My Friend, if your life is drifting the buck stops with you and it’s time for you to do something about it; the alternative … well, the alternative is getting to the end of your days here on this earth and looking back at a life-long missed opportunity.
Weighing Up the Past
There are so many people walking around on planet earth today whose failures and disappointments of the past are ruining their present and robbing them of their future. Can I ask you a question? Are you one of those people?
I remember a time in my life when my past was weighing me down, a time when in fact my past became such a burden, such a huge load, that it was completely unbearable. It was so bad that I came very close to taking my own life. I remember standing on the 8th floor balcony of that hotel seriously considering jumping over the edge. I’ll share with you a little bit later what it was that pulled me back from the brink.
We’re kicking off the year with a series of messages which I have called “The Art of Living” because if we’re going to realise the hopes and the dreams that we have for this New Year we need to spend some time thinking about our lives. Most of us don’t do that. We kind of know the hurts, the things that aren’t working so well. A lot of people brood about the negatives in their lives, but mostly we just think about the symptoms. So today and over the coming weeks we’re going to go a bit deeper than just the symptoms. We’re going to be chatting about exactly how we live our lives and the best place to start is with our past.
We each have a past, and as I’ve said there are just so many people for whom their past is ruining their present and robbing them of their future. Now in a very real sense, unless we let go of the past we simply can’t enjoy our lives today. We simply can’t look forward to our future without that sense of hope and anticipation. Let me give you an example.
I know a man who has had a very difficult life. He was abused when he was young and for many years people told him that he just wasn’t good enough. Instead of encouraging him the people around him, his work colleagues, even his family, kept telling him what was wrong with him. They focussed on his failures and his faults rather than on the good things about him. Now come on, we’re all something of a mixed bag aren’t we? We each have certain strengths and certain weaknesses and it’s really sad when people just focus on our weaknesses. And that’s exactly what happened to this man.
So today he looks at his world through that set of eyes, through a mindset that’s deeply affected by his past. He can’t really enjoy who he is and what he has, and he has rather a lot, when he looks forward to his future he doesn’t have a sense of anticipation, even for tomorrow and the next day let alone for rest of this year and the rest of his life. We can talk about all sorts of wonderful things that this year might hold, but unless we first let go of the hurts and the disappointments of the past then none of that means anything.
You’ve probably heard that old saying, ‘Don’t cry over spilt milk’. Now there’s a reason for this for once the milk is spilt you can’t un-spill it. You can clean up the mess, you can apologies to someone if it hurt them or inconvenienced them, you can even learn the lesson that might stop you from doing it again but you can’t undo it. None of us can change the past and for some people today it’s time to let go of your past.
When I was standing on that balcony on the day almost 20 years ago now, it was the past that was pulling me over the edge. Even though I had many successes along the way I’d made some mistakes, some big mistakes and I just didn’t know if I could live with the consequences of those mistakes. It seemed like the present wasn’t worth living; it seemed like the future was bleak and hopeless and when we lose hope, hey what’s the point of living.
I know there are some people who are thinking that way today and what makes it even harder is that everybody else is out there focused on starting off the new year and looking forward to what the year has to hold. The thing that pulled me back from the edge on that cool, sunny morning was something that I’d read the night before. For some reason someone had put a Bible in the top draw of the bedside table in my hotel room. I’d taken it out and I read something in it that night. It said this:
“Don’t be afraid for I am with you; don’t be afraid for I am your God. I’ll strengthen you, I’ll help you and I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
That’s what gave me hope; the hope of a present where I wasn’t alone; the hope of a future that just might be worth living. None of us can change the past but on that day on that hotel balcony began for me the process of letting go of my past. The future begins today, the past has gone and while we should learn lessons from it, it has no right to rob us of the days and the months and the years that lie ahead.
And can I tell you, the very reason that God sent us Jesus His Son, the first time that Jesus stood up and spoke in public he read these words from Isaiah Chapter 61. He a said:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, to comfort and provide for all who mourn to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the Spirit of praise instead of a faint spirit”. (Isaiah 61:1-3)
My friend, Jesus has a future for you. He understands how the past has battered you and bruised you. He knows the baggage that you’re carrying around just as he knows all the baggage that I’m carrying around and what He wants to do is lighten the load, to lift that burden. Since that day when I stood on that balcony my life has changed completely. It’s not that some days things aren’t hard, of course they are. They’re hard in everybody’s life. But you know somehow I look forward to each day, each month and each year with a sense of hope and anticipation because Jesus has healed me of my past. My failures and my hurts no longer rule my life, He does and that makes all the difference.
So as you stand on the threshold of a brand new year I want to leave you with this fantastic truth: Jesus came to set you free from your past and to give you a present and a future that truly are worth living.
Is Your Life Drifting?
Now imagine for a moment that you are on a sail boat in the middle of a large ocean. Your sails are down, your rudders out of the water and you’re just drifting. How soon do you think you will get to where you’re going? In fact, will you ever get to where you’re going at all?
Alright, let’s put ourselves in that drifting boat for a moment out there on this massive great ocean. No sails, no rudder. It’s frankly no way to get to where you’re going and eventually unless you do something about it you’re going to die. With the oceans covering 71% of the earth’s surface and with the way the tides and the currents travel the chances of making landfall that way are somewhere between Buckley’s and none. Stay in that boat, your rudder out of the water and the sails down on the deck and eventually you’re going to die.
And the tragic thing is that back here on dry land, back here on terra firma many people, way too many people are living their lives that way – just drifting aimlessly. And on top of that their expectation is that they should be getting to where they want to go. Don’t believe me?
Last night on the news they interviewed a 16 year old girl who had just had triplets. Now she and her boyfriend were unemployed relying on the Government to keep them afloat. When the interviewer asked them whether they were planning on getting a job they both answered ‘No!’. Their plan was to stay on Government Welfare and have more children. Now that’s by no means an isolated case. Extreme? Yes, but not unusual.
Whether it’s in our lives or in our jobs, drifting aimlessly along is not a recipe for success. Not that I’m suggesting that we should all be chasing after this success ‘thing’ – the big salary and the big house and the big care – and nor am I suggesting that all the positive outcomes in our lives have to do with hard work alone, but there are many people just drifting their way through life, wondering ‘Why is nothing happening?; wondering why they’re not getting to where they want to go.
This week being the beginning of the New Year we’ve kicked off a series of messages which I’ve called ‘The Art of Living’. It’s about being deliberate in planning and living our lives here on this earth. One of the mistakes I see people making – can I say, particularly amongst the Christians that I have so much to do with – is that somehow they overspiritualise their existence: ‘Well you know it’s all in God’s hands; I have to wait for Him to do everything”. Others might rely on something else – on Karma or whatever they rely on.
Please don’t get me wrong, I am a Christian; I believe in God, I believe in Jesus and I know that many of the big things that have happened in my life have happened not because of any brilliance or hard work on my part but because God’s mighty hand was on it in the first place. But I also know that laziness doesn’t bear fruit. Have a listen to these:
“Laziness brings on a deep sleep. An idle person will suffer hunger”. (Proverbs 19:15)
“I passed by the field of someone who was lazy, by the vineyard of a stupid person and see, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles and it’s stone wall had been broken down. Then I saw and considered it. I looked and received instruction. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest and poverty will come upon you like a robber and want like an armed warrior.”(Proverbs 24:30-34)
Well, I don’t know where you’re at in life but humour me here. Imagine that God is God, that He loves us like a father, would you expect this God to bless laziness, to bless idleness, to bless a lack of planning and a lack of vision and a lack of a sense of direction? Well the answer is kind of self-evident. We live in a world of cause and effect – planning, diligence, hard work, application, dedication, focus, persistence, those things tend to yield good results most of the time. Idleness, laziness – those things tend to yield bad results most of the time.
So let’s come back to this boat we were drifting on. If your life is like being in that drifting boat I’m going to ask you a question here. Now you may not like but I’m going to ask you anyway. Whose fault is that? Well, we can blame our parents, we can blame our circumstances, our education or lack of it, our looks, our physical weaknesses, perhaps even our disabilities. But none of those things really cut it do they?
If your life is drifting the buck stops with you; if my life is drifting the buck stops with me, it’s as simple as that. We’ve all seen people with incredible disabilities achieve amazing things, haven’t we? And we’ve all seen people who were born into a fantastic family, had plenty of money, good looks, intelligence to go with it make a complete hash of their lives.
Now you see it’s not our circumstances that determine the direction of our life. Look at Nelson Mandela, 27 years in prison, look at Mother Teresa amongst the poor, look at Mahatma Ghandi and look at the dozens of very ordinary people that you know in your life who’ve achieved extraordinary things despite their circumstances. It has nothing to do with our circumstances. Adversity is no excuse.
If your life is drifting, it seems to me that you have a couple of options. Option 1 – well just let it drift on by and one day you’ll die out there in that drifting boat. Option 2 – is doing something about it; deciding here and now that this status quo, this endless life of drifting is simply no longer an option; that life can’t go on like this. It’s time to do something about it. It’s time for a new start, a new beginning and what better time to come to that conclusion than at the beginning of a new year.
My friend, if your life is drifting the buck stops with you and it’s time to do something about it. The alternative … well, the alternative is getting to the end of your days here on this earth and looking back at a life-long missed opportunity. That’s not such a happy thought, is it? And let’s just take this one step further.
You may remember the parable of talents that Jesus told of the three servants, each left with a huge amount of money by their master to invest in order to get a return. Two of those servants did really well. On the master’s return they gave him the original capital plus a 100% return and those guys got a huge pat on the back. But one of the servants was afraid so he hid the money to keep it safe. He returned the original capital to his master when he came home but without any dividend. Now you might think, well the master should be happy, at least he got his capital back. But listen to what Jesus says in Matthew Chapter 15 beginning at verse 26:
“You wicked and lazy slave, you knew, did you, that I reap what I didn’t sow and gather where I didn’t scatter, then you should have invested the money with the bankers and on my return I would have received what is mine with interest. So take the money from him and give it to the one who has lots of money, for to all those who have more will be given and they’ll have abundance but from those who have nothing even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Jesus doesn’t mince His words, does He? He’s made a huge investment in our lives and He expects us to live our lives in such a way as to deliver a huge return. He’s not calling us to live a life of missed opportunities and excuses; He’s calling us to live a life that counts. No ‘ifs’, no ‘buts’, no ‘maybes’.
You Can’t Juggle Chainsaws
Have you ever tried to juggle two balls – easy; three – not so easy; four – well that’s impossible for most of us. Now imagine juggling four chainsaws with their blades spinning around – now that’s scary. So why do some people try to live their lives like that.
So let me ask you, are you one of those crazy people who are trying to juggle four chainsaws with your bare hands? Is that how you’re living your life? You may be wondering, ‘What on earth is Berni talking about?’ Well this week on the program we’ve kicked off a series of messages that I’ve called ‘The Art of Living’ because as we look forward to the year ahead, one of things that a few people need to get sorted out is how they’re living their lives.
And before the break, just to recap if you missed it, we were chatting about the fact that many a person’s life is just drifting aimlessly, like a boat on an ocean without the sails up, without the rudder in the water. Now we can sit back and whinge and complain; we can wish that things were different or that things were better; we can blame other people; we can expect others to do it all for us, including God, but at the end of the day a whole bunch of this is up to us.
Sometimes the reasonthat we are not happy with life is that we have a wrong self-image. The hurts and disappointments of the past have put like a negative spin on our outlook, on how we see ourselves. Some people live their whole lives under this sort of oppression. Sometimes the people around us or the social structures tell us that this where you fit; this is the box you belong and that’s it. And yet all along you have this potential, this creativity, this dream that’s not being realised.
Some people are just plain in the wrong job. There are so many jobs on this earth given who I am, given how God made me, that I simply am not suited to; I could never make a good accountant. You would never want me as a personal carer of the elderly. There are so many things that I can do, but there are plenty that I can’t. See, some people spend their whole lives doing a job they were never cut out to do, a job that they don’t enjoy and a job they are never going to be any good at.
And we’ve seen so far today on the program that for some people it’s the relationship that’s robbing them of the joy and contentment in their lives. For others it comes down to their finances and resources and what I want you to do is to really think about your life strategically, beyond the symptoms and right down to the root causes, because it’s when we deal with the root causes that we can begin to think about what we can actually do to make the thing better.
That’s how a doctor works. Hopefully the doctor doesn’t just give you a painkiller for a persistent headache. They use the technology available to them to figure if there is something more sinister going on beneath the surface that they need to treat. And I continue to encourage you to do that in your life. As you look at the year ahead, what is it that is robbing you of the satisfaction and contentment that you’re really looking for? And what are you going to do about it?
Today I want to talk briefly about focus because for many people there is no doubt a raft of issues that are robbing them of the life they want to live. Perhaps the things going on your life are all kind of mixed up together in a way. You have low self-esteem which leads to problems at work and so you bring those tensions home with you and that in turn leads to arguments with your wife or husband. And that drags the children in because they sense the tension, they hear the arguments so now they’re on edge and they resent you and so that brings even more tension which in turn causes you to blame yourself pushing your self-esteem to lower levels. And if any of this seems vaguely familiar, you are not alone. That one scenario plays itself out over and over again in lives and families and workplaces across the globe.
But here’s the mistake that people often make; listen carefully to this. They try to fix all the problems at once. And that right there is like juggling chainsaws: a) its incredibly difficult; b) its dangerous; and c) you have a very high chance of failure. What is needed is focus, a sharp focus on the one thing that’s at the bottom of it all, the one thing that is the root cause; the one thing that you need to get sorted out before you can address all the flow-on impacts. Have a listen to this story from the New Testament of the Bible. Mark Chapter 18 verses 35 to 41:
“As Jesus approached Jericho a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When He heard the crowd going by he asked what was happening. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ Then he shouted, ‘Jesus! Jesus Son of David have mercy on me.’ Now those who were around, they sternly ordered him to be quiet but he shouted even more loudly, ‘Son of David have mercy on me.’ Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to Him. And when he came near He asked the man, ‘What do you want Me to do for you?’ And the man said, ‘Lord let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Received your sight for your faith has saved you.’ And immediately he regained his sight and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people when they saw it praised God.”
See this man had a lot of problems. If you were blind in the 1st Century that had a lot of flow-on effects. He was poor, he was a beggar, he was isolated, he was unemployed, he was shunned by society, he was probably smelly because he hadn’t had a bath. This man had multiple dysfunctions in his life but he knew that the one root cause of it all was his blindness which meant he couldn’t go to work. If he could only go to work he could rejoin society, he could earn money, he wouldn’t be begging. So when Jesus came along, this Jesus who’d apparently been healing a lot of other people, the one thing that the guy begging by the side of the street focused on was the one thing he needed.
That’s how it is with us when it gets down to the one thing, the most important thing that He’s doing in our lives. And you know, in my experience this Jesus is always ready to oblige. Sometimes it happens quickly and miraculously like it did for the beggar. But other times, most times Jesus address our problems and meets our needs over weeks, and months and years and even over a whole lifetime. Some of the things in my life have been fixed really quickly by Jesus and other things seems to drag on and God uses this experience to teach me this, and that experience to teach me that.
It’s a remarkable thing, whenever you see Jesus touching people’s lives in one of those four gospel accounts of His life and His ministry – Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, take your pick – He always focuses on the one thing that needs doing, the one infirmity that needs healing, the demon that needs casting out, the sin that needs forgiving – just one thing. He doesn’t try to get people to juggle chainsaws; He touches them and heals them of that one thing.
Let me ask you, are you in that place? Because if you’re in that place in your life where the problems and the dysfunctions and the alienations are overwhelming you, everything seems to be against you, everything seems to be not going quite right – here’s what I’m going to encourage you to do.
Go to Jesus and ask Him to heal just one thing. And if you don’t know what needs healing, ask Him. He already knows and He’s already there, He’s already here waiting to touch you, to heal you, to forgive you, to give you a fresh start in your life. How do I know? Because I’m not teaching you a theory lesson, He’s done exactly that in my life, and in fact He still is doing that in my life. And from my own experience, now I know why it is that they call this ‘the Good News’. We have so many problems in our lives – friend, the answer is Jesus.
Originally posted at ChristianityWorks.com