One of the things you face when writing sermons is the question of how personal one should be when using illustrations. By nature, I am not the kind of person who likes to speak about very personal matters, but I want to tell you about a moment that was important to me. I won’t go into the details, but it was a very difficult period in my life. There was a lot of struggle and pain involved with what I experienced. For a number of months it was as though I was locked in a prison of anxiety. I would wake in the middle of the night and be awake for hours, worrying about what to do.
One of the things I did during that period of time was to take certain passages of Scripture and read them regularly. I would read certain psalms. I read the end of chapter 40 of Isaiah. I read portions of the Sermon On the Mount. I read from Romans chapter 8 and Philippians chapter 2. And I read a passage from the book of Acts that seemed to pull all the other passages together – Acts chapter 16, the story of Paul and Silas in prison. In verse 25 Luke writes that in the middle of the night Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. What struck me about that passage was this – I was a free man, and yet imprisoned by my own doubts, fears, and struggles. Paul and Silas were imprisoned, but free. The other passages I read were pointing to that freedom, and here in Acts was an example of how that freedom looked in the life of Paul and Silas.
It was a moment of epiphany for me, where I realized something very important about life. I was trying to live a better version of the same life, rather than living a different life.
This morning, we are pausing in our series of messages about spiritual gifts. This morning, I want us to consider what it means to live A Well-Ordered Life.
Here is one of the great mistakes we make about life – we work at living a better version of life rather than living a different life. Much of the time, we are trying to live a more organized or more efficient life, thinking that will bring us the joy and the freedom in life we are seeking.
We buy organizers for our desks and our closets. We take seminars on how to use time more efficiently. We read books about how to plan our lives for years to come. We work harder, but that doesn’t seem to be the answer either. We fill our lives with activity, but something still seems to be amiss in life.
Being more organized and being more efficient will bring some benefits to our lives, but that doesn’t answer the deeper questions of life.
A well-organized life is not the same as a well-ordered life. You can live a tremendously well-organized life, but it may not be a well-ordered life.
A well-organized life is a life where one organizes their schedule and responsibilities, but a well-ordered life goes beyond these things. A well-ordered life asks the deeper questions of us, such as, is my schedule reflective of who I am as a child of God? Am I giving my time to the right things? Am I giving too much of my time to peripheral matters? Are there important matters of life that I am missing? Where is God in my life? How am I serving God in my life? Is God the love of my life? Do I love God with my all my heart, mind, and soul? (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37). Who is really in charge of my life?
The gospel tells us this – being more efficient in life or using our time more wisely, or working harder, or being busier isn’t the key; the key is living a well-ordered life.
In our text for this morning is a verse that tells us about living a well-ordered life. Verse 33 – But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. It is putting all the elements of life into the proper order.
A well-ordered life is a life that has a healthy arrangement of priorities, it is a life that is well-balanced, it is a life that recognizes there are matters more important than just keeping up with what is on our daily to-do list. It is a passage about doing what God has called us to do and centering our lives in God. It is about stepping away from the idolatry that makes up much of life in our modern world.
A well-ordered life is based on the kingdom of God, and the kingdom of God reminds us of this – the things that matter to God should matter to us.
What matters to God?
1. People matter to God. And not just some people, but all people. We see far too many examples today of how religious people want to set qualifications for who God will love or who God will accept.
I once mentioned to a friend of mine that I could get some things done of it weren’t for all the interruptions. His response was maybe the interruptions are the ministry. He was right, and I have tried to keep his words in my mind and heart.
Erwin McManus is a pastor and writer in Los Angeles. In his book Seizing Your Divine Moment he writes of what he calls God moments. They are those moments in life, which are easy to miss, where there is an opening to step into a moment that can be redemptive for another person. We have to keep our eyes, ears, hearts, and minds open to these moments so we do not miss them. In our busyness are we missing those God moments, those opportunities to make a difference to another person?
2. God especially loves those who are on the edges of life – the poor, the loners, the outcasts, the sinners, those rejected by society, those not considered good enough, or righteous enough, or beautiful enough, or perfect enough, or rich enough.
3. God is with people in the midst of their struggles. To remember those who struggle in life is evidence that our lives are not centered upon ourselves. The book of James says Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27). I think we could do with a lot less of the finger-pointing that comes from many churches and a lot more of taking care of orphans and widows. And keeping ourselves from being polluted by the world is keeping our hearts and minds clear. Karl Marx famously said that religion is an opium of the people. I would argue with him on that point. I believe there is a lot of destructive ways of thinking presented to us that become anesthesia to our hearts and minds, such as thinking of ourselves rather than others, or that we should seek to get what we can for ourselves while ignoring the needs of others.
5. God wants us to step into the lives of others. There is no greater antidote to our own struggles than stepping into the life of another and walking with them through the trials of their life. Jesus reminded us that life is not simply about ourselves. That is what Jesus was constantly trying to teach his disciples. When life is going well for us we need to remember it’s not going well for everyone. We must be engaged with the needs of our community and world.
God does not value us by what we own or what we have accomplished. We can be so driven to accumulate and to find success. God is more interested in who we are that what we have or what we have accomplished in our careers.
I will close with an analogy of the two approaches to life from which we can choose. One is an activity that I have done numerous times, although I don’t like it; the other is an activity I love, but haven’t done as much as I would like.
The first is using a treadmill. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t like treadmills. It’s not just the physical work, but the fact they are so much like life – no matter how hard you work and how fast you move you never get anywhere and if you slow down for just a moment you’re in big trouble.
The other activity is white-water rafting, which I love. It is so much fun, although it is kind of crazy when you think about it. You have to wear a helmet, and that’s always a bad sign. When someone tells you to put on a helmet you know you might get hurt. After you put on a helmet you are given this advice – if you fall out of the boat and are pulled underwater, curl up in a ball so the current will push you back to the surface and you won’t drown. And you have to wonder why you are paying to do such a thing.
You start down the river and come to the first rapids. The guide is shouting at you to paddle to avoid the large rocks. People are screaming and you want to throw yourself into the bottom of the boat and cover your head, but you paddle as hard as you can. You begin to wonder why you chose to do such a crazy thing. But as soon as you get safely through the first set of rapids you can’t wait to do it again.
I prefer the white-water way of living – you have a guide to steer you through the difficult, uncertain times of life, and though you sometimes wonder if you’ll survive, the excitement and exhilaration makes it worthwhile.
It’s a different way of life, and one that comes about when we allow God to transform us. We don’t get there by making just a few improvements or adjustments, but by becoming new people.