Summary: God enables us to live so as to have no regrets at our last day.
Frank Sinatra sings with bravado:
And now the end is near,
and so I face the final curtain….
I’ve lived a life that’s full;
I traveled each and every highway;
And more, much more than this, I did it my way.
Regrets I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention
That sounds confident, but at the real end most people feel more regrets than can be mentioned. Such need not be true for us, however, for God offers his people a life worth living. Paul found that and preached it in summary form in Philippians 1.21, which will be our focus this morning, though I will be reading verses 18-26 to set it in context.
[Read Read Philippians 1.18c-26. Pray.]
In the book, Bleachers, John Grisham relates Neely Crenshaw’s efforts to come to terms with the failures and disappointments of his life. Raised in a small town, Crenshaw lived for football, and he dedicated his life to Coach Eddie Rake. But when a knee injury ended his career during the first year of college, he began hating Rake’s control of him as much as he had at one time idolized the Coach. Now, at his funeral, Crenshaw hopes to bury the ghost which has haunted him for so long.
John Grisham writes about Crenshaw’s relationship with Rake: “Rare is the Coach who can motivate players to spend their lives seeking his approval. From the time Neely first put on a uniform in the sixth grade, he wanted Rake’s attention. And in the next six years, with every pass he threw, every drill he ran, every play he memorized, every weight he lifted, every hour he spent sweating, every touchdown he scored, every game he won, every temptation he resisted, every honor roll he made, he coveted Eddie Rake’s approval…. And rare is the Coach who compounds every failure long after the playing days are over. When the doctors told Neely he would never play again, he felt as if he had fallen short of Rake’s ambitions for him. When his marriage dissolved, he could almost see Rake’s disapproving scowl. As his small-time real estate career drifted with no clear ambition, he knew Rake would have a lecture if he got close enough to hear it. Maybe his death would kill the demon that dogged him, but he had his doubts.”
For Christians, Paul’s goal that “to live is Christ,” resonates with our souls. We know that ideal is right and good, but we may not know what it looks like. That is why I like Grisham’s tale of Neely Crenshaw—for him “to live was Coach Rake.” Now as Neely found out, the flawed idol of a football coach let him down. Idols always do, because they cannot bear the weight of our hopes. Jeremiah explained this very thing to the people he preached to.
Jeremiah 2.11-13: Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Few of us even have seen a cistern, much less relied on one to provide water. So the illustration so useful in Jeremiah’s day may seem mostly irrelevant to us. But the application is clear, whether via the cistern or the football coach: false gods cannot satisfy. They leave us dry and parched, and our lives riddled through with regrets.
God’s challenge that we make Christ the center of our lives offers us much better: the approval of the one whose approval satisfies forever. At the end of life we can either be like Neely Crenshaw, chasing down demons who cannot restore even one wasted dream, or we can rest in the assurance that we will soon hear “well done,” and find out that the One who is pleased with us is the only One whose pleasure matters.
Charles Studd labored his life away on the mission field. He wrote a poem to remind himself that his life was worth living. The final verse reads:
“Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say, “Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say 'twas worth it all”;
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
The Bible asks us to believe God’s promises and live for Christ. Few people do so, because our eyes and ears and senses tell us that the cost is too great. Only at the end do many recognize that the acclaim and affirmations they so desired turn out to be all glitter and bauble—shine with no substance. God alone sees and controls the future, and he makes the rewards of living to Christ so great that we must say, “I never made a sacrifice.” The life of faith grabs that promise and reward.