"Only one life, 'twill soon be past; Only what's done for Christ will last."
When my brother-in-law Jim was 18, he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and told he only had a few months to live. The Lord had other plans though, and following treatment, Jim lived a full life for the next twenty-two years. In the summer of 2004, the tumor unexpectedly returned, and in time it became clear that medical treatments weren't going to save him. Again he was told that only a few short months remained, and this time it was true.
At his memorial service, the pastor noted that he would be preaching a salvation message, because that's what Jim had wanted. Later in the service, an opportunity was given for people to speak about Jim. One by one, people shared brief stories they remembered. And like colors being added to a canvas, a portrait began to emerge.
There were stories about the many mission trips Jim had taken, including tough ones I would've shied away from, like street witnessing at Spring Break and Mardi Gras. Memories of stopping on road trips and waiting for Jim to finish talking about the Lord with a stranger he'd befriended. Stories of going on a walk just weeks before Jim died and having him break down in tears of concern over three friends he'd been praying would come to know Jesus. One simple but profound observation summed things up, "Jim was a brother to anyone who needed one, and a friend to anyone who wanted one."
Reflecting later I thought, "That's exactly what Jim would've wanted his memorial service to be like." Not for superficial reasons like who had come, or which songs had been chosen, but because of the way he was remembered. Jim's outward conduct during life reflected the inner values that were most important to him. As a result, even as we remembered his past, the memories he left with us kept pointing us towards his future.
Another funeral observation took longer for me to fully absorb. Evidently, when Jim was told he only had a couple months left, he didn't make any significant life adjustments. Think about that. If you only had two months left in this life, would you spend it living exactly like you are now? Would next weekend resemble this past one if you only had a handful of weekends left? In Jim's case, his daily life was already tuned to the frequency of the priorities that defined him, so there was little to change.
All this made me face the question, "What priorities and values define my life?" Too often, I'm inclined to answer based on my intentions rather than my actions - what I know my values should be. But really, our actions are the truer indication. On that basis, I don't score as well as I'd like. Thankfully, each of us has the opportunity to proactively shape the defining characteristics of our life, if we're willing to expend the purposeful effort required to do so.
I love the story of Alfred Nobel, as related by Randy Alcorn in his book The Treasure Principle:
Alfred Nobel dropped the newspaper and put his head in his hands. It was 1888. Nobel was a Swedish chemist who made his fortune inventing and producing dynamite. His brother Ludvig had died in France. But now Alfred's grief was compounded by dismay. He'd just read an obituary in a French newspaper - not his brother's obituary, but his! An editor had confused the brothers. The headline read, "The Merchant of Death Is Dead." Alfred Nobel's obituary described a man who had gotten rich by helping people kill one another.
Shaken by this appraisal of his life, Nobel resolved to use his wealth to change his legacy. When he died eight years later, he left more than $9 million to fund awards for people whose work benefited humanity. The awards became known as the Nobel Prizes.
Alfred Nobel had a rare opportunity - to look at the assessment of his life at its end and still have the chance to change it. Before his life was over, Nobel made sure he had invested his wealth in something of lasting value.
Each of us chooses, either purposefully or passively, how we invest our time and treasure. The wise man invests his life carefully, using the temporary currencies of this life to gain riches that will last forever.
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