- Britton Carter
A Life that Matters
After exhausting my country playlist on a long road trip, I waited in anticipation for the song Spotify would choose for me to hear. Assuming a song from Tim McGraw or George Strait would flow from my speakers, I was surprised to hear the voice of Randy Travis—a country singer most popular in the 90’s, who ventured into Christian country music in the early 2000’s. The song that played, “Three Wooden Crosses,” tells the story of a group of four individuals, a farmer, a teacher, a prostitute, and a preacher, whose bus in which they were riding gets hit by an 18-wheeler. The farmer, teacher, and preacher all die in the accident—but not before the preacher gives the prostitute his “blood-stained Bible.” It is later revealed that the pastor telling this story on a Sunday morning is the son of that prostitute, who read him that Bible.
For days, I could not get that song out of my head. Unlike most songs that play in my head on a constant loop, this song does not have a particularly catchy beat or an overtly magnificent vocal performance; rather, I could not shake this song because its message burned in my mind. Death can come at any moment, and I want to make sure that my life mattered—that I made a difference in the world. The song brought to mind a deep longing within my soul to live a life that is worth something in the end.
I am not alone in this desire. Every person on this planet wants to know his or her life means something—that their actions and toil and struggles and heartache and triumphs and thoughts have value. I spoke recently with a group of high school seniors, and each of them articulated this longing to make a difference with their lives. I see it each day with other college students, wrestling with their decision of a career path, wanting to choose something that will positively impact both their lives and the lives of the people around them. Nobody walks through life wishing to perpetuate a meaningless existence. Even those who subscribe to absurdist or nihilist viewpoints—arguing life is inherently meaningless—conclude that individuals should create their own meaning. There is an innate desire deep within every person longing for a worthwhile existence.
Unfortunately, we often seek meaning where there is none. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes has much to say on the human pursuit of value through worthless means, and at one point he specifically highlights a common attempt at finding meaning: work.
“Thus I hated all the fruits of my labor for which I had labored under the sun, for I must
leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise
man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have
labored by acting wisely under the sun. This too is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19 NASB)
Working hard to make a great life for oneself and one’s family is a good goal, but it does not guarantee that one’s life is meaningful. Moreover, incredible achievements in athletics, business, music, science, and any other pursuit do not guarantee a meaningful existence. One can be the greatest athlete to ever exist and still waste his or her life. Everybody on the planet can know that person’s name, but at some point the memory of his or her athletic achievements will fade. One can reach the pinnacle of his or her career, working one’s way to the top, becoming CEO or owning a massive global cooperation, but eventually all that person’s efforts will be forgotten. One can compose symphonies, rise to the top of the charts, or play in sold-out stadiums, but one day their songs will never be played again. One can make incredible strides in the fields of science and mathematics, curing diseases and winning Nobel Prizes, but that person’s contributions are only temporary measures to ultimately fail at stemming death and fully understanding our universe. The problem is not that we do not achieve enough, but that we strive only to achieve temporal victories.
Paul writes in Colossians:
“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above,
where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above,
not on the things that are on the earth.” (Colossians 3:1-2)
Again, Paul writes in Romans:
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living
and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do
not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so
that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and
perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)
Our failure to live a meaningful life begins with our mindset. Often, we set our mind on the things of the earth, yet expect to do things that will matter for an eternity. A temporal mindset will only yield temporary results. If we want to do things that have eternal value, we must set our mind on eternity. Ephesians 2:10 says
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God
prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
God has equipped us for His purpose, to do things that will have an eternal impact. God does not wish for us to live a meaningless existence. In fact, His primary complaint with the church at Laodicea in Revelation 3 was that they were wasting their lives. In Philippians, Paul speaks of his longing to be in Heaven with Christ, but realizes he is alive for a purpose.
What is your purpose? How do you know what good works God has prepared for you? As it says in Romans 12, when we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, being transformed by the renewing of our mind, we will prove what the will of God is. When we set our mind on eternity, offering up our lives as vessels to be used by God, He will make clear to us the steps we need to take. We may not know every detail—we may not even be able to see past today—but in each moment, it will be clear to those whose mind is set on Christ what needs to be said and done. Let us live a life that actually matters—that makes an eternal difference—as we, the Church, are called to do.