weddings. Again and again, I watch couples' eyes as they gaze at each other during their vows. I know they’re thinking about how much they love each other, but they really don’t know anything about love yet—at least not at 19 and 21.
A couple who’ve been married 30 or 40 years, who’ve raised children, suffered loss, and battled illness only to come through it all, with their marriage intact—that’s a couple who really knows about love.
We should desire to come to the end of our lives and say, “Thank you God that I know and love Jesus Christ so much more deeply than when I first came to know Him.”
The person of Jesus Christ really matters because one day, as we transition into eternity, Jesus is going to ask us one question. It’s the only one that matters: "Why should I let you into My Heaven and not to Hell?” Only one answer is correct: “Because You forgave my sins on the cross, and I surrendered my life totally to You as my personal Savior and Lord."
2. The People God Has Placed Around Us Really Matter Genesis 2:18
Often I stand in a hospital room, where a father is dying and a mother is weeping—where a wife is crying and grown children and grandchildren stand together. Everyone breaks into tears when the doctor says, “He won't last until dinner time tonight.” I've watched grown men, brothers who haven't hugged one another in ten years, fall weeping into one another's arms. People matter.
Many of us go through life looking for gold mines of every sort. Many of us will find a few handfuls; however, I hope that when we seek after the gold mines in somebody else's yard, we won't miss the most important gold mine God has put right in our own backyard—the people God has placed around us. They matter.
I’d like to say a word to parents regarding their children. Multiple research studies show that the best solution for keeping your children away from drugs, alcohol, and illicit sex is a mom and dad who spend time with their children. The people that God has placed around us need our focus, our time, our commitment, and our investment. They really matter.
Thomas Carlisle, 1795 – 1881, was a brilliant Scottish essayist-historian. When Carlisle was 31, he married a brilliant woman named Jane Welch. She became his secretary, and they worked well together. Not long into their marriage, Jane became ill. Carlisle was so busy in his work that he hardly noticed. Unfortunately, her illness progressed, and she spent the last days of her life in an upstairs bedroom.
Carlisle tried to spend time with her; but he was so busy with his work. That's the way it is when life goes on and incomes must be made… there is history to write and essays to be penned. The day of the funeral was a miserable, rainy day. After the funeral he returned to the now empty house, went up the steps to her bedroom, sat down in a little chair, and began to think of all the times they’d had together. He noticed a book on the bed stand he hadn't seen before—it was her diary.
He didn't know that she kept one. He opened it up and read these words: "He spent an hour with me today. It was like heaven. I love him so much." He turned the next page and read: "I've waited all day long to hear his footsteps on the stairs, but it's getting late now. I guess he's not coming today." Thomas Carlisle never wrote again. He died 15 years later, a lonely recluse. The people God has placed in our backyards really matter.
3. The Purpose of God for Our Lives Really Matters Psalm 139:13-16
David told us that while he was in his mother's womb, God saw his unformed body and then fashioned and planned for him all the steps of his life. That was Plan A for David.
God laid out His plan for David: Shepherd, defeat Goliath, marriage, children, kingship, build the temple, and then death. “He was known as “the man after God’s own heart.”
Unfortunately David got off track: Shepherd; Goliath; married the wrong girl; had too many wives; his children were a disaster—incest, murder, rape, rebellion; Bathsheba; and because he was a man of war God refused to allow him the thrill of building the temple—finally, death.
God's will is Plan A for every one of us. We become a Christian at the right age. We live in the right city. We marry the right girl. We go to the right college. We get in the right line of work and so on. Plan A, is just what God intended.
Of course, I don't know anyone on Plan A. Many of us married the wrong person. We went to the wrong college. We are in the wrong job, wrong profession. I think there's a dimension in which we can get on plan B, C, and D, and God can still get us back to where He wants us to be at the end of our lives.
God has a marvelous way of picking up the pieces and helping us start over again:
"Even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning." Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing-- grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God… "I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten-- the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm-- my great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed. (Joel 2:12-14, 25-26)
It is never too late to get back into the flow of His will and purpose for your life.
I like to think of God’s will as something flowing through our lives. I’m reminded of my wife, Julie, practicing for an orchestra concert. She lays out her musical scores, raises her hands, turns on the music and begins to practice conducting the orchestra. Invariably, I’ll come in and distract her, not intentionally of course, but now she's lost her place. She doesn't start over - the music keeps going - she finds where she left off and picks up from there.
Every one of us slides out of the flow at one time or another. It's important for us, when we lose our place, to get back in the flow.
4. The Prizes of God Really Matter 1 Corinthians 3: 10-15
God is going to evaluate the profitability of our lives by fire. Those who built their houses out of gold, silver, and precious stones will see their houses stand and will receive great rewards. Those who have built their houses with unprofitable things like wood, hay, and stubble will watch what they’ve accomplished simply burn away to ashes.
Notice that these people do not get rewards; instead, they suffer loss. We don't want to stand there and suffer loss; we want the prizes.
Paul says that there are five different crowns that we can earn:
- The Soul Winners Crown (Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:19) for leading people to Christ.
- The Incorruptible Crown of Self Denial (1 Corinthians 9:25) for sacrificing and training hard in order to follow Christ at any price.
- The Crown of Righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8) for longing for the appearing of Christ at His second coming. Living in the light of the imminent return of Christ will dramatically affect our every thought and action!
- The Crown of Life (The Martyr's Crown) (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10) for suffering persecution even to the point of death for the sake of Christ.
- The Crown of Glory (The Pastor’s Crown) for shepherding well the flock of God (1 Peter 5:4).
Note: All the crowns will one day be laid at the feet of Jesus (Revelation 4:10-11). All glory and honor and praise and riches and wisdom belong to Jesus Christ.
Now, if we look back carefully, we will notice that Larry Lea structured his sermon with intentionality.
If we follow the first three things, the prizes will come automatically. That is to say; if we're concerned about the person of Christ, about the people God has placed around us, and about fulfilling God's purposes for our lives then the prizes will come.
About four months after Jim became ill, I visited him at his house. Sitting in the chair beside his bed—one more time—I explained very simply how Jesus Christ forgives our sins, how He gave His life for us, and that we need to receive Him as Lord and Savior.
This time he responded, "You know, I'd like to receive Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord." He'd spent all these months saying, "I'm not going to die. I can't die. God's got to heal me. My positive thinking will keep me from dying. I know I'm not going to die. I'm not going to die. God's going to heal me."
Jim got really quiet and said, "Roger, I'd like to receive Jesus Christ. And if God chooses to heal me, that'll be all right. And if God chooses to let me die, then that'll be all right too."
As I turned to go, he looked up at me and said, "Roger, if the whole purpose of this sickness was to bring me to Jesus, then it was worth it."
Crystal, I really appreciate you asking this question because these four things really do matter.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Publication date: June 24, 2015