Years ago, an entrepreneur I barely knew asked if we could meet. He was an aggressive businessperson, a roaring lion among his peers. Yet on the phone, he seemed hesitant, perhaps broken. He certainly choked up a few times in our short conversation.
We met for lunch on his fortieth birthday. Again, his demeanor was vulnerable and exhausted, and something in my heart went out to him for whatever his suffering might be.
He said he had been struggling but nothing relieved the pain. His nights were restless, every discussion with his wife ended up in a fight, and he had even lost interest in helping his son play soccer. As he shared, tears silently rolled down his cheeks.
His voice finally broke, and he began to sob right there in the restaurant. I still had no idea what his issue was, but his tears broke my heart.
He eventually quieted himself and explained. Ever since he was a child, he had wanted to run a successful business. He had even set a goal of having ten million dollars in the bank by the age of forty. He moaned,
Sam, including savings in my 401k, I barely have six million dollars to my name.
This conversation happened exactly as I write it above, though even as I read it over again, I shake my head in disbelief. But it happened.
When I was in business, we evaluated employees using SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound). The goals varied widely, depending on the job, but their annual raises (or promotions) were contingent on their achieving specific targets.
- Salespeople were judged by the annual revenue of their sales.
- Software analysts were ranked by the average turn-around time on bug fixes.
- And owners computed their value on the profits made.
Christians may shy away from worldly standards, but temptations of worldly wisdom creep in:
- Churches fixate on the size of their Sunday attendance.
- Campus ministries ask for monthly reports on Bible studies led and donor letters sent.
- And the person in the pew measures their spiritual progress by the length of their personal prayer time, how much they donate, or how much shame they’ve rejected.
We quantify our lives with numbers: diapers changed, dishes washed, and golf handicaps. (I recently got my golf score down to 74. But then I fell apart on the back nine. Thanks for asking.)
What Is the Value of Our Lives?
Allen Gardiner was a mid-nineteenth century missionary who passionately longed to plant a mission in South America. In 1850, he and a few friends landed on an island off the southern coast of Chile. They had provisions for six months.
The climate was harsh, the local people hostile, the land barren, and the resupply ship was delayed. Short of food and medical supplies, all of Gardiner’s companions suffered the painful death of starvation. Gardiner too finally succumbed, survived only by his journal.
By all modern measures of ministry success, Gardiner’s life was a failure: his church attendance was a handful of friends, he preached almost no sermons, not one soul was saved and not one Bible study was conducted. Yet the second to last sentence in his journal reads,
Young lions do lack and suffer hunger; yet they that seek the Lord shall lack no good thing (Psalm 34:10).
Beneath that verse he penned his last words on earth,
I am overwhelmed with a sense of the goodness of God.
Was his life a failure? The world as we know it will be shaken and will pass. The true measure of our lives is determined by the level of intimacy we have with our Lord. It’s never what we do as much as what we worship.
Let’s invest all we have in the One Thing that lasts: worship of the Son of God.