The Art of Living
Have you ever wondered why some people are successful in life and others appear doomed to failure? Of course, there can be many reasons for the plight of different individuals. Some are victims of circumstances that are not always of their own making (cf. Lk. 13: 3-5). However, in the main, we create our own success or failure. God desires that we have a happy and fulfilled life. "For he that will love life, and see good days ," Peter wrote (I Pet. 3: 10). The apostle Paul expressed a state of life concerning which most only dream: "Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, to be content" (Phili. 4: 11). What are some tried and proved "secrets" to a truly successful life? Keep in mind, materialism, fame, and sensual pleasure are not the means of the good life (Eccl. 2).
Realize you were created by a powerful and loving Creator. There is a higher standard of living in America today than we have ever experienced. Notwithstanding, all indicators point to more unrest and unhappiness than in many years. One reason, I am convinced, is many are in denial of God, the Creator (Gen. 1; 2). In seems that in many instances "education" is bent and determined to theorize away God by zealously and even religiously promoting godless organic evolution to our young people. Words such as "duty," "commitment," and "commandments" are not in vogue today. Such basic laws as, " whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" and " the way of transgressors is hard" have been set aside for more desirable rules such as, "if it feels good, do it" (Gal. 6: 7; Prov. 13: 15). Without God, man cannot begin to understand his origin, purpose, and destiny. Paul said to the erudite Athenians, "God that made the world and all things therein for we are also his offspring" (Acts 17: 24, 28). He continued to say, "That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us" (vs. 26).
Deny self. One of the primary reasons many are unfulfilled is because of their preoccupation with self. Jesus said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me" (Lk. 9: 23). The two age groups that experience the highest percentages of suicide are teenagers and the elderly. One reason is the unusual focus on self in these age groups. One cannot be happy and successful by focusing on self. Excessive self interest only modifies our problems and prevents us from engaging in truly satisfying efforts. Man must have an exterior pursuit that transcends any of his own devising. God provides such a pursuit: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5: 48). One primary hindrance to people accepting God's commands in their lives is simply their selfishness (cp. Matt. 19: 16-22). The "me generation" are "lovers of their own selves" (2 Tim. 3: 2).
Man is meant to engage in meaningful work. God created man as a working and social being (Gen. 1, 2). Man, therefore, is only satisfied when he thus expends his energies. Paul wrote, " if any would not work, neither should he eat" (2 Thes. 3: 10). Again, " let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good " (Eph. 4: 28). Man is to provide for his own and to fail in this basic duty is to deny the faith and be worse than an infidel, according to Paul (I Tim. 5: 8). Christians are also to " learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful" (Tit. 3: 14, cp. Jn. 15: 1-6). Paul argues that Christians were actually "created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2: 10). James plainly taught that "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (Jas. 2: 26).
Man must possess and express love. When Jesus was asked "which is the great commandment in the law," He replied by saying "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment" (Matt. 22: 36, 37). The second commandment is "like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (vs. 39). Biblical love is not simply talk. John said, "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him" (I Jn. 3: 18, 19). The statement is elliptical: Let us not love in word and tongue only.
Scriptural love is always active and operative. The faith that avails is "faith that worketh by love" (Gal. 5: 6). Love motivates and actuates faith, Paul is explaining. Some religionists have convinced others that "love" and "commandments" are mutually exclusive. Not so! Hear the apostle of love, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous" (I Jn. 5: 3). "And this is love, that we walk after his commandments," John later wrote (2 Jn. 6). Love causes one to seek to please the one loved. In the case of God, man seeks to please him (I Jn. 5: 3). In the case of others, love expresses itself beneficially (I Jn. 3: 16-18). The man who is without love is also without happiness (cp. I Pet. 3: 10-12).
Regular self-examination. There are many self-help books on the market today. Many of these works emphasize the need of man to know himself. Of course, the Bible is the greatest self-help book ever written. Consider its teaching: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" (2 Cor. 13: 5). How can you and I improve if we do not know our current status and attainments? Moreover, we cannot be fulfilled if we are unaware of our present condition (cp. Gal. 6: 4). Appropriate questions to ask are: "Am I a Christian and if so, what kind of Christian am I? We need to regularly determine our sincerity and the intensity of our service to God, ever seeking to become better in all areas (I Thes. 3: 12, 13, 4: 10, Col. 1: 10).
Live life a day at a time. Many are in frustration and despair because they either live their life in the past or in the future. For the most part, we cannot change the past and we cannot live in the future. The only part of our lives over which we can exercise a measure of control is the present. The Bible emphasizes "today" (2 Cor. 6: 2, Heb. 3: 7-15). Most of us can master the problems of the present day. However, when we amass all the imagined problems of the future, we are helpless. Jesus said, ""Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" (Matt. 6: 34).
The point of this material is that there is an art to living and God contains the answers. God knows and loves man; moreover, He wants man to be successful and happy in life. God has a plan for us, as expressed in his Book, the Bible. After Solomon sought satisfaction and the answers to a fulfilling life in knowledge, pleasure, and materialism, he succinctly wrote: "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil" (Eccl. 12:13, 14). In this same vein God told Joshua, "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shall meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success" (Josh. 1: 8). God's true art of living also contains the art of dying (2 Tim. 4: 6-8).