How We Should Live
"Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures." (Psalm 90:10a). As a child and then a teenager thinking about this, seventy or eighty years seemed like a long time. Today's medical technology might even push that into your nineties or over one hundred. Suddenly though, as I turned 20 and was no longer a "teenager", I began to realize how quickly life happens. A day seems to offer endless time and potential. You get up, eat breakfast, maybe go to work or school, have lunch, put in the afternoon, come home, have supper, relax a little perhaps, go to sleep, and everything repeats. But day upon day, week upon week, month upon month, and suddenly you have lived an entire year.
This was drilled in to me again a decade later when our first daughter was born. That tiny, fragile, helpless infant, who could not lift her own head, was beginning to crawl and then walk in only a few months. Before I knew it, she had become a toddler, then a preschooler, and so on. While my wife, Melanie, and I were able to relive that baby stage with our second child, for our first, that part of her life had passed, never to come again.
You Don't Know What You've Got
The other thing that made me realize the fragility of life at age 20 is that it was around then that I got sick for a time. Really sick. Not just a cold or strep throat, but in the hospital sick. Even after a few days, I was still not clear on exactly what was wrong, and began to seriously wonder if my life was ever going to be the same again. A favourite expressions of a friend is "Health is wealth", and to quote another phrase, "You don't know what you've got until it's gone."
It wasn't that I had never been sick before. I had had bacterial meningitis when I was three, which had left me with permanent damage around the base of my pituitary gland. This resulted in diabetes insipidus which prevented my body from producing and/or delivering anti-directic hormone (ADH). ADH controls water retention in the body so you don't have to constantly drink and go to the bathroom. However, there was a hormonal substitute available, so I just took it 2-3 times a day, and never really felt that limited.
Yet, at age 20-something my diabetes insipidus spiraled out of control, I was in the hospital for hyponutrenia (too much water in the blood), and no one was exactly sure of the root cause. One night, probably almost a week in, when I felt like things may never return to normal, I remember praying to God, pledging that if He would heal me then I would give my life over to Him.
I did get better, and while I have had some ups and downs over the years with the diabetes, things have worked pretty well for the most part.
But what about that promise? If I was going to live my life for God, what exactly and practically should I be doing? At first I did nothing different. I had grown up in a Christian household, and continued to go to church, but it was more out of a sense of duty than really wanting to. Yet, as became involved in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) at University, and began to see people whom, from what I could tell, walked the talk, I realized that things in my life had to change.
And so, ~23 years removed, now at 43, the following are my thoughts and reflections on how I believe we should live our lives.
The Bible says that our lives are not our own; that we were "bought at a price". (1 Corinthians 6:20b). As such, we should not live to please ourselves, but to please God. Being a bit of control freak, and more than bit of a micromanager as Melanie would attest (she says that I "put the anal in Analyst"), this has not come easy for me. But over time I have realized that living to please God doesn't mean that my life will necessarily be unfulfilling or boring, just that it may take a different trajectory than it otherwise would.
We are called to "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;' and, 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'" (Luke 10:27). This can be hard (i.e., clash with what I want to do in a given situation) and confusing (i.e., what should I do in a given situation?). It can also be scary or feel intimidating – particularly if there are others who disagree with the approach I feel is right.
But above all, everything that we do needs be encompassed by this love. Love for God and love for our neighbour. We should pray for His Holy Spirit to guide us and provide direction for what to do.
It is easy to get swept up in the sea of self-righteousness, and equally easy to get swept up in an ocean of do nothing. How do we act in a way that shows God's love through each step, but neither judges nor take an anything goes/it's all good approach at the same time?
I wish a had a practical answer for this in all situations, but I don't. However, I do believe if we seek God's will, he will guide us
Obedience also leads to trust. The Bible says we should trust that we will receive from God, and not doubt. Doubters "should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do." (James 1:7-8). God has promised to be faithful and we need to believe Him. Even when we're not sure what to do, or things don't turn out how we expect or think they would or should have, we still have to trust that He is with us.
Do you ever feel a nudge from God, and just wish you didn't? Or aren't sure that it's really Him? As a Christian, I feel we are called to tell people about Jesus and fulfill the Great Commission. "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:16-20). I have a friend, let's call him Carlos, who I had talked to about God for a while, but who I began to feel I was pushing toward Christianity. I remember being out for supper one night, and after we were just hanging out downtown by the river. I felt God nudge me that I should invite Carlos to an upcoming Christmas Eve church service. I thought that the last thing Carlos wanted was for me was to bring up God yet again. However, I obeyed and I asked Carlos if he would like to come to church with us on Christmas Eve. To my utter amazement, he said yes. It's not that Carlos became a Christian that Christmas. Years later, he's still searching, and we still discuss God, but I was given a powerful example of what can happen when I listen to the Holy Spirit.
Conversely, I feel God has called me to be active in the fight against abortion. This is something I struggle with, mostly because it is a very contentious issue, and I am always so concerned what others think of me. I'm not sure if this concern is due to repressed emotions from when I didn't have a lot of friends in elementary and junior high school, the but more I think about it, I believe that I just feel bad making other people feel bad or uncomfortable.
Yet, while concern for others is, of course, really important, taken to the extreme, it can also lead to cowardice on my part. Each time that I feel embarrassed for suggesting that someone not take God's name in vain, or I feel awkward for standing up for what I believe in, the verses that come to mind are: "But the cowardly . . . they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death" (Revelation 21:8) and "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels" (Luke 9:26). I need to make absolutely sure that I doing what I believe God wants, and not doing whatever is less socially awkward.
Going back to abortion, one particular time an organization was asking people to find a couple of friends and stand on street corners for a week holding up signs saying that Canada needs laws governing abortions. As I was driving to work, I was thinking "Well, I'm out, as I simply don't know people that would be interested in doing this with me." However, I felt like I should do due diligence and think of potential names. Quickly eliminating the first two that popped into my head, a coworker, let's call her Casandra, whom I don't know very well, occurred to me next.
"Yeah right." I thought. "I highly doubt she would be interested."
A couple minutes later, I pulled into the parking lot, and who would pull in right beside me was that very coworker. As I parked the car and looked over, all I kept thinking was "Oh no!". And because I hadn't planned ahead of time and was too busy panicking on the spot to even ask for the Holy Spirit's guidance, I ended up saying nothing about the street corner event and just briefly made small talk for the 45 awkward seconds it took to walk into the office and our head separate ways.
The event is over now. God gives us opportunities in life, and sometimes those are one shot deals that we can't change. Esau lost his father, Jacob's, blessing and "was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done." (Hebrews 12:17b). Sometimes we can't turn things around either. As Paul says we need to be "making the most of every opportunity." (Ephesians 5:16a). Yes, God forgives, but sometimes sin still leaves lasting consequence.
When our first daughter, let's call her Anastasia, was about six weeks old, she developed Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). While typically not a severe or fatal disease, Anastasia's condition seemed to worsen even after seeing the doctor. We were getting ready for bed the night of Good Friday, and were concerned that her breathing seemed more laboured as she slept, with pauses almost like sleep apnea. Melanie and I were both tired, and while she is usually the one to preservere when I am ready to throw in the towel, that night it was I who called the nurse teletriage line yet again. The nurse's assessment started off as before, but when I mentioned the "sleep apnea", I noticed a distinct change in the tone and direction of the conversation. Fifteen minutes later there was an ambulance outside our door, and Anastasia was admitted to hospital. After another couple days, she was moved into ICU and placed on a ventilator. The intubating physician said she was hanging on "by her fingernails", and things did not improve much, with Social Work discussing the real possibility of organ donation with Melanie a few days later.
Finally, in my despair and exhaustion, one night I stopped praying for God to heal Anastasia, and prayed rather for His will to be done. Of course, I wanted her healed. We loved her dearly, but I realized that at the end of the day, it was His will that needed to be done, rather than mine. I did not realize at the time that Melanie was also praying the same prayer.
That night marked a turning point in Anastasia's health. She began to steadily improve, was taken off the ventilator a couple days later, and moved back to the regular ward. Shortly after, she was discharged home on oxygen. Today, she is a healthy, happy young woman.
Earlier the day that Melanie and I prayed, Anastasia had received a blood transfusion. I don't know what specific blood products she received, but have often wondered if the donor had antibodies in their blood for whatever strain of RSV Anastasia had (if those would would even come through in a transfusion?). Or perhaps the added blood just gave her body a boost. Or perhaps she was on the mend anyway, and it was too early to see. Or perhaps God performed a direct miracle that night. Whatever it was though, I saw clearly that surrender to God's will, instead of doing my own, can bring us exactly what we desire.
Let's go back a little further. Before I had Anastasia, or had met Melanie, or began to come into my own in my late teens/early twenties, I was a really lonely 12 year old. I mentioned that I did not have friends in elementary school, but still had a number in our neighbourhood. However, we moved the summer I turned 12. There were very fewer kids in my new community, and while people at my new school were nice enough, I was pretty shy and did a horrible job at forming any friendships that went anything deeper than small talk. I thought that my life would be so much better if only I could find a girlfriend, but again a combination of shyness and just not have the courage to actually ask anybody out left that DOA.
I remember loving our junior high dances because it was actually a chance to dance with and then, at the end of the slow dances, hug someone. Yes, I was craving human contact that bad. While I did begin to form more meaningful friendships over time, even in University I was still too hesitant to ask almost anyone out, and so the girlfriend I wanted so badly still eluded me.
Finally, in my twenties, after drawing closer to God and starting to really focus on living my life with him at the center, as I mentioned earlier, I through up my hands and said. "Fine, if You don't want me ever to marry someone, I accept it, and will live alone". It obviously was not as serious as Jesus praying "yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42) in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to his arrest and crucifixion, but for me it was a pretty big deal.
I don't think it was two months later that I began dating the wonderful woman that I would eventually marry. It strikes me as way more than coincidental that something I had sought unsuccessfully for almost a dozen years, could turn on a dime when I finally said, not my will God, but yours be done. I'm not saying these things to imply that if we will follow God, he will give us everything we ask for. I was fully prepared for Anastasia to die and for me never to find someone when I prayed both those prayers. But even if that were God's will, the point is that it should be His will that is done, not mine. And who knows what might happen if we start seeking God's will more and trying less to make our own paths? "'Truly I tell you,'" Jesus replied, "'no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life'." (Mark 10:29-30).
Writing this is hard. Namely because I don't want to do it. The actually writing hasn't even been that difficult. It has more just been siting down at the computer and putting in the time and mental effort. Life is busy, my daughters, Anastasia and her younger sister, "Arwen", are 13 and 11 respectively, Melanie and I both work, and writing just feels like something else that has to be done. It's crazy really. I live in North America in 2019. I have modern conveniences that my ancestors could only have dreamed of, an incredible job, my health, what more could I possibly want? Yet, sometimes life still feels difficult, exhausting. I know in reality, it is so much harder for many other people, both here in North America, elsewhere in the world, and throughout history. And really, if I feel that God is calling me to write something, just like taking a stand on abortion, regardless of whether I want to or not, I need to. And only He knows what will come of it.
This is actually the section I started with, when I first began to write. "Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come." (Luke 17:1a).
I have come to the conclusion that life would be hard enough if there was no Enemy actively working against us. If we just had to deal with the daily struggles, often of our own making and the making of others. Yet , there is an Enemy continually seeking to cause us to stumble and to drive a wedge between us and God. And he will use every trick and then some to try to achieve this. So how do we resist the Devil, so that he flees from us, and keep from falling into temptation?
I think the first step is not to give the Devil a toehold, let alone a foothold in our lives. I see temptation a bit like a pool of water. As you start to wade in, hovering just below the surface, it is attractive go deeper. Yet as you descend into the pool, you have further and further to travel to come back up for air. Eventually you drown.
That said, I don't think the answer is just to play in the shallows either. Jesus says that "anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28b) and "anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment." (Matthew 5:22a). Temptation is like a wedge. It only takes a bit of an edge to force open the door.
Certainly it can be really hard to resist temptation, but the Bible also states: "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." (1 Corinthians 10:13).
When our kids were younger, we had an opportunity to go teach English to the children of Christians in another nation. Melanie had just gotten back from a conference, and I have never seen her so fired up about God and how she could serve Him. We did a bit of basic Google searching just to see what was out there, and could not believe when we found an opportunity to actually go to that same country her conference was just in and teach.
And that's when I panicked. To say I like the comfort and safety of North America is an understatement. Now I was faced with possibility of moving across the world with a 5 year old and 3 year old in tow, to do what . . . teach English to Christian children in a non-Christian country? Was that even evangelistic? Was that really what God was calling Melanie and I to do?
I thought of a thousand reasons why we shouldn't go (e.g., I had just started a new job, we'd have to raise money to support ourselves while overseas), and as we weighed the decision for the next few weeks, I began to think that maybe it was not what God wanted for us. Couldn't I serve Him here more effectively by making money and donating it to people who were so much better at this than I would be?
". . . for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose." (Philippians 2:13) . Right, it is God who works, not me. Uh oh. A few weeks after we (really I) had decided not to go, I remember being alone and feeling God impress three things on me.
I had made the wrong choice. Despite what I wanted and convinced myself that God wanted, in reality He had wanted me to go.
My life would be harder for not going. I still wonder about this one. As much as I grumble, I know my life has been very good thus far, so what does that mean for down the road.
I was forgiven. Totally. I hadn't forfeited my salvation or ruined my life. While I had clearly sinned, and #2 meant my life will be more difficult, I was still loved, forgiven, and saved. And that is true no matter what. We can always come to or come back to Jesus
Sidebar: There was a commercial from my childhood where bunch of children are playing in the street, and get called in for lunch as the Chef Boyardee song plays: watch?v=Zf1NMln6Phs. For some reason, remembering this commercial always gives me a warm feeling about visiting with other cultures. I'm not even sure why because as I watch it today, it feels pretty American to me, aside from maybe the bell in the town square. Regardless though, perhaps those feelings were priming me for a situation like the one I had encountered, and then let fall through my fingers.
Conclusion of the Matter
At the end of the day, we all have to make a choice of who we are going to follow. I believe that God is both just and loving. Just, as there needs to be a punishment for my sin; but loving enough that He sent His son Jesus to bear that punishment himself. And if I choose to believe in Jesus and, to borrow a phrase from our daughters' Sunday School, let Him be "the leader of our lives", then I can live with Him forever. I don't know exactly what that forever will look like, but I trust God enough to know that it will be awesome.
"Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind" (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Really, this is what I think it comes down. While, as noted above, there can be certain cases where we don't know what to do, I think that more often we do know but just don't want to do it. There is always a reason, often valid, not to do something, but if we are following God, the reason to do it is so much I think that is how we should live our lives: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;' and, 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'" (Luke 10:27)