Apr 09 - Is What I Want Really What I Value Most?

Is What I Want Really What I Value Most?

April 9, 2017

Galatians 5:22-26

 

Today is Palm Sunday.  On it we generally remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event described in all four Gospels in the NT.[1]   The number of people in Jerusalem at that time had grown considerably – 5 times the norm - since Jews from all over the then-known world had made their way to Jerusalem so they could to take part in the Passover celebration – a celebration that reminded them that as a nation they were freed from Egyptian domination.

 

But while they were in their own land, this was overshadowed in that they had been under Roman rule for 100 years.[2]  Not a single Jew would have remembered a time when the Romans were not in charge.

 

So as Jesus descends from the Mount of Olives[3] towards Jerusalem riding on a donkey, the crowds with him waved palm leaves and placed their clothes and small tree branches on the ground to welcome him as he triumphantly enters Jerusalem. The crowds who cheered Jesus on with words like:

 

Hosanna! 

Hosanna to the son of David! (Matt)

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 

Blessed be the king who comes in the name of the Lord! (Luke)

Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! 

Blessed is the king of Israel! (Jn)

Hosanna in the highest!

Hosanna in the highest heaven! (Matt)

Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! (Luke)

 

So if you’re looking at these words a few things should stand out.  For one, Hosanna, which means, “Save Now!” was repeated multiple times.  There was an expectation that Jesus was about to bring about salvation for the nation, which in the mind of the crowd meant that Jesus would overthrowing of the Roman overlords.

 

There is the repeated mentioning of Jesus as the king of Israel.  But not just any king.  The expectation was that this would mean a return to the Davidic dynasty.  A direct descendant of David would again ascend the throne. 

And that was why those people were so overjoyed, so happy, so excited, so hyped. 

 

But this was not at all what Jesus felt was of importance.  Do you remember him saying to Pilate:  “My kingdom is not of this world, not of this realm, otherwise my followers would have fought to keep me from being arrested by the Jewish leaders!” (John 18:36)?    There was something of much greater importance that Jesus felt that he needed to do than to raise an army and rout the Romans.  He didn’t want to bring down the armies of God to earth.  He wanted to bring all people into God’s family.  He had a different agenda, different priorities, different values.

 

What the people, who were cheering Jesus on, wanted was not what Jesus wanted. 

 

This brings us to our sermon topic today.  Let’s begin by turning this around a bit and ask ourselves what we want. At first blush, the answers may seem rather easy to come by.    

 

I want a successful career.

I want a loving family.

I want a sports car.

I want to be independently wealthy.

I want to be healthy.

I want to be happy.

I want to have peace of mind.

I want my family members to be believers.

I want to write a book.

I want to take a trip around the world

I want jewelry / a private man-cave

 

There are a number of problems with a list like this.  One of those is that sometimes, when we get what we want, we discover after some time has gone by, that it isn’t all that we thought it was cracked up to be. 

 

We buy something that we always wanted but then it becomes an albatross around our neck. The payments are too high, the insurance too expensive, the upkeep a nightmare, storage a pain.

 

Sometimes we get the charismatic partner we wanted only to discover that we are with someone who is egotistical and self-absorbed.

 

Or we start on the career path of our dreams only to find out down the road the stress is literally killing us and we can’t think of anything but doing something else. 

 

IS WHAT I WANT REALLY WHAT I VALUE MOST?

April 9th, 2017

Galatians 5:22-26

 

 

As I’ve already pointed out with regard to Jesus, the crowd on Palm Sunday wanted something that he himself did not value. 

 

And when it comes to us, the fact is that sometimes what we naturally want, or something that we want in the moment, may not be what we value the most – or perhaps even what God values most.  So what we want in the short term, our natural wants, may often be in direct conflict with what we assume that our true values are. 

 

What we want in the short-term doesn’t have to necessarily be bad.  It could be a good thing.  However, what we ultimately value may be an even better thing. 

 

For example, we may want to work in order to make money and provide for our family.  That is a necessity and it isn't evil.  We can make an honest living and, in fact, are instructed a number of times to do so in both Old and New Testament.[4]  It’s OK to have a good work ethic and expect a decent salary for working.

 

But if our natural desire to make money and look after our families turns into greed and a lack of compassion for others, then we will be sorely tempted to lie about the product we are selling, say we worked more hours than we did, cheat others in order to make a buck, take credit for the work of others, inflate our expenses, lie on our tax returns, outright steal, and take advantage of others. 

 

And when that happens, then what we want to have in the moment actually turns into something that is evil and sinful. 

 

That is what the apostle Paul commented on when he wrote about the tension between doing something that we feel like in the moment rather than acting according to our inner values.  Paul points out that often our personal choices reflect what we desire in the moment even if they have turned evil and go against what we value deep down.

 

 

I just don’t understand my own actions.  On the one hand I do not do what I (genuinely) value.  Instead I do the very thing I (ultimately) despise.               Romans 7:15

 

Because there is often a conflict between what we think we really value and the choices and decisions we make to fulfill our natural desires, it isn’t uncommon for us to throw out our personal ethics for things as simple as convenience, saving money, personal gain, pleasure, and a host of other reasons

 

So here’s the thesis of today’s talk.

 

Because there often is a difference between our natural wants and our ultimate values, ... the truth is that ... we will never get what we really want until we discover what we genuinely value. 

 

So maybe we should just write down the things we value and try to act on that.  But how do I figure out what I genuinely value?  

 

The second of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” in a book penned by the late Steven Covey[5] and first published in 1989, is to “Begin With the End in Mind”.

 

In the book, Steven Covey invites the readers to picture themselves at their own funeral in three years’ time. So it is 2020, you passed on, and you sit at your own funeral.  You hear your loved ones, your friends, your coworkers, your business associates, your fellow church goers, and volunteers speak about you.

 

Covey then invites his readers to take time to really think about and jot down the things that they would like to be remembered for. What would they like to have these people say about the kind of person they were, how they had lived their lives, what character qualities they possessed, the difference they had made? 

 

So my question to you:  What would YOU want to hear?  Woody Allan said that the one thing he wants other people say at his funeral is, “Look, he’s moving!

But that’s not an option in this exercise.  So what would you want to hear?

 

Would you want to hear that you’ve made a million dollars before you hit 25?  That you earned a doctorate? That you visited every continent on earth?  That you were extremely popular in high school?  That you climbed Mount Kilimanjaro? 

 

That you had a 50‘ yacht?  That you won a metal at the Olympic Games?  That you were a best-selling author?  That you flew your own Lear jet? That you lived in a waterfront mansion?

 

In other words, at your funeral, would you want to hear people speak about your personal accomplishments and possessions - the things you were able to achieve in your lifetime? 

 

Or would it be more important to hear them say that you were a great parent, a loving spouse, a caring individual, generous with the needy and poor, a person of integrity, someone with genuine faith, a great neighbour, a friend who was there when needed, an honest employee or employer, someone who made a difference, an example to others?  Would you rather hear people speak about your accomplishments or about who you were as a person, your character and how you treated others?

 

The reality is that we can be successful and wealthy and famous and still be a jerk, someone who people, including our family, are happy to see shuffle off this mortal coil.  Imagine people taking a sigh of relief and being glad you’re gone permanently from their lives.

 

Oh yes, I remember Spencer well.  He had absolutely no redeeming qualities.  Wouldn’t you agree that he just a miserable cuss who didn’t get along with anyone, didn’t care for anyone, and was constantly mad at and impatient with others?  Yes, he was equally disliked and hated by family, coworkers and neighbours. 

 

Here may be another point of tension for us.  Most of us think of life in terms of our accomplishments, our experiences, our possessions and our wealth, our standing and status - or perhaps we think of our life as lacking these qualities. 

 

But as important as these things may appear during our lifetime, I wonder, when it comes to the end, whether or not we would still think of them as THE most important things when it comes to defining us and our lives. 

 

It's Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, and a man makes his way to his seat right at center ice. He sits down, noticing that the seat next to him is empty. He leans over and asks his neighbor if someone will be sitting there. "No" says the neighbor. "The seat is empty." "This is incredible," said the man. "Who in their right mind would have a seat like this for the Stanley Cup and not use it?" The neighbor says, "Well, actually, the seat belongs to me. I was supposed to come with my wife, but she passed away. This is the first Stanley Cup we haven't been to together since we got married." "Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that. That's terrible... But couldn't you find someone else, a friend or relative, or even a neighbor to take the seat?" The man shakes his head. "No,” he says. “They're all at the funeral."

 

So let’s imagine for a moment that we actually went through this exercise.  We gave it considered thought and prayer and each of us came up with, let’s say, six things that we would really like people to say about us at our funeral. And let’s say we were able to take those six things and coalesced them into just six words. 

 

Those words, Steven Covey wrote, would define what is of greatest value to us.  In other words, they would be our definition of success. 

 

If you carefully consider what you wanted to be said of you in the funeral experience, you will find your definition of success.                                        Steven Covey

 

So Steven Covey would likely agree with the statement I’ve included in the overhead:

 

To get what we really want out of life, we must discover what we really value at the end of our lives. 

 

Prior to actually going through the funeral exercise, we may think that we know what success means to us.  However, after doing the funeral exercise, we would know with much greater certainty what we consider to be most valuable and important. 

 

If we find that ultimately our character and person is more important to us than our accomplishments, we may also realize that in his own life and teaching, Jesus often pointed to the relative unimportance of our immediate wants and our personal accomplishments, when compared to our character and how we treat others. 

 

Just a few examples.  Jesus told his listeners in Matthew 6:33 not to be so worried about material possessions.  Instead, they were to be concerned first and foremost about two things: 

 

  • 1. “God’s Kingdom,” that is, God’s reign in their lives -

This reflects what Jesus taught in his prayer, “your kingdom come” ostensibly, your reign be apparent IN MY LIFE (Matthew 6:10). 

 

And they were to be concerned first and foremost with

 

  • 2. “God’s Righteousness,” that is with conducting themselves ethically, or in a way that God would consider to be right.[6] 

In the Lord’s prayer it is the phrase, “Your will be done”, - here on earth ... as it is in heaven, that is, again, IN MY LIFE - fully and completely.

 

Jessu warned those who were listening to him that following him would mean a modem of self-denial.  In other words, Jesus said, it wouldn’t matter one bit if they gained the whole world, all the things they could possibly want, and in the process lost their souls (Mark 8:34-36 & par.).[7]   Jesus was saying that his followers should focus their lives on what is of greatest value rather than just focus on what they can get out of life. 

 

If we have written down 6 words that we would want to define us at our funeral, then these should determine the priorities that we should be setting in our lives. They should inform and determine our decisions and actions.  I will decide to do what is necessary in order to bring about what I would like to have said about me. 

 

We should allow these 6 words to inform our conscience and therefore the way that we behave. 

 

So, for example, if I want to hear the word “integrity” at my funeral, then I would need to be honest in the way that I communicate and conduct my business. 

 

[Jesus said, “let your yes be yes and your no be no” (Matt 5:37), which really means, be honest no matter what you say. 

 

So being dishonest is no longer just a little white sin, it is actually going against one of the things that I say I value the most. 

 

But honesty is costly.  We can lose a lot of money if we are honest.  Our profit margin may go down.  The amount of taxes we pay may go up. 

 

I don’t know about you, but I would hate to hear someone tell someone else at my funeral that I was so focused on making a buck that I was not shy about lying, cheating, and stealing.  ]

 

So let’s say that we discover what we value the most.  Does that guarantee that we will never act in opposition to those values?  No, it doesn’t.  However, whenever we do go against our principles and values, it will make it all the more apparent to us that we’ve messed up. 

 

And when it is easily clear to us that we have messed up, it allows us to fess up instead of sweeping it under the rug as unimportant. 

 

In other words, after I have defined my values, it allows me to recognize my sin for what it is, confess it, ask for forgiveness, and try not to do it anymore.  Owning up to my failure is actually a success on its own, because that is what honesty is about. 

 

[So, knowing my main values, allows me to prioritize my life on the basis of these.  And it can really touch any area of my life.  Is it better for me to sleep in on Sunday or to get up and go to church?  Is it better for me to veg out in front of the TV or computer screen all evening or for me to go to the gym?  Is it better for me to read a book right now or spend time with my kids?

 

Knowing my values, and realizing when I go against them, should make it much easier for me to recognize that I’ve messed up and, as a result, to apologize and say I’m sorry if that should be the case.  If I’m not so clear about having violated my own highest values, it may be easier to shift blame and responsibility to another person or my circumstances. 

 

If I want to hear someone say the word, “integrity” about me at my funeral, then that will actually need to define me as a person in the way I conduct my life, and I will need to apologize when I do something that compromised my integrity.]

 

The reality is that most of us rarely give much thought to what we truly value beyond our personal accomplishments and endeavours.  Therefore it is quite possible to spend our entire lives gratifying our immediate wants and our natural instincts and desires – without even realizing that we’re missing the point of life. 

 

As Christians there are other important questions that we asked ourselves:

 

What does God want for my life?  What does he think is the most important things I can do during my lifetime?  When I pass on from this life into God’s presence, what will make God say, “Well done, good and faithful child”?

 

For some of us that may be a scary thought because we think that we are at odds with God when it comes to his will and our conduct because what God wants for my life is different from what I want for my life.

 

I want to become an architect and God likely wants me to be a missionary.  I want to enjoy my life and God wants me to be miserable.  I want happiness and God’s a kill joy.  I want to have a nice car and God wants me to drive a clunker.  I want to be successful and God wants me to be poor. 

 

Therefore, if I ever pray, “Your will be done”, I am signing up for a horrible life. 

 

But is this perception true?  Does God want me to do without, be miserable, be a missionary, drive a clunker, be considered a failure, ... is that want is really most important when it comes to how I live my life?  Let me summarize those questions in two ways:

 

What does God want from me?

vs.

What is God’s will for me?

 

It may seem that these two questions are exactly the same.  But I don’t think they are.  Maybe we can think of these questions with another perspective.  Let’s think about good and loving parents.  What do these parents want from their children and what do they want for their children?

 

The reality is that good, kind, loving, healthy and mature parents don’t really want anything FROM their children that does not tie in with what is necessary for a family unit to function properly.

 

So parents want from their children cooperation in the home ... they want them to be non-aggressive with their siblings, willing to take responsibility for chores, and deal with the consequences for their actions – good and bad. 

 

Parents want their kids not to take everything for granted and to not be demanding, but to actually appreciate and be thankful for what they have.  So even the best of parents have certain expectations when it comes to how their children behave. 

 

However, those same good parents don’t want to receive their emotional support or self-validation from their kids.  They don’t want to get their financial support or household appliances or garden implements from their kids. 

 

When parents try to extract something from their children in order to get something for themselves (not in order for the children to learn something of value), something is wrong, isn’t it?

 

Good parents want more when it comes in terms of “for” than they do in terms of “from.”  They want good physical and emotional and spiritual health for their kids.  They want a good future for their kids.  They want happiness and contentment for their kids.  You get the idea. 

 

In the same way, our heavenly Father is more concerned with “for” than he is with “from.”  He doesn’t want so much anything from us as he want some things for us.  Of course there are certain expectations when it comes to being a part of God’s household - one example would be for us to communicate with him and be filled with thanksgiving for all that is good and right in our lives. 

 

But mostly, God wants things for us, things that he knows will allow us to be blessed and be a blessing to others during our sojourn on earth. 

 

And could it be, that his ultimate desire for us may actually tie in to a large degree with what we would say our ultimate values are, the things that we would want people to say about us at our funeral?  Are we closer to wanting, valuing - in the ultimate sense - what God wants for us?  

 

And how do we know what God wants for us?  I think the apostle Paul answers that question in part in his letter to the believers in the Roman province of Galatia when he contrast the flesh with the (Holy) Spirit. 

 

The desires or works of the flesh consist of a rather long list that can be summarized into four broad categories:

 

  • sexual promiscuity

  • wild partying and getting drunk

  • envy, jealousy, anger

  • conflict and strife (fighting)

 

It seems to me, that the first two and the last two on that list can be grouped together into negative physical and emotional desires.  This is what we often desire or want for immediate gratification.  That is what God tells us to avoid. 

 

On the other hand, Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit.  If God took control of our lives, overrode our wills, and imposed his will for our lives on us, then the fruit of the Spirit would be the outcome.  So what is it?  Paul lists 9 attributes that is but a sampling of what these fruit could be.

 

  • hate

  • sorrow

  • conflict

  • frustration (anger)

  • meanness

  • badness

  • unfaithfulness

  • unkindness

  • slavery to all known appetites

 

No, wait a minute.  That’s not them!  If God wanted these things for us, our lives would really BE miserable

 

 

So the real “fruit of the Spirit” are the exact opposite of that list, aren’t they?

 

  • love

  • joy

  • peace

  • patience

  • kindness

  • goodness

  • faithfulness

  • gentleness

  • self-control

 

Oh no, look at that list.  What about the new 2017 F-150 Raptor?  What about the holiday in Hawaii?  What about the house on the water?  What about the new position in the company?  That’s what I really want!  I mean, who needs love, joy and peace?

 

Well, believe it or not, the fruit of the Spirit would solve most of our problems.  It would definitely solve our relationship problems, wouldn’t it?

 

What if every person in our household was loving and forgiving even when the other person’s unreasonable. 

 

What if they were joyful even in difficult situations - when things are hard - when money is tight.  Joyful without having to be on something or being in denial. 

 

Think about it.  Imagine if your spouse was characterized by the fruit of the Spirit.  Imagine your kids being characterized by the fruit of the Spirit.  The future or current spouses of your children or grandchildren to be characterized by the fruit of the Spirit? 

 

In fact, if we ever got a hold of this, imagine what life would be like.  Collaboratively.  Non-combative.  Lacking drama.  Bringing progress. 

 

The fruit of the Spirit are often found in the shadows and not in the forefront of what we want. 

 

What do I want - ultimately?  What words would I love to characterize me at my funeral?  What will give my life meaning, purpose, significance?  What will be the legacy of my life?

 

Spend some time this week thinking about and maybe even writing down what you really want people to say about you at your funeral. 

 

Figure out the things that you value the most.  And try to live your life accordingly.

 

God doesn't want me to settle for what I desire from day to day.  God wants me to discover what I ultimately value.  Because he knows that in that process I will come face to face with what He wants for me. 

 

[1] Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19.

[2] From c. 63 BC (Pompey) to AD 33

[3] Foretold in Zech 9:9; 14:1-5 – Messiah would come to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.

[4] 1 Thessalonians 4:11, “... work with your own hands as we instructed you.”  Proverbs 19:15, “An idle man will suffer hunger.”  Proverbs 6:6, “Observe the ant you sluggard.” 

[5] Died in 2012 at age 80.

[6] The apostle Paul used the term “God’s righteousness” in a different sense to refer to the righteous standing bestowed on a person of faith.  Jesus, on the other hand, speaks of conduct that God would consider right.

[7] If anyone wants to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  ... What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?