In Tennessee Williams’ play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Big Daddy and his son, Brick, are in the basement sorting through stuff while the other children are upstairs arguing about the family inheritance. Big Daddy says to Brick, “You know what I’m going to do before I die? I’m going to open all these boxes.” Then, realizing he doesn’t have enough time left for that task Big Daddy says, “There’s one thing you can’t buy in a fire sale or any other market on earth. That’s your life. You can’t buy back your life when it is finished.”
The crowd numbered into the thousands, according to Luke, when someone from the crowd shouted to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Family fights over things, or stuff, have taken place since the beginning of time. Instead of refereeing a family feud, Jesus spins a parable about personal greed with the foolish farmer. We can discover several principles for a life that really matters and pleases God.
First: LIFE IS MORE THAN SUCCESS.
Most of us would like to make something of ourselves. There is urgency inside us to climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow until we find our dream. Aggressive, self-starting people rise to new challenges. They never say never. They never wonder why. They never expect anybody else to do it for them. They roll up their sleeves and go to work.
The farmer in this story is clearly successful. “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.” Anyone who has ever had a vegetable garden knows that crops don’t plant themselves, tend themselves, or harvest themselves. This farmer and his workers plowed the ground, planted the seed, chopped down the weeds. He beat the weather to get it in the barn. He doesn’t complain about his lot in life. He makes his lot in life productive.
The problem with only aggressive success seeking is that it is a moving target. If you don’t do better tomorrow than you did today you feel like a failure. Many people spend their lives climbing the ladder of success only to come to the end and realize it was leaning against the wrong wall. After all, everything you have ever wanted will never be enough. Solomon, who achieved every good he set for himself, laments, “Vanity, vanity all is vanity.”
In 1923, a group of the world’s most successful men met at Chicago’s Edgewater Beach Hotel. They included the president of the largest steel corporation in America, the greatest wheat speculator in the states, the president of the New York Stock Exchange, a member of the President’s cabinet, the smartest investor on Wall Street, the future director of the World Bank for International Settlements, and the head of the world’s largest monopoly.
Within seven years, Charles Schwab died in debt. Arthur Cutter died abroad in obscurity. Richard Whitney became insolvent. Albert Fall was pardoned from prison so he could die at home. Jesse Livermore, Leon Fraser, and Ivar Krueger all committed suicide.
Life is more than success, for life is a moving target. If our earthly success is more important than a loving, committed relationship to God and our neighbor, and if we don’t use the fruit of our success to serve God, returning to God a portion of that fruit, it is all vanity!
Second: LIFE IS MORE THAN STUFF
This guy in Luke’s gospel had a lot of stuff, but stuff rots and rusts and molds and gets in the way. Listen to his predicament. It is a familiar story. “What shall I do? I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger barns and there I will store all my grain and goods.”
He had a lot of stuff. So do we. You know the saying, “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” The truth is the one who dies with the most toys, dies. That is the reality of life.
George Carlin once quipped, “The essence of life is trying to find a place to put all your stuff.” In a real way he is probably right, even though he was telling a joke.
I know a man in Westchester County who owns warehouses, I ask, “How’s business?” And with a big smile he says, “Business could never be better because America is full of stuff.”
In this country we have 32,000 self-storage businesses, containing 1.3 billion feet of rentable space. One hundred million storage containers are sold by Rubbermaid each year so that we have some place to store our stuff. In fact, you can hire professional organizers will come to your house for as much as $75.00 per hour and organize your stuff for you so you can have a place to store it in a convenient manner.
Life is more than stuff. Life is more than accomplishments. Life is more than accumulation. Life is more than all the baggage you have, some of which you do not know what to do with. Life is more than what you have accumulated. I wonder how much freer we would feel if we purchased less stuff and used that money to serve God…
Third: LIFE IS MORE THAN SECURITY
…Then I shall say to myself “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry”’ (Luke 12:19).
Since September 11, 2001, the world has been obsessed with security. We have a whole department of the Federal government called Homeland Security. We stay engaged in a war that won’t go away trying to make the world safe. Requests for elaborate home security systems have increased greatly in the last few years. You can’t board an airplane or attend a ballgame or concert or movie theatre without being security conscious. If the purpose of Al Queda and more recently Isis, was to instill fear in America, they have succeeded.
Jesus said, “Fear not those who can kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both the body and soul in hell.”
Life is more than being safe. Life is about faith, hope and love. It’s about the courage to carry on, the determination to stay resolute when the going gets rough and the enemy is real.
There’s more to life than being secure. What if we consciously worked for peace, seeking Jesus to help us be peace makers, avoiding strife, displaying love, and generosity of spirit, and giving generously of our means to help make peace and freedom a reality in our homes, our church, and our communities?
Fourth: A LIFE THAT REALLY MATTERS IS A SOULFUL LIFE
But God said to him, “You fool. This very night your soul will be required of you. Then whose shall those things be which you have accumulated?”
Jesus also asked it another way, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, to forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36).
Soul is the real you; it’s the real me. Soul is what makes us do what we do. The scriptures are so very clear. Guard your soul. Nourish your soul. Don’t sell your soul. In a culture that is rich in things and poor in soul, we need to hear these words. Is it well with your soul? We expand our minds, tend to our psychological well-being, exercise to stay physically fit, but what are we doing to keep our souls in shape?
Mike Yaconelli, author and founder of youth specialties said, “Until a few months ago, I had no idea I’d lost my soul. In the busyness and clatter of my life, as I traveled all over the world serving God, I thought my soul was just fine. But it wasn’t. I spent hours every day doing God’s work, but not one second doing soul work. I was consumed by the external and oblivious to the internal. In the darkness of my soul, I was stumbling around bumping into the symptoms of my soulless-ness. I was busy, superficial, friendless, afraid, cynical, but I didn’t even know where all these negative parts of my life were coming from.
“Then I began to learn there is a difference between believing in Jesus and being with Jesus, talking to Jesus and letting Jesus talk to me, acquainted with God out there, but a stranger to the God in here. Slowly my soul was reawakened by a loving Father calling me by name. I found my soul again.”
A life that really matters is a soulful life. What could a life that is consciously seeking intimate relationship with God accomplish in word and deed?
And fifth: A LIFE THAT REALLY MATTERS IS A SIGNIFICIANT LIFE
In 1888, Alfred Nobel picked up a French newspaper and read his own obituary. His brother had died and by mistake, the newspaper printed Alfred’s obituary instead. In it, Alfred Nobel was remembered as the dynamite king, the merchant of death, a person who had amassed a great fortune out of explosives used extensively in wars.
Alfred Nobel didn’t like what he read. He set out to make a better name for himself. He established among other things the Nobel Peace Prize, which today continues to honor people around the world who have championed the cause of peace. Alfred Nobel moved from success to significance.
All of us have within our bodies a fatal disease. We have a terminal illness called death. Who will deliver us from our foolish ways? Who will save us from ourselves? Where is the life you have lost in living? What would our world be like if all of us sought to live a life that does all it can to work for the Kingdom of God?
Society would have us search for success. The market is flooded with surefire, easy going formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. But what do the scriptures say about success? God doesn’t say we shouldn’t do well and be successful, rather the opposite, but how do you use that success? Do you honor God by giving back to God a generous portion of your success? If not, at the end of your life, you just might discover that simply living for success was meaningless.
The way to a meaningful life that serves God here and now is a soulful, committed, generous life. It’s the kind of life that pleases God and serves God’s purposes in our world. So go for it. Go for a faithful life, which is ultimately the most successful in God’s eyes.
We don’t need bigger barns and bigger houses. What we really need is a bigger, more generous heart for God! Then we will throw open the doors of our hearts and our barns! We will let the love of God fill us and inspire us, as we let our time, talent and treasure by God to bless others.
And we have God’s promises, such as the one from 2 Corinthians today: “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”
And from Malachi: “Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it? Amen.
*Resource: Christian Globe Networks, Inc., Faith Breaks, by J. Howard Olds