10 I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
Some time ago a man just dropped in my office who obviously was despairing of life. It did not take long for me to know that he had virtually come to the end of his rope. He had no meaning, no purpose in existence. I had just been teaching to our church the Roman road of salvation and I decided that I would use that plan of salvation on him. I took that little book of Romans and I opened it to the first page where they asked the question, “Would you like to have eternal life?” And he said to me, rather emphatically, no. He said, as a matter of fact, that is the last thing in this world that he wanted was eternal life. He said that the finest thing that could happen to him would be to go to sleep and never wake up again.
Sometimes, he said, “I think about taking my own life, but I simply do not have the courage to do so. If I did I would end it all, and rid myself of this miserable existence.”
It’s a tragic thing but there are more people than you would ever imagine just like that today. In the most affluent and perhaps most educated society that has ever existed on the face of the earth, people have gained everything and they have learned almost everything except the secret to life. So, young people, in all of your learning and in all of your intellectual pursuits, if you have not yet learned the meaning of life, if you have not yet found the secret to a meaningful and a worthwhile life, then you’ve not really begun your education.
And my challenge to you tonight would be that you seek a meaningful and a purposeful life above everything else for if you gain everything else, if you miss that, then you miss life’s highest and its best. Jesus spoke to us about that in John 10:10 when he said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
Jesus came not only to bring us eternal life but also the abundant life. Eternal life speaks to us of the quantity of life, the length of years. But abundant life speaks to us of a quality of life—a depth of meaning. And Jesus came not just to extend our lives, but also to deepen our lives and give to our lives that which ultimately gives meaning and purpose to our very existence.
I’ve been thinking this week as I’ve thought about you, about the things that go into life to make it worth living, that give us a life that is really worthwhile. Let me share with you in a few brief moments what I believe to be ingredients of a full and meaningful life. The first thing that I would suggest to you is that you need to accept the fact that life is hard. I think maybe the greatest disservice that your parents have done to you, that perhaps our church and our society have done to you, is to protect you too much from almost every hurt that comes your way. We’ve tried to protect you from physical harm. We’ve tried to protect you from the emotional harm that comes your way. And thus we have raised up a generation—and not just this one, but other generations before them—that believe there is a pill for every pain, and that if a thing hurts, it is to be rejected altogether. And as you live your life you are going to experience the pain of rejection, the pain of failure, the pain of deteriorating health and because we have protected you so much, you are going to find it very difficult to deal with the pain, with the failures, with the disappointments, with the heartaches of life.
It will help you to know that life is hard. It will help you to know that pain is a part of living and though pain may come your way, though hurt and heartache and disappointment may be yours, it does not last forever and somehow by God’s grace you can endure it and you can survive it.
The first thing I would suggest to you is to accept the fact that life is hard. The second thing I suggest is that you develop as you go through life some close relationships. Everybody needs to belong intimately to a few other people. We need to belong to a family. And you need to keep those family ties close and strong. Most of us need to belong to someone else, to a husband or a wife in due time. All of us need to belong to a church, to a fellowship of God’s people. One of the good things about our faith is that wherever you go, here in this state, in other states, or at the ends of this earth, you will always find a group of people called the church, Christian people meeting in the name of the Lord Jesus. And if you become a part of that group, you will find from them and in them the strength and encouragement and help for all of life.
Paul had the experience of walking along the seashore and seeing children building sandcastles. We know, although those children did not yet realize it, that in time the tide would come in and those sandcastles they had been building would be washed away by the tide. In exactly the same way, all the structures that we build in this life, every last one of them will eventually be washed away by the tides of time. But when those experiences come to us, if there is a group that we are intimately involved with—a family, a husband, a wife, children, if there is a church, people we can reach out to and people who can reach out to us—when the tides of time wash away our structures in life we will be able to make it. We will be able to survive because there are people we are intimately involved with.
You recognize that life is hard. You develop some close, personal relationships. And then a third thing that will help us is to make a contribution to the lives of other people.
I read a good deal today about the fear of death and there are some people who believe that the greatest fear that man faces is the fear of death. I’ve come to believe that our greatest fear is not the fear of death, but the fear of insignificance, the fear that we shall live our years upon this earth and when we are through that it will be as though we have never been, that the sum total of our existence will be a great big zero. And we desperately want our lives to amount to something, to count for something.
Very few of you will ever be extremely wealthy. Very few of you will ever achieve or obtain great fame. Most of you will not have unusual talents. Most of us are just average, just ordinary. So, we ask ourselves, how am I going to make a contribution, how is my life going to have eternal significance?
Let me suggest that at least one way is that as you go through life you are a teacher to other people. I don’t mean that you need to get a certificate in education and go to work in a university or in the public school system. But wherever you are, as you go through life you take advantage of the opportunities you have to teach other people. You can teach in school and we know that. But you can also teach in church. You can teach little children. You can teach other people on the job. And regardless of where you are or what you do or where you go, there will always be someone out there whom you can get to know and you can share with them the riches that you have learned down through the years. And as you pass on to others what you know, you are having an eternal significance in their lives.
I think back across the years at the people who influenced me most. I think I would name, first of all, a cracker salesman who taught me in Sunday school and who coached the church softball team. He took time to teach me some things about life. And though his life is almost over, it still lives on in me and through me because he was a teacher. Because he took time to be involved in my life and pass on to me what he had learned, I will forever and eternally be a better person. The influence he had on my life lives on and it shall live on in the lives of others whom I’ve taught. And wherever you go and whatever you become, whatever your chosen field, though you may never have a lot of money, though you may never achieve a lot of fame, though you may not have unusual talent, you will have the opportunity to pass on to other people what you have learned. And that gives to our lives an eternal significance, a meaning beyond our years upon this earth.
You realize that life is hard, you make close personal relationships, and you make a contribution to the lives of other people. Fourthly, I suggest to you that you live all of your life. In other words you learn that life is made up of little things, of seemingly insignificant things, that as you go through life day by day, week by week, month by month, and year by year that you learn to enjoy the simple things of life.
Most of us live our lives on an expectancy basis. We are always thinking whether we are going to be happy if and when. In fact some of you have spent the last year saying, “I am going to be happy if I get out of high school and when I get into college. “ And in the next few years you are going to find yourself thinking, “You know I will really be happy when I get out of college and when I’m in my chosen career or when I’m in graduate school or when I’m married.” We are always talking about when we are going to be happy. One of these days you are going to wake up and find out that you are a senior citizen and you have not yet found happiness because your life has always been lived on an expectancy basis.
If you are going to be happy, you had better be happy now. Today, tomorrow, and in those years in the university, those years in the military or wherever you find yourself, learn to live in the now. I believe that happiness, at least for me, is not found in the monumental things, the spectacular things of life, but in the simple things, the little things of life. In a cup of coffee with a friend, a quiet meal with my wife, reading a good book, a job well done, in meaningful worship. And I submit to you that if you do not find happiness in those little things you will not find it at all.
Several years ago somebody sent me a card. On the front of it was a simple saying: “Enjoy life.” And on the inside these words: “This is not a dress rehearsal.”
This is life. You are living it right now. And if you aren’t enjoying it, if you aren’t finding meaning in life right now, there is a great possibility that you will never find it at all.
Understand that life is hard. Build close personal relationships, make a contribution to the lives of others. Live every day to its fullest.
Finally, let me suggest that you put your faith and trust in God. You would expect me to say that. I would say it even if you didn’t expect it because I have come to learn out of my own experience that it is through faith and commitment in God that life is brought together in its completeness, in its wholeness.
The Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky observed that everyone spends his entire life searching for someone and something to believe in. And I believe you will search in vain until that something or that someone is God through Jesus Christ the Lord. Jesus said one time, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”
There is something in you that meat and potatoes will never satisfy. There is a spiritual part of you that’s made in the likeness and in the image of God and if you neglect that spiritual reality, that innermost part of your being, then you will be missing what life is all about.
The secret to life is really not all that difficult to find. You will find it by understanding that life is hard, that pain, disappointments, and heartaches are a part of it. You will find it in relationships to other people. You will find it as you invest your life in something or someone will outlive you. You will find it day by day in the little things of life. Most of all, you will find it in God through faith in Christ. That’s why Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly.” My hope, my prayer, and the hope and prayer of this church is that you will find that life if you haven’t found it already and that you will live it for him and you will look back upon these years as the finest years of your life.