Intentional Living

Ephesians 5:15-17

Most of us live from day to day. All we hope for is to survive through one more quitting time, make it to one more paycheck, get through one more crisis without falling apart and destructing.

Your life may not be that haphazard. Believe me, there are more than a few who live exactly like that. But more to the point – do you live on purpose? Do you approach each day with a sense that your life counts for something? Many of us don’t. We just live life from day to day, taking everything as it comes, but never giving any thought to actually making a difference. If we make any changes, if we accomplish anything significant, it’s accidental. It happened – most of the time we’re glad it happened – but we didn’t plan for it, we don’t know why it happened, and we couldn’t repeat it. Our lives are moved by forces beyond our control, and we just go with the flow.

Paul challenges us with a different way of living – a sharper focus to our lives. He challenges us to live intentionally – Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. (Eph. 5:15-17)

That word that is translated in the NIV “opportunity” is actually the word for “time.” But it’s not the word that would describe the passing of hours on the clock. You see, the Greeks had two words for time – “chronos” was that kind of time (chronometer and chronology). The other word was “kairos,” and that was the word for significant time, time that was filled with potential and opportunity – that’s the word Paul uses here.

And so, when Paul tells us to “make the most of every opportunity” he is challenging us not to be a cork on a river, not to be a victim of circumstances, but to grasp the importance of every moment and use it for God. Why? “Because the days are evil.”

In the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus said, “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it,” he’s not describing a world full of people who go around wantonly doing evil and living wicked lives – he’s talking about a world full of people who are unwittingly and unintentionally living without God and apart from God. It’s what he said afterward that was most instructive – “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” It’s not just a lucky few who happen to be at the right place at the right time – it’s those who intentionally seek for it who find it.

When Paul says, “the days are evil,” he is describing what happens in the world around us every day – not some cataclysmic event, not some wicked lifestyle that we choose. It is what happens to us when we don’t choose – when we don’t live intentionally.

I love the parable Jesus tells in Matt. 13:44-46 – “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

We are introduced to two men – a farmer and a merchant. Both are going about their normal activities, but both come across a rare opportunity. The farmer finds a buried treasure and the merchant, a rare pearl. Both decide to risk everything to possess the one thing of great value.

And of course, we understand that these parables aren’t about treasure and pearls – they are about the kingdom of God. And we are the farmer and the merchant. We are living our lives, working our jobs, everything is normal – until the day we come across the kingdom of God. Will we recognize its great value? Will we be willing to risk it all to invest our lives in the one thing of ultimate worth?

From cover to cover, the Bible tells us that faith will not be easy. God warns us that it comes with a cost. The very nature of discipleship is that it costs us everything we have. And if it doesn’t cost us very much, it isn’t worth very much. And for many of us, it’s not worth much and it doesn’t mean that much, because it hasn’t cost us anything at all.

I remember how I felt when a missionary from Kenya came to give his report on the work he was doing and he described a brother who had come to attend the Great Commission School of Preaching in Nairobi. He was a common man, a rural villager who had little of value in the world – only a cow. But he sold his only cow – everything he had to be able to afford to come to learn to preach so he could go back to his village to teach them about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And here we are concerned about having a bigger house and a newer car and fancier vacations. And he sold everything he had. That’s living intentionally.

You’ve seen the scenario in countless movies and TV shows – an infectious disease gets loose and the epidemic begins – as person touches person touches person, the disease spreads quickly, contagiously. The progress escalates with each touch because it isn’t just one person infected, but a planeload or an office building who come in contact. The very thought of a plague that infects and kills with such rapid and devastating force is terrifying.

In the opening chapters of Acts, Christianity seemed to travel with the same kind of virulence as a contagious epidemic. The Pharisees were nearly in a panic over the success of the apostles in spreading the good news of Jesus What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.” Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.  For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:16-20

It was, in fact, spreading not only because the gospel was being preached, but because people saw the gospel being lived –

Acts 2:41 “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”

4:4 “But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.”

4:32-33 “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.”

5:12-14 “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.”

6:7 “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”

8:4 “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”

It is said that faith is more easily caught than taught. We can teach and teach and our words never have an impact. It’s not until people see the gospel lived powerfully and intentionally that lives are affected. There are times when what we teach seems to get lost in that enormous gulf between the head and the heart. But when it bridges that gap – when our words connects with our lives – Wow! – what power!

In the Gospels we see story after story that demonstrates the power of the gospel to change lives:

Woman at the well – Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ ?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him…. Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” John 4:28-30; 39-42

Gerasene demoniac – The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. Luke 8:38-39

It is a message that spreads like wildfire in dry grass –it spreads like a dandelion in the wind. It cannot be contained in one life – it must be shared.

We hear more and more about hereditary or genetic traits and diseases that are passed on from generation to generation. Your genetic code makes a tremendous difference in the lives of generations yet unborn. But of all those traits you will pass on, none have more significance than your faith.

A hundred years from now you will be an entry in your great-great-grandchildren’s genealogies – a name on a family tree. They won’t know much about you (what you did for a living or how much you made). They might have a picture of you standing beside that beautiful car you are driving today – and laughing with each other – “Can you believe they drove those old jalopies!?!”

Will the generations of your family that will come after you look back and say, “Back in the 21st century my great-great-great grandfather became a Christian, and every generation of our family since then has been faithful to the Lord because of the example they started so many years ago.”

What will be of lasting significance will be whether you were a man or woman of faith – whether you taught your children who passed their faith on to their children and grandchildren.

Paul wrote to his son in the faith, Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2)  

You know what that means in a practical way? You teach your children – and then you teach your children to teach their children. It starts at home. It begins with you.

It is a legacy of lasting significance. It is the most important inheritance you can bequeath to your family and to generations yet to come. It will have the most eternal consequences of anything else you might leave.

We all need to learn the story of the Chinese bamboo tree. The Chinese plant the seed; they water and fertilize it, but the first year nothing happens. The second year they water and fertilize it, and still nothing happens. The third and fourth year they water and fertilize it, and sometime during the course of the fifth year, in a period of approximately six weeks the Chinese bamboo tree grows roughly ninety feet. The question is, "Did it grow ninety feet in six weeks or did it grow ninety feet in five years?" The obvious answer is that it grew ninety feet in five years, because had they not applied the water and fertilizer each year there would have been no Chinese bamboo tree.

It takes faithful nurture and intentional care to pass your faith on to your friends and neighbors and family, and even to those you will never meet. Sometimes you won’t even see the results and the seed will remain dormant. That’s okay. Keep spreading the seed, sharing the word, planting the kingdom in the lives of people around you and God will take care of the results.