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Living by the Compass, Not the Clock

Tom Pennington • Selected Scriptures

  • 2014-01-05 PM
  • Sermons


Well as I mentioned this morning, tonight I want to do something a little different. In fact, let me just say for those of you who are our guests, tonight will not be representative of what normally happens from this pulpit week in and week out. My responsibility, and that of those who are with me, is to open the Word of God, read the text, explain the text, apply the text. And that's how we spend our lives here at Countryside. But tonight, and really the only time in the 10 years I've been here, I want to do something a little different. This is a seminar that I was asked to give when I was still out at Grace Community Church with the pastors who came for the Shepherd's Conference, out of some principles that I had learned and been exposed to, read about, seen in a variety of places, and sort of pulled together. And that ended up shaping my own life in some remarkable ways. And I wanted to take some time to share it with you as we begin this New Year and, that is, how we can live by the compass, that is, by those things that are truly important to the Lord and in our own hearts, as opposed to by the march of the urgent, by the things that call out for us to be done. And so, I want us to do that tonight. So, understand that this is a little different. In fact, it's a lot different, actually, than what we ordinarily do.

Let me give you, to begin with, a couple of other caveats. First of all, not everything I will share with you tonight is of equal authority. When we open the Word of God, when we look at the text of Scripture, and I explain that to you, that bears the full weight of the authority of God Himself. And we all sit under that. And that's not a suggestion. It's not one possibility out of many. It is the Word of God to us. Some of what I will share with you tonight, much more than usual, is not based on a given text to Scripture. They are practical ideas for working out life that is ordered and structured and that reflects the priorities of life. Those may be helpful. They may not be helpful. They're certainly not inspired. And so, they're one of a number of different approaches, methods you could use. So, understand that as we begin. I won't give that caveat every time I come to one of these issues. Just know that, generally, if we're looking at the Scripture, it's authoritative. If we're not and they're ideas for putting different things into practice, then they don't bear the same authority of Scripture. They're simply good ideas, potentially, and you are welcome to consider them.

So, with those caveats in mind I want you to turn with me, as we begin tonight, as we think about living by the compass and not the clock, in other words, being driven by what's important as opposed to the urgent, I want us to begin by turning to Proverbs 14, Proverbs 14. Proverbs, as you know, is filled with wisdom for living life. It's Solomon's wisdom to his son and other young men, explaining to them how to live in the details of life in a way that pleases and honors God. That's the theme of the Book of Proverbs. Buried within the Proverbs is this wonderful piece of wisdom, Proverbs 14:8. Look at it with me. "The wisdom of the sensible [prudent] is to understand his way, But the foolishness [folly] of fools is deceit." "The wisdom of the sensible [prudent] is to understand his way, But the foolishness [folly] of fools is deceit.

Let's take that apart for a moment. Look, first, at the first half of that proverb: "The wisdom of the prudent [or the word is the sensible] is to understand his way". The word "understand", the Hebrew word, means to give thought to, to consider. It is one of the Hebrew words that is, in other places, translated "meditate". So, the wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to, is to consider, is to meditate on his way. The Hebrew word for "way" literally refers to a well-worn path. It speaks of the roots that are left when either feet or wagon wheels tread over the same ground again and again. So, it describes metaphorically, and it's used often this way in the Old Testament, it refers metaphorically to our habits of life, to our patterns of living. The roots, if you will, that we form over and over again in our lives by repeated behavior.

Verse 8 says, the second half, "But the folly [or the foolishness] of fools is deceit." Now the word deceit, in the second line of the statement, is because of the nature of Hebrew poetry. Hebrew poetry, as I've explained to you before, is not based on rhyme, or not even necessarily so much rhythm, although there can be rhythm in it. The nature of Hebrew poetry is parallelism. One line is given, and the second line then develops or expands that or, as is in this case, contrasts that and gives a fuller meaning. So, the word deceit, in the second line of verse 8, is intended to be the opposite of "to understand". It refers to the fact that the fool refuses to meditate on, to give careful thought to, to understand his patterns of life. So, the deception then, in the second half of verse 8, is not the fool deceiving others; it's his being deceived, it's self-deception. So, let me put all of this together for us so that we sort of have a starting place for where we're going tonight. Part of what makes the wise person wise, is that he contemplates or meditates on or carefully considers his patterns of life. On the other hand, part of what makes a fool foolish is that he refuses to do so. And so, he deceives himself. He just goes on living life oblivious to his patterns of life, oblivious to the habits that he's formed, oblivious to the kind of life that he has, and he refuses to reflect on it, and lives in self-deception.

Now, obviously, you understand this. In the Proverbs, in the language of Proverbs, wisdom and foolishness have moral overtones. They have to do with one's right relationship to God or not. Typically, the wise person is a person who has a relationship to God and the foolish person is one who does not. But Proverbs also are intentionally broad enough so that many of their statements are truths that are universally true, not in every circumstance, but they are truisms. They are largely true. And so, what I want us to do this evening is to challenge all of us to do what this Proverb urges us to do. And that is to give some careful thought, some careful consideration, to our patterns of living, to the ways, the roots of our lives.

Let me begin by asking you to just sort of ask yourself this question: What does your life look like? Do you spend your days like a fireman putting out fires, dealing with the urgent, addressing the things that come up as opposed to living intentionally and purposefully? Do you live by the compass, via a set of priorities and directions that govern the decisions you make with your time? Or are you just swept along with the course of life and the things that happen? Let me invite you to ask it this way: When you think of life's priorities, I want you to, for a moment, consider what some of the priorities you might have are - your spiritual life, your relationship to God, if you're married - your marriage, if you have a family - your family, your ministry in the church and the life of the church, your work, and your career. Those are some large categories which are life priorities. Now let me ask you to do this, and I want you to take a moment just to think about this and maybe even to jot it down. I want you to rate the importance of each of those things to you. How important is each of those areas to you? - one being less important, and five being extremely important or very important. How important are those areas to you? As you look down that list of spiritual life, marriage family, ministry, church, work, career, we could add friends, we could add some other categories, but these are just representative of some others - how important are these things to you? Where would you rank them? Which of these would you put it as number one in your life? Which of these would you put us maybe your second greatest priority in life? Which would you put as your third highest priority in life? And so forth. And then I want you to do this: I want you to then rate your effectiveness in those areas - one being ineffective, and five being extremely effective. Think for a moment about, not only the importance of these areas to you, but how effectively do you accomplish these things. Let's say, for example, that your spiritual life is your number one priority. As you think about it, you say, "Look that's the thing that is most important in life to me." Then ask yourself, "How effectively am I pursuing that priority? How well am I accomplishing the thing I say is the most important in life to me?" Now, if you're like most people, if you've taken this little exercise in any degree of seriousness, there are items on this list that are very high priorities to you, by your own admission, that you have to admit that you do very poorly, that you are ineffective in doing what really is important to you. We're all like that. I want to challenge you tonight to begin a course to change that, to live intentionally. And let me just stress for you that there is an urgency to this decision.

I want to remind you or tell you about something. I mentioned it to some of you. You've heard me use it in the past, but many of you have not. When I was in college, a college professor shared something with me that has never left my mind, really for more than a week or two in my entire lifetime, in the 30-plus years since it was shared with me, it always haunts my thoughts. And my desire and prayer for you is that it will do the same for you. Did you know that there is an industry in the United States that is gambling on your life? It's the insurance industry. They have a complicated set of actuarial tables whereby they determine how long it is likely that you will live. And based on those actuarial tables, they then figure out how much to charge you, what your premiums should be so that when they look at the overall average of Americans and their life expectancy, they can make money in the end and not pay out more than they take in. If you are male in this room tonight...and it's a complicated set of tables but let me just simplify it. On average, if you're male in this room tonight, your life expectancy is around 74 years of age, on average. If you're female it's around 77-78 years of age. Now I want you to do a little math exercise. If you're male, I want you to subtract your current age from 74. If you're female, I want you to subtract your current age from 78. On average - now some of us may outlive the average, some of us may not make the average - but on average, if you did that little math problem, that's how long you have left to live. That's just the brutal truth. So, the question is: What are you going to do with what remains of your life, here on this planet? Are you going to continue to be swept along with the urgent, with things that happen? Or, instead, are you going to live intentionally, purposefully, doing the things that you say are important to you and spending your energies in those things?

In Psalm 90:12 Moses, who wrote the oldest Psalm in our Psalter, wrote this. I read it just recently and was reminded of it again as we began the New Year. "So teach us to number our days..." He's talking about the brevity of life and he says to God, "Teach us to number our days..." What did he mean? He meant, Lord, teach me to live in light of the brevity of life. Teach me to respond to life in light of the time I have. J. Oswald Sanders in his excellent book on spiritual leadership says, "After making a generous allowance of eight hours a day for sleep and rest (and few really need more than that), three hours a day for meals and social interaction, ten hours a day for work and travel on five days, there remain still no fewer than 35 hours unaccounted for in each week. What happens to those hours? How are the extra two days in the week invested? The whole of man's contribution to the kingdom of God might well turn upon how those crucial hours are employed. They will determine whether his life will be commonplace or extraordinary." What do you do with the hours, the extra hours you have beyond the hours you have to invest in sleep and eating and work? How do most Americans invest those hours? You know the answer to this. It is largely in media. In fact, the Washington Post reported this last year that today's teenagers spend more than 7 1/2 hours a day consuming media, that is, watching television, listening to music, surfing the web, social networking, playing video games according to the Kaiser Family Foundation study of 8–18-year-olds. 7 1/2 hours a day! There's where their extra hours each week are spent. You say, "Well, yeah, but we're, you know, many of us here are adults! What about us? Ad Age Digital reported last year that "Overall, the amount of time spent consuming media in all its forms (digital, television, radio, and print) is cranking ever upward. U.S. adults are spending an average (and this is shocking) of 11 hours 52 minutes every day with media." What's driven that number up is largely our mobile devices - our tablets and our smartphones. U.S adults now spend an average of 2 hours and 21 minutes a day using their mobile devices for activities other than phone calls. Time spent on smartphones, tablets, and feature phones now exceeds time spent on PC's. So, where do we spend those extra hours that are the difference between an ordinary and extraordinary life? We spend them on media.

Listen, the only way to make a difference is to live on purpose. You and I must determine what's truly important and we must ruthlessly pursue those things every day, rather than being swept along by what everybody else is doing. Only then do we truly live, what I like to call, an ordered life. By ordered I certainly mean organized. But I mean more than that. I also mean a life in which we live by those things that are really important to us.

So, that's where I want us to go tonight. Let me give you a sort of road map of where I want to go in the rest of our time together. First of all, I want to give you the argument for an ordered life. Why should this matter to you? Secondly, I want to look at the foundation for an ordered life. How do you get there? What's the starting point for an ordered life? Thirdly, the priorities of an ordered life - what should your priorities be? And then, I want to talk about the plan for an ordered life - how do you can actually begin to see and ordered life flesh out, day by day, week by week, in your own life. So that's where we're going.

Let's begin with the biblical arguments for an ordered life. And, yes, there are biblical arguments. Is it really that important that we have an ordered structured life, that we plan what we do, and we do what we plan? The answer is absolutely yes! Let me give you - there are a lot of arguments, honestly, that we could list. Let me give you three arguments. Argument number one: our God plans. This is part of the character of God. You understand that, before He created anything, God decided what He would do about everything? Psalm 33:11 says, "The council of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation." Our God planned, in eternity past, and in time He is meticulously, in great detail, working that plan out in your life and in mine and in all of human history. This is the character of God. When we live this way, it is a reflection of God's own character. Ephesians 1:11 says that God, our God, " all things after the counsel of His will..." Our God is a God of order and planning and structure. And He laid out that plan in eternity past. And then He created after He had made the plan. And now He's working that plan out in great detail in your life and mine. This is who God is. And when we act this way, we are reflecting the character of God.

Secondly, a second argument that I would give for an ordered life, is that Scripture calls for human planning even while it acknowledges God's sovereignty. Let me show you a couple of these passages that I've put up on the screen. Turn with me to Proverbs 16. Proverbs 16 - let me just show you here in a couple of places how this fleshes out, how important this is in Solomon's thinking. Proverbs 16 and notice verse 1: "the plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord." Basically, here God is acknowledging human planning and expecting human planning all while acknowledging God's sovereignty as well. You see this down in verse 3: "Commit your works to the Lord..." The idea of that word "commit", the literal Hebrew word is "roll" - roll your works to the Lord, "and your plans will be established". In other words, trust God, submit what you're planning to do to Him, and your plans will be established. If it's done in line with His will and His character, then your plans will work themselves out. Notice down in verse 9: "The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps." It is natural and expected that man, because he's made in God's image, will make plans. He plans his way. But the Lord, then, sovereignly interacts with those plans to accomplish His own purpose. But we still are to make plans. Wise men do. Turn over to Proverbs 20:18: "Prepare plans [and do so] by consultation, and make war by wise guidance." In other words, don't make your plans alone but seek wisdom in fashioning and structuring those plans. But plans are crucial for success. Proverbs 21:5: "The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage." The diligent person makes his plans and then he diligently carries out that plan, and more often than not, that leads to his advantage. "But everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty." The one who doesn't plan, by the way, this is in a paragraph about ill-gotten gain. And it's basically saying look, diligent people, wise people, make plans and then are diligent to carry out those plans. And more often than not, it leads to their advantage. So, Scripture calls for human planning while acknowledging God's sovereignty.

A third biblical argument is that Paul establishes an ordered, purposeful life as one of the qualifications for an elder. Do you understand that I couldn't be your pastor if, and my fellow elders, couldn't serve as elders if our lives didn't manifest order? Turn with me to 1 Timothy 3, 1 Timothy 3. You're familiar, of course, with this passage. It's an explanation of the qualifications for an elder. It's the high standard that God has set. Here's what God wants us all to be, not just elders. This is the target we all ought to be shooting for. And part of that, notice in verse 2, the word respectable. The Greek word is kosmios. It comes from, as you hear in the word, the Greek word kosmos. Although it's normally translated "world", the primary meaning of the word is an apt and harmonious arrangement or order - a harmonious arrangement or order, the opposite of chaos. So, this word "respectable", kosmion or kosmios, it means well-arranged or orderly. When I'm teaching young seminarians, I often remind them that if they want to know whether or not they meet this qualification, go look in their dresser drawers. Go look in their closet. Go look at their finances. Is their life ordered? Is it structured? This is the character of God and God insists on this from those who lead His church. I like the way Homer Kent puts it in his commentary on the pastoral epistles. He's speaking of this passage - says, "The ministry is no place for the man whose life is a continual confusion of unaccomplished plans and unorganized activities." Kosmion - ordered, harmonious arrangement. John MacArthur, in his commentary on 1 Timothy, describing this word "respectable" says, "If he can't order his own life, how can he bring order to the church?" It's a word that means ordered. So, understand then, the high standard which is set for elders, a standard that all of us ought to be striving for, is a life which is harmoniously ordered and arranged. So, I hope that's enough to convince you that this is important.

So, let's move on, then, from the biblical arguments to the foundation of an ordered life. How do you start to live a purposeful life? Well, most of us here in this room, this evening, have been on an airplane. And if you have travelled on an airplane, you understand, and certainly those who fly airplanes, understand that most of the equipment on the plane is to keep the plane on course. Because of the prevailing winds and all that's coming to bear on the plane, it spends 90% of its time in the air. This will be disconcerting for some of you who don't like to fly. It spends 90% of its time in the air off course. And the pilots and the equipment are all there to keep bringing it back on course. People are like that. I'm like that. You're like that. But what is the most essential component? Think with me for a moment. What is the most essential component to ensure that a plane arrives at its destination? You might say, "Well - pilot, gasoline, fuel, whatever." You might give a number of different answers but really there's only one answer. It's a destination. For a plane to arrive, it has to have a destination. It must have a place that it's going, an identifiable destination. You and I must have a destination to be able to constantly assess if the things that I'm doing now, are going to get me to that destination. So, the foundation, the beginning point of an ordered life, is a destination; a place you're trying to get, a target you're trying to hit, a destination you're trying to arrive at. By that, I mean, a defined set of goals and priorities. You have to have a target. Now what is this foundation? Let's talk about defining this foundation. You need, I would encourage you, to have a concise written statement of what's important to you, what are going to be your life's priorities? Organizations call this, what? A purpose statement. It's trendy right now for individuals to call it, what? A mission statement. What is a mission statement? It's a destination. It's a purpose statement. It's a brief written statement of the goals for which and by which you live. It is a compass, okay? It is a compass for the daily decisions about how you spend your time.

But this isn't new. This idea is an old idea. It predates Jonathan Edwards, but I want to specifically talk about Jonathan Edwards. Jonathan Edwards, as you know of course, is one of the greatest American theologians - ministered in the 18th century. One of the things that he wrote that really shaped my own thinking a lot, are the 70 resolutions. You're familiar with those 70 resolutions of Jonathan Edwards. It was common for men of his time, a common custom for men of his time to make a written list of their life's resolutions. Jonathan Edwards began writing his resolutions, his 70 resolutions, in the year 1722. It was less than a year after he was converted. He was 18 years old. He wrote 21 of them at one sitting. And then, he steadily refined his 70 resolutions over the next year, completing them in August of 1723, when he was 19 years old. And these resolutions formed the destination for Jonathan Edwards' life. It was these resolutions, that he reviewed often, that shaped where he was headed and why he made the daily decisions he made. If you want to read some of them or read more about Jonathan Edwards, read "A New Biography of Jonathan Edwards" by Ian Murray.

Here are a couple of his resolutions, a couple of the 70 resolutions. "Resolved, I will do whatever I think to be most to God's glory, and my own good profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence." In other words, I'm going to do what I believe, at any moment, will most bring glory to God and most be for my own spiritual benefit and profit. "Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general." "Resolved (listen to this one), never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can." "Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live." "Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life." "Resolved to be endeavoring to find outfit objects of charity and liberality." I always want to be looking for ways to help other people. This is a great one: "Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger to irrational beings". He's talking about his horse. You can say your car, the traffic signals, the other drivers on the road. "Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, so that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same." "I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I lived to old age." In other words, I don't want to live with regret saying I wish I had done this; I wish I'd lived differently. I have a dear friend in California who told me one time, set me down, when he saw me really busy (and busier than I should have been), set me down over lunch, a dear Christian brother. And he said to me, "Tom", he said, "I just want you to know", he says, "for many years I've been going to nursing homes and serving the people there. And I always ask them this question: if you could live life over again, what would you do differently?" And he said, "You know what, Tom..." - and this is back when I was working at Grace to You and involved in a lot of different things. He said, "Tom, not one of them ever said to me, "You know what, I just wish I had spent more time at the office." Jonathan Edwards says I'm not going to live so that I have regrets. Here's the last one I'll share with you: "Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be." He said, "Look, I'm going to struggle, and I know my whole life is going to be a battle against my corruptions. But even if I feel I'm being unsuccessful, I'm never ever going to give up. I'm never going to give in." Those are just a few of Jonathan Edwards' resolutions. I don't think my friend and mentor, John MacArthur, has a written list, but I can promise you this, having been around him for 16 years there in Los Angeles and interacted with him a lot in the 10 years I've been here, you will hear his priorities usually stated in the same language. He has his resolutions. Many throughout human history have done the same.

How do you get there? You say, "Okay, I see that it could be helpful. How do I get there?" But let me give you a little process, a resolutions workshop. First of all, and this is hard for any of us to do but schedule an uninterrupted day away. Just make it a priority. I'm going to find a way to get away, at least a half day and preferably a day, and I'm going to do nothing but this. I'm going to turn off my phone and its beeps and it signals. And I'm going to stay away from all distractions. I'm going to find a quiet place and I'm going to work on this. Secondly, create a simple list of what's important. What you'll find is they usually fall into those large categories, I've shared with you a few minutes ago. You may list God, spouse, children, ministry, spiritual gifts, people in general, family, finances, health, whatever. Then once you've made that list of those things that are important to you, then prioritize that list and assess how effectively your normal routine reflects those priorities. And then, use that list, the results of that list, to write a brief simple statement or goal for each of your priorities. It doesn't have to be, it doesn't have to be prosaic, it doesn't have to be beautifully done. It just needs to say this is what matters to me. In the days I have left on this planet, these are the priorities that I have. It doesn't have to be perfectly refined. It doesn't have to be complete the first time you work on it. Remember, Jonathan Edwards did 21 in one sitting. And then it took him a year to finish the rest of what he wanted to write.

What is it...what are they like? Well, let me give you an example in updated form. I'm not Jonathan Edwards in a lot of different ways. But I feel the importance of this. And I have, many years ago, written out my own resolutions and I'll share just the major categories with you. I have, under each of these points, specific ways to try to accomplish these. But here are the big categories. Here's my "My Resolutions". Number one: to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. And, again, underneath that I have specific ways to carry that out. Number two: to know and understand God's Word. Number three: to love Sheila as Christ loved the church. Number four: to raise children who love God, who love Sheila and me, and who are prepared to live productive lives. Number five: to use the gifts God has given me, teaching and administration, in a way that brings Him glory and helps people grow in their love for Him and in their spiritual maturity. Number six: to show genuine love and concern for others. Number seven: to have at least one Jonathan kind of friend. Number eight: to enjoy life as a gift from God. Number nine: to take time weekly, quarterly, and yearly to think about those things that are truly important, to check my current life against my compass. Those are my own resolution; yours may be similar, they may be entirely different. But it helps shape your direction.

It's helpful over time, as I mentioned, to add specific steps under each of those main points that help you achieve those larger goals. How are you going to show love and concern for others? For example, I mentioned that in mine, to show genuine love and concern for people, I added underneath that, a number of points. Here are a couple of them: Respond immediately to times of trauma such as hospitalization, deaths etc., with my presence, my calls, encouragement, and offers of help. You know, one of the best ways to show people you love them, is when they're going through life's most difficult times. Another one is, I wrote, listen carefully, maintaining eye contact with the person I'm talking with, not looking at my phone and checking my Facebook posts. That's a way you can love people. Try to remember specific information about the people I meet and speak with. Here's a way to show that you love other people: Pray for someone when you tell them you're going to. That's something that I've determined in my own heart before the Lord to try to do. If I say I'm going to pray for you, my heart and desire is to make sure I do that. Those are some examples. So, it's not rocket science. It's saying what's really important and how am I going to get there? And it takes time - uninterrupted, undistracted time to do it.

Now what about the priorities of an ordered life? We've talked about the biblical arguments, we've talked about the foundation, which is this "your resolutions" or whatever you want to call it. What should your priorities be? J. Oswald Sanders writes, "The problem is not that of needing more time." If I ask you, you know, why you haven't done the things that are really important to you, what would be your first response? Well, I just haven't had enough time. Listen to Sanders: "The problem is not that of needing more time but making better use of the time we have. Let us face the facts squarely that each of us has as much time as anyone else in the world. The President of the United States of America has 24 hours to his day and so have we. Others may have more ability, influence, or money than we, but they have no more time. Time can be lost but it can never be retrieved. It cannot be hoarded. It must be spent. In the face of that sobering fact, the leader must be meticulously careful in his selection of priorities. You only have so much time. You have to decide how you're going to spend it."

So, what should your priorities be? Well, I would encourage you to adopt God's priorities. You see, God has helped set our priorities. Turn with me to Matthew, Matthew 22. Matthew 22:34: "When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees..." This is on that Tuesday of the Passion Week. His enemies are trying to trip Him up, find a way to make Him misspeak, and be able to arrest Him and accuse Him. The Pharisees heard that Jesus who put the Sadducees to flight and so they "gathered themselves together. [And] one of them, a lawyer, asked Him [Jesus] a question, testing Him, 'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?'" Understand the background of this. The Pharisees believed that they had counted the number of commands in the Old Testament and there were 613 commands, corresponding to each of the letters in the Hebrew letters, in the Ten Commandments. They had designated some of those 613 commands as weighty and others as light. In response to this question, which was really an antagonistic question, Christ cited these two commands to summarize man's entire moral duty: Love God with your entire being and love your neighbor as yourself. You want to know what your priorities in life should be? It doesn't get any clearer than this: Love God with your entire being and love your neighbor as yourself. So, when you think about your priorities, it's pretty clear you put God first. Matthew 22:37 says, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." I wish I had time to take you back to Deuteronomy. I don't. But when you look in the context of this command, back in Deuteronomy 6, Jesus is quoting from Deuteronomy 6, the words in Deuteronomy that are in the same context with the command to love God, are these words: to fear Him, to be loyal to Him, to serve Him, to walk in His ways, to keep His commandments, to cling to Him. That sort of pictures what we're responsible for to God. Our primary duty in life is to devote ourselves with our entire allegiance and with our real affection in obedience to the one true God. That's what matters most.

Now, you understand that. But let me ask you this very practical question: How do you demonstrate that? How do you show love for God? Well, there are a lot of answers to that question but let me give you three to consider, as you shape your own priorities. First of all, you show love for God by being immersed in the Word of God. Again, I wish I had time to take you back to Deuteronomy 6 but, right after the command to love God, Moses says, "Okay, if you love God here's what you'll do: you will study and meditate on God's Word. It shall be, on the words which I have commanded you, it shall be on your heart," he says two verses later. You'll teach your family God's Word. Verse 7 of Deuteronomy 6 says, "You shall teach them diligently to your sons." You'll saturate your daily conversations with God's Word. Verse 7 goes on to say, you'll talk of these commands when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You will occupy yourself with applying God's Word. You'll write them on your forehead and on your hand and... In other words, it governs what you do. It governs how you think. It governs how you see the world. You want to apply it to everything. An all-encompassing love for God always expresses itself in a willing and joyful obedience to God's Word. Moses is saying that if you love God, you're going to have life immersed in God's Word. Okay, let's talk about this very practically. If loving God is your chief priority in life and the fundamental way to express your love for God is to love His Word, then what do you need to be doing with your time each day? What needs to be your most important priority? - not reading the newspaper, not catching up on the latest sports scores, not social media postings - the Word of God!

A second way we show our love for God is by feeding and shepherding the flock. Now this is directed primarily to pastors, but stay with me, because it applies to everyone here. Again, if I had time, I'd take you to John 21:15-17. Jot that in your notes and let me remind you of the context. You remember, Jesus is restoring Peter after Jesus' resurrection, after the denial of Peter. And three times Jesus asked Peter, "Do you love Me?" And Peter responds how? "Yes Lord, you know that I love you." And then what does Jesus say? He says, "If you love me", what? "Feed my sheep". Now for me as a pastor, one of the best ways I can show my love for God every week is by keeping myself in my study until I'm prepared to teach you. That shows my love for God. By feeding you, the people that He loves, I'm showing that I love Him. But let's turn that around a little bit. If you're going to show a love for God, then you ought to also care about the people He loves, about His flock. Your life ought to be invested, not in all the local clubs, not in all the local athletic events, but in the church.

A third way we express our love for God is by loving others. 1 John 4:19-21 say that to love God means you love others. Don't say you love God, John says, if you don't love His people. Now, how do these things (again, these are three of a number we could have chosen) - but how do these things affect our schedule? Well, if we're going to love God and that's our highest priority, it demands that we make regular time for reading, study, and meditating on God's Word. If you're going to love God, you got to do that. You see, a lot of people have it backwards. You say, "Well, you know, I don't get that much from my reading and study." First of all, you will. But who cares? It's a way for you to express your love for God. It demands constant attention to the church. Jesus died for the church. He speaks to the church in the Book of Revelation. He's concerned about the church. The letters in the New Testament are written to the church. You ought to invest your love in the people God loves and demands that people be our priority, which is exactly what Jesus said. We put people second. You know, you've seen that ad campaign "I Am Second". Wrong! I mean it's well-intentioned, but that's not true. God's first, other people are second. Love God with your entire being and love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:39: "The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'". Next to God, people should be your greatest priority. Listen, all that stuff around you, all that stuff you're accumulating in your house that you need to, you know, rent storage space to have somewhere, you're not taking any of that with you. It's going to be burned up with everything else here. The only thing that will go with you from this planet are the people around you. And therefore, we're to love people. They're made in the image of God.

So, how do you demonstrate a love for people on a weekly basis? Let me hurry. We're running out of time here. How do you put people second? Determine to do first, in your life, in your schedule, what benefits people and relationships. Can I share with you? One of the most clarifying experiences of my life was when I was encouraged, actually through a secular event that I attended, I was encouraged to do this exercise. He said I want you to sit down sometime, and I want you to write out what you want representative people from the various relationships in your life to say about you at your funeral. I thought that was an intriguing thing. So, I took some time and did that. What do I want my wife to say at my funeral? What do I want my children to say at my funeral? What do I want my fellow elders to say my funeral? Well, guess what? For them to say that, I have to begin being that. And so, you determine to do first those things that minister to the people around you. How do you need to change your course to get there? Each week, I would encourage you to determine what specific steps will most benefit each relationship. What can you do? And this is a question I try to ask myself many weeks. I'm not...I can't tell you I do it every week, but I try to do it consistently and this has been a great challenge to me to refresh in my own life. But I ask myself, "What could I do this week? What's the one thing I could do this week that would be the greatest benefit to my relationship with my wife? What's the one thing I could do this week that would be the greatest benefit to my relationship with each of my daughters? To the church?" And then, schedule that thing. If necessary, add those tasks or activities to your calendar. And they can be very practical. For example, I can tell you already what it is for my wife this week, because in the busyness of the Christmas season, I'm sure you feel the same way, we were like ships in the night - sort of passing each other and the busyness of all that needed to be done. And I know the thing that would mean the most to her this week is for me to set aside time to take her out for dinner and sit across the table and ask her what she's really thinking, what she's really going through, what she's experiencing. That's the thing I can do this week that will mean the most to my wife, that will make the best difference in our relationship. And we've already talked about it. Same thing with the people in your life. And if necessary, schedule it. Determine that you will never think of people as an interruption. People aren't next to God - second! They're not an interruption to your life, although, we're all tempted in that direction. I would encourage you, as you think about your day, particularly those of you who have to work outside the home and are in an environment where you're out (you don't have a lot of control of your time), if you can schedule your time, try to allow 15, or excuse me, leave 10 to 20% of your day unscheduled, so that people aren't an interruption. Your coworker walks in your office with an issue, a problem, maybe something you can minister to them. You're not having to say, "Sorry!" If you examine your calendar, if you examine your task list, let me ask you: Does it reflect these two great priorities honestly?

Perhaps you've heard the very familiar old illustration, an illustration that's been used for centuries, about the teacher who, in front of the students, put a large jar half filled with sand on the desk in front of him. And next to that jar, he placed a series of fist sized rocks. And he challenged his students to come up and place the rocks in the jar, to fit both the sand in the rocks. And student after student came up and tried to force those rocks down into the sand and each failed miserably. There just wasn't enough room for both the rocks and the sand. And then one bright student came up, and he poured the sand out of the jar, put the rocks in first, and then poured the sand back in, and miraculously it all fit. There's a powerful illustration in that. If you will put the most important things in your life first, you'll fit all the stuff. It'll filter out. You'll find a way to get it done but start with the important things first.

So, we've looked at the arguments for an ordered life, the foundation for an ordered life which is a destination. We've looked at the priorities of an ordered life - loving God and loving people. Let's look, lastly, at the tools for an ordered life. There are three tools that will help you live an ordered life.

First of all, regular evaluation and planning. I would encourage you to review, weekly, the resolutions that you wrote. Resolutions are wonderful tools, but they are ineffective if you never look at them. At the beginning of his own list of resolutions, this is what Jonathan Edwards wrote, "Remember to read over these resolutions once a week." Elsewhere he wrote, "Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better." You have to assess where you are at the end of the day or the end of the week against those things that you said are important. You have to be...remember, the wisdom of the prudent is to meditate on, to reflect on, his way. I encourage you to consider re-reading your resolutions at least weekly. It's interesting to me that God Himself underscored the weekly cycle in the pattern of creation. You know, the pattern of a seven-day week is universally followed on this planet but it makes no sense? It doesn't divide anywhere. So, why do we have a seven-day week? Because in six days God made the world and on the seventh He rested. It is a divine pattern built into human existence. And, therefore, I think it fits well in ordering our lives. Also, we have that weekly pattern in the command for weekly worship. Now, not only do I evaluate and plan weekly, but I would also encourage you to consider an annual day away, one day a year devoted to assessing where you are compared to where you want to be. Evaluate your current life against your resolutions and determine specific steps to address your sins, your weaknesses, shortcomings.

A second tool I would suggest to you is a daily or weekly planner. In other words, I mean literally getting a planner whether it's electronic, or whether it's in something you write on – something where you don't have to remember everything you ought to be doing. It clutters your brain. You can't meditate on Scripture if you're always trying to juggle all of these things you have to do and keep them, somehow, in your brain. What I encourage you to do, and I'm not going spend a lot of time here, but on a weekly basis, reread your missions or resolutions. Schedule regular time for Scripture and prayer. Determine what steps, as I've already mentioned, would most benefit each relationship and plan those into your schedule. Schedule, then, your other appointments. And then, prioritize the things you have to do that week. And assign them to specific days.

One other tool for a ordered life, in addition to regular evaluation and planning and a daily or weekly planner, is using a little tool that I would call "Objectives, Goals, and Tasks". If you want to get something done, you have to break it down into bite size responsibilities and tasks. What I mean by objective is an overarching plan. A goal is the components of that larger objective and tasks are specific steps necessary to accomplish the goal. Let me give you an example which will make it clear. Let's say, for example, that your objective was to improve your knowledge of Scripture content, what is where in Scripture. This was one I wrote for myself at one point. One goal in meeting that objective might be, in my case, to review the New Testament chapter content I'd already memorized. You guys in Men of the Word - you understand this. So then, the have to break it down. The tasks were, first of all, to research a flash card program, then to locate chapter content notes from my ordination days, then to put that chapter content into the program, and then to set up a review system. So, I had to break it down; that's my point. You have to do that as well. To get anything accomplished, you've got to break it down. The reason you never start doing those big things, is you can't do those big things. You have to break them into individual bite-sized tasks. So, again, another objective in increasing the knowledge of Scripture, another goal I mean, might be to read through the Bible in the year. Okay, well, what do you do to get there? You don't just say I'm going to redo the Bible in a year. You have to break it down. Research the different options. Download a reading plan. Decide the best time of day for reading. Add it to your schedule or your task list. You have to breakdown the things that you want to accomplish. This is a really helpful, important tool to living an ordered life. Otherwise, it's not kosmion. It's not ordered and harmonious. And things are often unaccomplished.

Well, I hurried through that last part. But I want to close our time together with these lines that were engraved on a sundial, that sort of summarize everything we've talked about tonight. "The shadow of my finger cast divides the future from the past. Before it stands the unborn hour, in darkness and beyond I power. Behind its unreturning line, the vanished hour no longer thine. One hour alone is in thy hands, the now on which the shadow stands." Listen, you have to decide what you're going to do with the rest of the life God has given you. And you have to do it intentionally. Don't forget that the wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way but the folly of fools is deceit. What makes a wise man wise is that he contemplates, he meditates on, he understands his predictable patterns of life and behavior and responds appropriately to them.

I hope that some of what I shared with you tonight will challenge you. And I hope that, as you begin this New Year, you'll think about living intentionally and not merely being driven along by the urgent, by what everyone else demands of you as opposed to saying this is what matters. In the years that God gives me, however long those are, how many those may be, I'm going to live in a way that matters for eternity.

Let's pray together.

Father thank You for our time together tonight. I pray that those things that we've looked at from the Scripture would bore themselves by Your Spirit into the hearts and minds of everyone here. May we live by Your priorities. May we think about and meditate on our habits and our paths and how we're living. And may we make changes that honor You. And Father the things that we've discussed that aren't specifically revealed in Your Word, I pray, to whatever extent those things are helpful, that You will use them in the lives of the people who gathered here tonight. And Father if they are not helpful, I pray that they would soon forget them and only those things that are clearly Yours would bury themselves into their souls. Thank You Father that You've given us life as a precious gift. Thank You that, if by reason of strength we live 70 to 80 years, that we can live intentionally for You. May we do that with the years that we have. We pray in Jesus' name, Amen!