Sometimes I have the privilege to speak to young men and women at graduation ceremonies and I look at them and wonder if they are ready to succeed in the areas that you must succeed in. Because it is possible in life to fail by succeeding in all the wrong things. One of the things that you learn through growing old is that the things of education can help make a living but not necessarily a life. Only the author of life can help do that. Life can seduce you, however, into a feverish pursuit of an illusion called “success.”
The point I am speaking of is called “values.” Are your values eternal or are they temporal? If temporal they will go only so deep and only for so long. Like one who labors at a sandcastle and hears the coming rising tide that will wash all away and make his efforts become as if he had never existed, so in life we hear the coming of dissolution that will reduce our works to nothing. How desperately important it is that we know what things to build on and hope for as opposed to those things that we merely enjoy.
Your values determine your goals in life.
Your goals determine your priorities of where you spend your time, money and energies.
Your priorities determine your choices.
Your choices determine your final end.
So we had best be clear on what is worth dying for.
Without a shift in values one will find himself housing the chaff and burning the grain.
Jesus put it very clearly.
“The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23)
The context of these two verses is about values. “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…”
Thus “the eye” speaks about how you see and what you value. What is precious and valuable to you? Is it the things of this world that will fail you or the things of God that will last beyond this life? Because the eye is “the lamp of the body.” This means that just as your body is guided by the light of your eye, in the same way one’s life is guided by their values- what they treasure. If their eye is clear- or their values true and heavenly- then their whole body- or their entire life- will be “full of light.” They will be safely and successfully guided through life.
But if one’s eye is bad, if their values are worldly, then their whole life will be in the dark. Men succeed at all the wrong things when their eye is bad.
Paul put it clearly. “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (I Timothy 6:10)
The fact is that God made men for Himself. Man is made for immortality, for the eternal. His joy will not come from money, beauty, acclaim or fame. Those pleasures will be short term and often the path to those things will be bordered with pain and compromise and sin. But when men “lose their lives for the sake of the Gospel” they find their lives and purpose.
We don’t learn these things from lectures on these things. Rather we learn from disappointment. We dream and labor and succeed only to grasp a mirage. Like a dog chasing a killdeer, happiness is always just beyond our grasp. Sometimes our eye has cataracts that must be removed by anguish and emptiness. Sometimes the joy of the eternal has to take by surprise when we are forced to look up.
Do you want some good reading? Read Psalm 37 and Psalm 73. See what they say about values, about succeeding in the significant.