Dr. Melvin Cheatham is an accomplished neurosurgeon. For much of his early career he felt that his drive for success had more to do with his own rise to stardom and material wealth than with providing care to suffering humanity. Long hours were taking such a toll on his body that he was told by a physician that his high cholesterol would likely kill him before age 50. It gave him a wake-up call.
It put him on a quest of discovery to find out what really counts in life. Among the things he discovered was this gem: “True giving ”the heart of living a life that counts starts when those we serve have nothing to give us in return.”
During the second half of his medical career, Dr. Cheatham lived out this philosophy by giving large segments of his time to organizations like Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse and going to war-torn regions to do delicate brain and spinal surgeries on people who would die without his skills, often doing surgeries in places that put his own life in danger. Few of the people he operated on would ever be able to thank him. By the time they recovered, he had already moved on to help others. Dr. Cheatham says that regardless of our occupation, Jesus Christ is going to ask each of us one thing, “What did you do for Me?” This is one of the things that now motivates him. Asking himself this question helps him live a life of significance.
In his book, A Life on the Road, Charles Kuralt tells about spending a day with a man who claimed to be the owner of the world’s largest ball of string. The entire time Kuralt interviewed the man, he kept adding to his ball of string. Kuralt writes, “That’s the trouble with owning the world’s largest ball of string; you live in constant fear that somebody, somewhere is making a larger ball of string.”
That’s the way it is with those of us who get caught up in the race of acquiring things. We work hard to acquire what we have and then we spend much of our time trying to keep what we have. Instead of HAVING possessions, we allow our possessions to HAVE us. For many people the driving force in life becomes the things money can buy, and then the driving force becomes the work required to maintain them.
Right now, America is on the verge of going under economically because of our collective greed. The wealthiest country on earth is facing an economic meltdown because of our race to grab more and more of the pie. Now instead of having adequate possessions, our possessions are about to have us.
Dr. Cheatham is fortunate. He realized the vanity of chasing after a life filled with status and financial gains. He eventually found that the driving force who ultimately matters is God.
Scripture teaches us that the driving force in our lives should be God and the indwelling of God’s Spirit. All aspects of our lives should revolve around God, including our money. When we refuse to acknowledge that God is the source of what we have and the guide for using what we have, we allow what we have to be more important than God. When God takes a back seat to material things, that’s idolatry.
It is essential to acknowledge God as the owner of all we have. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Psalms 24:1 (NIV) We really don’t own anything. We are only stewards or managers of the resources God has given us to manage. Those include not only our possessions, but also our bodies, our time, and our talents.
Not only is God the owner of all we possess, but God is the one who enables us to acquire all that we have. Deuteronomy 8:17-18 warns us: “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.”
My trips to Liberia have helped me become a less material person. The deprivation of these people caused me to question why I serve God. Do I serve God because I have things? Would I serve God if I had nothing? Many of these people do. It occurred to me that I came into the world with nothing and I will leave this world with no material wealth.
I’m learning to get by with fewer material things now. I am not saying I am where I need to be, but my trips to Liberia have reminded me that everything I own will one day belong to someone else ”everything: my car, my money, my clothes, my books, and my house. I’m just a steward, temporarily taking care of and managing what’s been given to me for a short time.
So in addition to continuing my practice of tithing, I need to stop being so wasteful. I need to give even when I know the other person has no way of giving in return and doesn’t even know I gave. I need to give more of my time, which is really harder sometimes to give than my money.
When you think about it, what most of us do and accomplish in this life will likely not be remembered beyond a generation or two. Most of us will not likely accumulate great wealth or fame; and even if we do, all earthly wealth will one day be owned by someone else, and fame is fleeting.
However, if we store up for ourselves “treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20), then by God’s grace when we enter the gates of heaven and hear the Master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt 25:23) we will know once and for all that the life we have lived has been a life of significance.
Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. This column previously appeared in The Moultrie Observer.
Living a Life of Significance: Part 1
Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Georgia.