Life is full of choices.
Let me begin with the tragic story of a man named Fred who inherited £10 million. The will provided that he had to accept it either in Chile or Brazil. He chose Brazil. Unhappily it turned out that in Chile he would have received his inheritance in land on which uranium, gold, and silver had just been discovered. However once in Brazil he had to choose between receiving his inheritance in coffee or nuts. He chose the nuts. Which was too bad! Whilst the price of coffee rose to £1 a pound wholesale unroasted, the bottom fell out of the nut market, and poor Fred lost everything he had to his name.
He went out and sold his solid gold watch for the money he needed to fly home. It turned out he only had enough for a ticket to either New York or Boston. He chose Boston. The plane for New York would have been a brand-new super 747 jet with red carpets and full of important people. But the plane for Boston turned out to be a 1928 Ford tri motor full of crying children and tethered goats. Over the Andes, one of the engines fell off. Our man Fred made his way up to the captain and said, “I’m a jinx on this plane, a Jonah! Let me out if you want to save your lives. Give me a parachute.” The pilot agreed, “On this plane, anybody who bails out must wear a second chute as reserve” So Fred jumped out of the plane, and as he fell dizzily through the air he tried to make up his mind which ripcord to pull. Finally he chose the one on the left. It was rusty and the wire pulled loose. So he then pulled the other handle. This chute opened, but its lines snapped. In desperation, Fred cried out, “St. Francis save me!” A great hand from heaven reached down and seized the poor man by the wrist and let him dangle in midair. Then a gentle but inquisitive voice asked, “was that St. Francis Xavier or St. Francis of Assisi?”
We all face choices in life. And the truth is that the way our life turns out is often determined by the choices we make. The job we do is affected by the things we chose to study years ago and how hard we worked when we were too young to know how important that study would turn out to be. The family life we have today is often a product of all kinds of choices we made years ago, the hobbies and interests we had and shared, the places we chose to live and the kinds of people we chose to mix with.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words. It is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.”
This is true in life in general. And it is especially true in our Christian lives. The kind of life we live is determined by the choices we make in spiritual things. When we choose to put our faith in Christ that determines our eternal destiny. But the quality of our experience of Christ as Christians is down to choices we make.
Our prayer lives are influenced by choices we make. The simplest choice – to pray or not to pray.
If we are ever going to learn to pray better, we need to spend more time praying. Prayer is the most concrete expression of our relationship with God. And all relationships require time! We are all busy people, and sometimes our activities and our noise squeeze God out. If we want to experience God’s presence and God’s peace, if we really want to grow closer to God in prayer, we must make time and find space and search out silence. Everything in life – our worship, our Christian service, our witness, our love for other people – all spring from our relationship with God. If we do not spend “quality time” in prayer, everything else we do will be futile.
A.W.Tozer has written this: “The Christian is strong or weak depending upon how closely he has cultivated the knowledge of God. Paul devoted his whole life to the art of knowing Christ.”
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, … Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:10, 12-14)
Tozer continues, “ Progress in the Christian life is exactly equal to the growing knowledge we gain of the Triune God in personal experience. And such experience requires a whole life devoted to it and plenty of time spent at the holy task of cultivating God. God can be known satisfactorily only as we devote time to Him.
“We may as well accept it: there is no short cut to sanctity. Even the crises that come in the spiritual life are usually the result of long periods of thought and prayerful meditation.
“A thousand distractions would woo us away from thoughts of God, but if we are wise we will sternly put them from us and make room for the King and take time to entertain Him. Some things may be neglected with but little loss to the spiritual life, but to neglect communion with God is to hurt ourselves where we cannot afford it.
God will respond to our efforts to know Him. The Bible tells us how; it is altogether a matter of how much determination we bring to the holy task. (A.W.Tozer in The Root of the Righteous)
Our Christian Character is shaped by choices we make. Whether we become more like Christ in love and in holiness, or whether we stay as ever we were, miserable sinners. A holy life is just a succession of holy moments. At any time we can choose whether to become more like Christ in love and purity.
We can choose to love—rather than hate
We can choose to smile—rather than frown
We can choose to build—rather than destroy
We can choose to persevere—rather than quit
We can choose to praise—rather than gossip
We can choose to heal—rather than wound
We can choose to give—rather than grasp
We can choose to act—rather than delay
We can choose to forgive—rather than curse
We can choose to pray—rather than despair.
In our Christian witness we face choices about whether to speak out for Christ or whether to stay silent. Do others find Christ through us? The Apostles said, “We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard”. “We must obey God, not men”. Are we prepared to step out in faith and suffer for Christ?
In all these ways we can choose whether God blesses us, or whether we miss out on the blessings. We NEVER DESERVE God’s blessings. We are not talking about earning or deserving salvation. Earning or deserving God’s love. Earning or deserving whether God will use us for his glory or not. But we are talking about choice. Whether we put ourselves in the way of blessing. Whether we walk with the Lord or apart from him. Whether we will trust and obey?
God gave the Israelites that choice. To obey his command and receive his blessing. Or to turn away from him, miss out on the blessings and face the consequences.
Deut 30:15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
We can choose to receive God’s blessings – or we can miss out on them.
17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
This is not rocket science. Moses makes it very clear to the Israelites, this is not a difficult choice to understand. It is simply a question of obedience and faith. The youngest Christian, the newest Christian, the least able Christian, anybody is capable of making those simple choices. None of us have any excuses!
Deuteronomy 30:11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so that we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so that we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so that you may obey it.
Simple choices. Blessing or destruction? Life or death? What would the Israelites choose? And what will we choose?
19 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
“Now choose life!” says Moses. That was God’s invitation to each individual Israelite and also to the whole nation of Israel. And that is similarly God’s gracious invitation to each and every one of us. We can choose to trust and obey and the result will be blessing to ourselves and to those around us. Or we can choose to let those blessings slip out of our fingers.
Now choose life! That offer is for each of us as individuals. And it is also God’s offer to us together as his people. To North Springfield Baptist Church. Now choose life. Because the choices you and I make affect each other as well as ourselves. If we choose NOT to choose life that will drag down our brothers and sisters around us. If we choose to neglect prayer, that will discourage our fellow Christians from praying. If we aren’t bothered about holy living then our poor witness will make it harder for our fellow Christians to stand up for Christ. And if we aren’t prepared to step out in faith and proclaim Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord to a needy world then we make it harder for our brothers and sisters to share the gospel to their friends and neighbours. Now choose life – together.
Too often we make excuses for ourselves. “I can’t do this.” In reality we mean “I won’t do this.” “I choose not to do this.” We say “I can’t stop doing such and such” when the brutal truth is that we actually choose to carry on doing something which is bad for us. “I can’t pray as much as I want to.” We say. “I can’t tell other people about Jesus.” “I can’t love my neighbour. But “cannot” is the wrong word. If we are honest what we are actually saying is “I will not.” I choose not to do that. We all have as much of God as we want. Not necessarily as much as we would like, but as much as we actually want. We make our own choices – to receive blessing or not. What we get depends on how badly we want it.
The words of Moses are just as much for us today. Now choose life!