Thursday, November 5, 2015

Working Diligently – for a Pile of Ashes?

This is the time of year when some of us resume huddling around the fireplace, relishing its fiery warmth and the crackling of wood as the flames consume it. As the fire roars, we’re comforted by the heat and light of combustion. Of course, once the fire has died and heat has subsided, all that remains is a pile of ashes.

Sometimes our lives can seem that way. We pursue tasks with zest, dedicating much time and effort in getting them done. We plan, prepare, perform, and eventually finish the task. But then we realize our zealous commitment has resulted in little of lasting value. Maybe that’s what legendary songstress Peggy Lee had in mind when she sang, “It That All There Is?”

It’s not that the things we’re doing are necessarily bad. Careers can occupy endless hours, both in tackling immediate responsibilities and striving for better, more rewarding opportunities. Or we might be renovating our homes – in with the new and out with the old. Hobbies, whether they involve a favorite sport like golf, developing a talent or skill, or even doing research for “fantasy football,” can provide many pleasurable hours.

Then there are the enticing things our material world offers – houses, cars, clothing, electronic gadgets of all sizes and purposes. Eventually, however, stuff gets old, broken, or obsolete, and we find ourselves acquiring replacements. These things make us happy – for a while.

The problem is, in chasing after the good, are we failing to achieve the very best?

The Bible speaks about this, warning against devoting a lifetime to what one day will amount to little more than a pile of ashes: “wood, hay and stubble.”

“If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

Imagine coming to the end of your life, examining the end product and discovering an ash pile?

This is why Jesus offered stern words of caution to the throng of thousands during his so-called “Sermon on the Mount”: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

If He had spoken these words today, Jesus might have used a contemporary analogy, noting we never see a hearse pulling a trailer packed with stuff. In speaking of true, eternal treasure, the Lord was admonishing us that we can’t take it with us – but we can send it ahead.

What kind of “treasures” might these be? The list of possibilities is virtually endless, but it seems each would involve acts like mercy, compassion, kindness, generosity and love. With a focus on others rather than self.

Even though Jesus spent his three-year earthly ministry teaching and serving as an example of how to live and interact with others, He always kept His eye on the ultimate destination, a stark cross atop a despised hill. From the time of His birth, Jesus was here for others. And in one way or another, so should we.

But how we do this is a question only we can answer for ourselves. What am I doing that, when tested by the fire, will reveal quality work that will endure for eternity? Am I doing anything that will endure? How would you answer those questions?

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