I want to preach to you this evening in the moments that are left from James 4 verse 14, and just that question that the apostle asks: "What is your life?". What is your life? What is the meaning of your life? What's it all about? Songs have been written about it: 'What's the meaning, what is the meaning of life?'. Films have been produced about the subject, the meaning of life. Indeed, for many, there is no greater question to be answered, there is no greater pursuit in life than to find what the meaning of life really is. The answer to that question, for most people, at least some, is crucial to why they are here. It's probably the most asked philosophical question by humanity at large, and yet most people believe that they probably will never ever find the true answer to what the meaning of their life is, for whatever reason.
Common answers often are these: the meaning of my life is to find happiness, to find fulfilment or flourishing. Some say, 'Well, I want to fall in love, and I want that love to last a lifetime, that's what I want to find'. Some feel that compassion is the reason why they live, and some folk go to no mean feats to express human compassion to others who are in need across the world. Others feel they're here just for pleasure, 'I'm here to have a good time, to enjoy the days and the hours while I have them'. Other people think it's to reproduce, to have a family, or just to enjoy sex. Some believe it's power, 'I want to get as much power as I can, perhaps to earn as much money as I can have'. Some intellectual folk think that it's knowledge, you want to learn as much as you possibly can, and that enhances your life through understanding or wisdom.
Then, of course, there's always the religious contingent - whatever hue of the spectrum they may be. They feel that it is to be blessed in some spiritual sense, that is the meaning of life: to achieve union with God, or the divine, whoever that may be. Then there's a group of people - it's hard to know how big the number is that constitutes them, or how small, maybe you're one of them here this evening - and for you there just doesn't seem to be any meaning, to your life at least.
Can I ask you: what is your life? I mean, what is it? One of the most impacting Christian leaflets that I think has ever been produced, or at least that I have seen, was published by the Birmingham Gospel Outreach, and we have used them in the open air. You may have seen it, it's like a cartoon gospel leaflet, and it's called 'His One Mistake'. It goes from frame to frame in this man's life, and there's a picture of him standing on the front of the tract with a briefcase in his hand, and his suit on, and he's going to work obviously. This is how the tract goes - imagine the pictures as they reel through from frame to frame - first, he always made it into the office on time. He kept up with the news. The doctors examined him twice a year. He knew a few jokes. He ate lots of fresh fruit. He played football on Sunday mornings. He slept at least eight hours every night. He never smoked. He never drank or lost his temper. He took healthy walks when he could in the clean air. He kept himself clean. He did his daily exercises. He was all set to live to be a hundred...the funeral will be held on Thursday. His one mistake: he forgot God. He lived as if the world was all, and now he is with those - the tract says - who say, Jeremiah 8 verse 20, 'The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved'.
Now I'm asking you this evening: are you making the same mistake as this man, his one mistake? He lived a full life, it would appear that he lived a life filled to capacity with meaning and purpose, and pursuit and fulfilment, and satisfaction - yet he forgot God! He missed the whole point, and that's why James says: 'What is your life?'. He has actually told us a similar story to the tract I've related to you. It is a businessman he described, going into a town the next day to do business, to buy and sell, to trade and make a profit, to get gain. He had so many plans: he was going to do well, he was going to expand his business, maybe bring more people on, spread out into other towns and other villages - but the man's problem was, God was not in his plans! He had forgotten God.
James asks the question: 'What is your life?'. Is your life like that? Maybe it's empty and there is no meaning in it, and that's because God isn't in it. Maybe it's filled with the froth of activity, and yet deep down you know that that's not what life, this life that you've been gifted with, is all about in the end. Well, James not only asks the question, he gives the answer. What is your life? 'It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away' - a vapour! Like boiling the kettle, the steam comes out, the mist: it appears for a little time, then vanishes.
Now what is James' point? That's what I want to leave with you with this evening: this is what your life is. Listen carefully: first, your life is seen, but there is an unseen realm. You see, James says that your life is like a vapour that appears - and it would be all so easy to miss that word 'appears', because a vapour and a mist appears. But note that when a cloud of steam ceases to appear, it has not ceased to exist - there is something seen about our life, it appears, but then it vanishes away. But like steam, it has not ceased to exist, it has simply changed form: the steam is absorbed into the atmosphere, and the Bible tells us that our life goes on in another realm, an unseen realm.
Now whilst it might seem to us here in the physical domain that we are here today and gone tomorrow, that is not the end! The Bible tells us, as if giving us a glimpse through the window of eternity, that there is an unseen realm that is every bit as real, if not more real, than this seen realm. In fact, Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:18: 'The things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal'. So James, if you like, is saying: 'Your life is seen, make sure that you are not living only for the things that are seen'. There's a lesson.
I wonder are you only living for what you can see - most people in this world are. It can often be commendable in its motivations: 'I live for my wife, I live for my children, I live for my whole family, I want to be with them - they are the meaning of my life'. Then all of a sudden those people die, or are taken away, or desert them, and the meaning is lost in their life. Folk sometimes live only for material personal possessions, and they want to get money, as much as they can, to buy things: houses, cars, clothes. So many, whether it's for relationships, or money, or things, are living, existing for the tangible - things you can touch and feel; for the sensual, things you can experience in the realm of pleasure; but they are not living for the spiritual! What are you living for?
Can I tell you tonight that irrespective of what your perspective is, the unseen realm is the greatest realm. The spiritual realm is the greatest. Let me tell you why: the Bible tells us that God is spirit. You can't see God, you can't touch God, you can't paint or describe God with language - He is spirit. Just because you can't touch Him or see Him, it doesn't mean He's not great. He is the greatest reality of all, He is the prime mover and cause of everything that is and ever has been and will be. What's more, you have a spirit - for God has created you. You can't see it beneath the layer of skin; you can't pinpoint it in any particular human biological organ, but nevertheless you have it. God has given it to you. It is the part of you that will live on after your body dies. What's more, not only is God a spirit, and you're a spirit, but there is a whole world and universe of spirits.
Now, maybe you think I've lost my mind. No, no, it's just unseen. Whilst your life may be all to you that appears - things you see, and touch, and feel, and experience - that is not the true reality. Now maybe you're thinking: 'Well, I've never seen it! I've never seen God! I've never seen my own spirit! I've had many an x-ray in the hospital, and I've never seen my spirit. I've never met any of these spirits you're talking about in a spirit universe' - but perhaps that is because you, like many people in this world, have subscribed to the axiom 'Seeing is believing'. The Bible tells us the opposite is true: 'Believing is seeing'. Believing is seeing! You've got to put the spectacles of faith on, and in fact 2 Corinthians 4 verse 4 tells us that the devil's goal is to blind the minds of people who don't believe, lest the gospel comes in and delivers them. So he wants you not to see it all, he doesn't want you to believe - because if you start believing what God's Word teaches, you'll see the unseen realm, you'll realise there is a God, and you have a spirit, that there is an afterlife.
Maybe it's nearer the truth, not that you don't know it is there, but you don't want it to be there. You see, if your life is just all that it appears to be - the seen realm - that means you die like a dog, your life is blown out like a candle, and that's it. You live it up while you can in the years you've got, and in the end - well, what does it matter, you've no consequences, you don't have to answer for anything you've done. That would be wonderful, wouldn't it? It would suit us all!
Maybe it's not so much that you don't think it or believe it, you just are in denial. It's like the Arab I heard about on one occasion who awoke hungry in the middle of the night in his tent, and he lit a candle and began to eat some dates that were beside his bed. After he took one, it tasted funny, and he held up the light to it, and there were three worms crawling through it. Finally, do you know what he did? He blew out the candle, and stuffed them in his mouth! He didn't want to face the reality. That's what we are like with death, with our mortality. There is a realm that we cannot see, and denying it's there won't cause it to cease to exist. When the vapour is gone, the substance of water still exists. You cannot see God, you can't see your soul, but that doesn't mean they aren't real. No matter how many times you tell yourself: 'Oh, that's all pie in the sky when you die, it's fairytale stuff', it does not cancel it out - it's real!
Sometimes, only now and again, but sometimes the reality of the unseen spiritual sphere momentarily breaks upon us in the physical. Perhaps like this: you go through a tragedy, and you begin to realise your own mortality - whether it's an illness or a sickness of yourself or a loved one - and you realise, 'Here, this is not what life's all about, pleasure and money, and getting a thrill. No, there must be more to it than that'. Maybe it's even death, someone near to you, a child or a husband or wife - and you realise there must be something more. What was that life all about? Maybe it's pain, maybe God's megaphone of pain is speaking to you, and it is if God is trying to break through the unseen realm into the seen, to cause you to waken up.
I think one of the best illustrations of this must be the tragedy of the Titanic, it sinking in the Atlantic. You've seen films about it and read books about it, and we know all about it here in East Belfast - how it left the shores of Southampton with all its passengers, on its way to the States, and everybody was just intoxicated with the wonder of technology and engineering, and the pleasure of what it was to wine and dine and enjoy the company of aristocrats - but all of a sudden something happened! They hit an iceberg, and in a moment they were turned from singing party songs to striking up in the band, 'Nearer my God to Thee, Nearer to Thee'. What happened? The unseen broke into the seen. They began to see that everything that appeared to be was not necessarily what things were.
What I'm trying to get across to you tonight is that now is only a passing mist, that's all it is! Your life is seen, but there is an unseen realm. Here's the second thing: your life is brief, but there is an eternity. Now I want you to listen: this life appears, James says, a little while - a little while. There are other images in scripture other than mist and steam. Job uses the imagery of a weaver's shuttle, and he says that our life's passing is swifter than the shuttle on the loom. He uses another illustration, and he says it's like a messenger on a horse taking a letter or a parcel - it's just so swift as it goes by. The Psalmist says our life is no longer than the span of a man's hand.
Now it wasn't always like that. The first man, Adam, that was created was given unending life by God. God breathed into Adam and he became a living soul. Even though Adam sinned after that event of his creation, he still lived to 930 years. Moses after him lived to 120 years - yet Moses said in his Psalm that our lives are 70 years, and if by strength we might live 80 years, but no longer. Now is that a contradiction? Adam, Moses, and then what Moses says in the Psalm - no. It simply means that as the generations passed, the effects of sin deepened to rob us of our lives, and that's why our lives have become so brief.
Now I know that technology is trying its best, and in a sense has begun to reverse the process of ageing - but one thing it cannot do, and has not done, nor will do, is eradicate death. For death is God's judgement upon sin, that's why life is so brief, why we can't ditch death - because there is a spiritual terminal illness in our hearts. Romans 5:12: 'Through one man's disobedience', that's Adam in the garden of Eden disobeying God's commands, 'death has come upon all men, for all men have sinned'. You are disobeying God's commands, don't tell me you're not! You do it daily, in thought, in word and deed - that's why you're going to die: for the wages of sin is death. It's not just physical death, it's spiritual death in a place that the Bible calls hell. I can't describe hell, but all I can tell you is this: your life is brief, but there is an eternity.
The devil will sell you a pack of lies that there isn't any eternity, there is no heaven, there is no hell - wait till I tell you something: apart from the fact that there's graveyards, and funerals every day of the week, and death is the greatest evidence that there is sin and there are consequences for the way we disobey God. Hebrews 2 and verse 9 tells us that Jesus came from heaven, and clothed Himself in human flesh, lived among men for 30 years, went to the cross at the age of 33, and suffered - Hebrews says - the death of every man. He tasted death for every man! That proves to me more than anything that we are sinners - do you think God would send His only Son? Do you think Jesus would come if we weren't sinners, if we weren't under the condemnation and judgement of God, if we weren't going to hell for ever?
Now I don't like the idea of hell, I hate it, but it's real! It's why my Saviour had to bleed and die, it's why He hung on the cross, and why God's wrath came upon Him. Because this is true - what is true? Your life is seen, but there is an unseen realm. Your life is brief, but there is an eternity. Because that is true there are two things I want to say to you as I close: you must provide for the unseen more than the seen - did you get it? You must provide for the unseen more than the seen. In Luke 12 Jesus told a story about another businessman, a rich fool farmer. He was so successful that he wanted to pull down his barns and build greater ones, and again he was providing for the seen but he ignored the unseen. God was not in his thoughts or in his plans. God came to him one night and said: 'You fool, for tonight your soul is required of you, and then whose will those things be which you have provided?.
What if God came to you tonight? I know the plans you have: a wee holiday, a wee break, a day here, a day there, that nice flash car, maybe that holiday home, spending your retirement with the kids, enjoying the family, spending it on all the pleasures that do it for you and give you a kick - what if God came tonight and said, 'It doesn't matter about your plans, you fool, tonight I'm going to have your soul, that unseen part of you that you have ignored and denied, I'm going to recall it'. Then where will you be? You haven't provided for it, sure you haven't?
That is why Jesus said: 'Don't lay up treasures for yourselves on earth, where moth and rust destroy, where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, where thieves do not break through and steal'. That's why Paul said in Colossians: 'Set your affections on things that are above, not on things on the earth'. What are you living for? What is your life? Is it all seen? Is it all now? In Philippians Paul says our citizenship as Christians is in heaven, we're meant to be living for that place and that day when we will see our Saviour come for us and bring us to be with Himself.
Which world are you living for? Well, that question, 'Which world are you living for?', can be easily answered by the answer to the question: which world are you providing for? You must provide for the unseen more than the seen. I know you've provided for your future, you've got the pension, maybe you're drawing it presently, you've got the insurance policy - if you die, everybody around you is catered for. Your retirement is all set in motion, you're looking forward to that day. Maybe you're young and it's your education you're plotting out. A family holiday, it's Christmas, the big list as long as your arm, all the things you're going to get. Some people are sober enough to plan for their funeral, and put money away and tell the clergyman what hymns they want to sing - and yet the soul, the soul is neglected, God is forgotten! Yet think of it: God in Christ has provided for the unseen, he has come in His own Son, and bled and died so that you might have salvation.
That's what He said to the disciples before He went to the cross in John 14 verse 2, we always hear it at the funerals: 'In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go...'. 'I go to prepare a place', where was He going? Did He just all of a sudden disappear into heaven? No! He went to the cross, He bled and died, He was in the grave three days and rose again, 40 days He walked among men, He ascended to heaven. He prepared for your eternity through shedding His precious blood, through His death on the cross and His resurrection - but, my friend, you must avail yourself of that by repentance and faith. He has provided for your unseen, but you must partake of it.
Fourthly and finally, I want to say to you: you must prepare for eternity in time. Not just provide for the unseen, more than the seen; but you must prepare for eternity in time. In other words, use this brief life that you have preparing for everlasting life, which is a greater reality than this. Rather than wasting the brief life that you have on self, on sin, invest it! The wages of sin is death, that's why your sin is destroying your life - but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. You see, the devil is wrecking your life, because 'He' - John 10:10, Jesus said - 'is a thief, who comes only to steal, kill and destroy', but Jesus says, 'I have come to give you life in abundance, life to the full'.
Now, if I was to sum up James' point, here it is: now is the time. Because your life - what is it? - it appears, it is seen, and it is brief; in life, now, you must prepare for the unseen, you must prepare for eternity. Now is the time. James' message is the same as Proverbs 27 verse 1: 'Boast not yourself of to morrow; for you know not what a day brings forth'. James is saying in common language: 'Listen my friend, don't you leave this thing too late'. When is too late? Too late is any time other than now. You say: 'Ach, sure I was here last week, God has given me till this week'. Can I tell you: some of you have been here an awful lot of weeks, and I'm glad to see you, but it troubles me when I see some of you keep coming, and coming, again and again without trusting Christ. You see, if you're putting this matter of salvation off until tomorrow, you need to know that tomorrow never comes.
I remember as a child thinking that preachers had lost their marbles when they said 'Tomorrow never comes', because yesterday I thought tomorrow was coming, and it did, we're here today! That's not what they mean, what they're meaning is: if you put something off until tomorrow, when tomorrow comes, and tomorrow is today, you're still putting it off until tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, and the next day. You've got to trust Christ now, for tomorrow will never come!
Don't leave it too late. Sir Francis Newport was the head of the English Infidel Club years ago, and to folk gathered around his bed as he was dying, he said these words: 'You need not tell me there is no God, for I know there is one and that I am in His angry presence. You need not tell me that there is no hell, for I already feel my soul slipping into its fires. Wretches! Cease your idle talk about there being hope for me, I know I am lost for ever!'. He left it too late! He was an atheist, a denier of God, yet in the end he had to admit that this scene is not all there is, there is an unseen. This brief mist is not reality, but eternity is.
Tomorrow is the most uncertain, unpredictable friend you have. The Bible says now is the accepted time, today is the day of salvation - and I pray to God Almighty that you will not be like Elizabeth I, who on her deathbed said 'Oh my God, it's over! I have come to the end of it! The end! The end! To have only one life, and to have done with it! To have lived, and loved, and triumphed, now to know it's over! One may defy everything else but this', and this is what she said, 'All my possessions for one moment!'.
It's a vapour, it appears for a little time and then vanishes away. How do you provide for the unseen? How do you prepare for eternity? The good news is that Jesus on the cross has done all the preparation for you. All that is left for you is that you repent of your sin, be willing to turn from it, and in turning from it turn to the Saviour Himself, and embrace Him by faith for your whole salvation. All you have to say in repentance and faith is: 'Wash me, Lord Jesus, in Thy precious blood, and take my sins away'.
Father, we thank You for the provision that the Lord Jesus has made in the shedding of His own blood for the unseen, for eternity. We just pray that everyone gathered here, young and old, will prepare to meet God. Amen.
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This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording, titled "What Is Your Life?" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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