Living Life to the Fullest
What does it mean to live a successful life? There is a desire within everyone to come to the end of their life satisfied with the life they've lived. They want their life to count for something.
But before anyone embarks on their journey towards success, there is a question to be answered: what is the measurement of success? Or, who will measure success? Is it myself? What good would that be when I die? If it is the case, will my measurement of success be recognized by others? If the measurement of success is defined by the general populace or society, will it be remembered? If it is remembered, will it be remembered correctly? Will succeeding generations see me as successful, or will the definition of success change?
If we look into the history books, we find four realities. First, we find that history is written by two sides, the friends and the enemies, the allies and the axis, the right and the left. In regards to legacy and success, each person will be seen both as successful and unsuccessful. Protestants see the 16th Century as a time of reformation, Roman Catholics see it as a revolution and rebellion. In the stories of superheroes, even the villain sees himself as the hero. Each historical figure is at the mercy of the historian.
Second, everyone is forgotten in the span of one generation. Maybe the name and some of their ideas and actions are carried along through word to succeeding generations, but those generations do not know who that person truly was.
My grandfather died when my mother was only a teenager, and all I know of him are the memories my mother retells. I know significantly less than she does, and that memory will fade with my children and with their children. Even thinking back to my great-grandparents, I know next to nothing about them.
The preacher of Ecclesiastes succinctly taught this when he wrote, “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 ESV). The moment our "share in all that is done under the sun" is finished, the memory of us begins to fade.
Third, we only know the people of history by way of what is written. Their own accounts of their life and the accounts of them by way of others provide for us all we know about them.
Fourth, only a few are recognized, and only because of some significant act, good or evil, they carried out. Countless billions are completely forgotten by historians. When I watch a war movie (especially depicting WWII), or visit a cemetery dedicated to those who died in war, the weight of this reality strikes me. Such a mass of people, all gone in short order, are unable to be properly remembered due to their number. Or think about the population of the entire world, then count the number prominent historical figures that come to mind. The contrast is startling.
It should be plain to us that the use of our own measurement or even society’s measurement of success is futile and fleeting. It is void of assurance and gives no hope of any meaning after we die. And isn't that the point: what is going to last after we die? Death is that certain separation from all that takes place "under the sun." What, then, does it mean to live a successful life?
Solomon (the preacher of Ecclesiastes) gives us the answer in his conclusion to the matter: "Fear God, and keep His commands." His answer is really quite brilliant. For years I saw this verse as simple and insufficient. I thought it just meant that we were to respect God and be a good person. It seemed anti-gospel to me. However, it is not that simplistic. To fear God means more than just respect or reverence, it is a pride-killing, humility-inducing view of God. Just look at Isaiah's fear of God (Isaiah 6:1-7), and you will see that merely a reverence towards God is insufficient to describe the fear of God. The fear of God is the proper realization of His majesty, glory, and eternal attributes causing the proper realization of yourself: small, weak, and insufficient. Because of this revelation, you have two options, either you submit to Him and obey His commands, or you flee with all your puny might.
When we fear God and keep His commands, we are living out the antidote to our miserable condition (as shown above), and have all the proper ingredients to living life to the fullest.
First, we look outside of ourselves to God for the measurement of success. He is distinct from us and not reliant on us. Therefore He is the only one who can determine what the meaning and purpose of life are. He is eternal, so He knows what things are lasting. He is all-knowing, so He knows what things are good. And He is holy, so He knows what things are right.
Second, we do God's will and not our own. Our desires are finite; His are infinite. Our understanding is limited; His is unlimited. We must live as He desires us to live if we are to live life to the fullest. Therefore, we are to obey all that He has commanded us.
Recently a faithful lady from my church passed away. From her childhood, she dealt with the effects of having had brain tumors. The doctors had not given her much time to live, but she reached middle age nonetheless. Over the course of her life, she lived for the glory of God, always seeking to serve others. By the world's definition of living life to the fullest, she didn’t measure up, and she didn't stand a chance. However, she rejected the world's definition, and instead clung to the promise of God for a fulfilling life.
Alongside all those whom the world sees as unsuccessful in pursuit of fulfillment, she reminds me of the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30). The master did not distribute the talents based on ability, nor do the number of talents mean much. Rather, the point of the parable is the faithfulness of the servants in using those talents. It was not success, but faithfulness that mattered to Christ. So it is today, it is not the person who is successful according to this world, but the person who is faithful to God. Remember, the words that come from the Master are not, "Well done, successful servant," but rather, "Well done, good and faithful servant."