Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Wish not so much to live long as to live well

“Wish not so much to live long as to live well.” Benjamin Franklin might have written this in regret of his long but traitorous life, for he did not grasp this concept well. Beginning as a humble but honest apprentice to a printer, he soon accumulated enough money to begin his own print business, and eventually served as President in the Executive Council of Pennsylvania. He began well. However, later on in his life, during the independence war, he worked as a double spy for both the American and British armies. Pretending to be a friend to both sides, he gathered their secrets and sold them to the other country. John Addams discovered this after the war, but dropped the case and released him scot-free because of the popularity he had with the American citizens. (This popularity began ever since he established his own print business, for Franklin both wrote and spoke well and soon won attention from the American world for his editorials, essays and commentaries. The fact that he rose to the position of Grand Master in a Freemason lodge after only 3 years of initiation, indicated his great fame.) Perhaps looking back in his life, he regretted this treacherous act which not only blackened his hereto spotless reputation, but also probably caused him a few sleepless nights, and thus wrote, “Wish not so much to live long as to live well”, to warn other youths from making the same mistake he made.

We all have many decisions to make in life, and we must beware of making the wrong choices, because every decision has its consequences. At the end of our lives, we may either look back with remorse or regret at our unproductive life, or we may look back with joy and contentment at our satisfied lives. It is better to live a short, fulfilled and happy life, than a long, dissipated and miserable one.

Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather lived long, the longest anyone on earth ever lived; but he did not live well. The Bible says that God saw “the wickedness of man [was] great in the earth, and [that] every imagination of the thoughts of his heart [was] only evil continually,” and that God repented of ever creating mankind. The Bible did not record exactly what Methuselah thought and did, but it did record that everyone else beside Noah and his family perished in the Great Flood. Because Methuselah did not make the right choice to follow Noah’s preaching to repent of his wickedness, he perished in the flood. (You can calculate this by adding the years of Methuselah’s age when he had a son named Lamech, Lamech’s age when he had Noah, and Noah’s age when the flood came. The years you get and the years recorded in the Bible are exact— 969.) In comparison to his grandfather, Noah lived a short life, but he lived well. Noah obeyed God, and was spared the catastrophe of the rest of his world. He also received an unprecedented blessing. Everyone born on the cleansed earth would come from him. He had the special privilege of being the ‘father’ of the nations.

Time never seems to do exactly as we wish. When we want it to stay, it moves at lightning speed, and when we want it to run, it walks. Have you ever found that time seems to fly by when you are occupied with something that you really enjoy? For example, in the morning when the alarm clock goes off, it seems that you’ve only just gone to bed 10 minutes ago, when in reality it has been 8 hours since you went to sleep! Or going out with friends, playing a game, etc—these all pass too soon. Think of one activity that you really enjoy doing. Would you rather live on earth for 2 hours doing that, or spend 12 years doing something you don’t like (chores, homework, errands, dentist visits)? I would pick the first. Why? Because even though it lasts only for a while, you are happy doing your favourite activity whereas you would not enjoy doing chores, homework, errands, or having your teeth drilled. In the same way, a short and happy life is like doing your favourite activity; while a long and tedious (maybe evil) life is drudgery.

Jesus only lived for 33 years on earth, yet because of his 33 years, all mankind can now be reconciled to the Father. He came to die the death we should have died, and take the scourges we should have had. Jesus took our sins upon the cross of Calvary, and paid for it all- with His life. Because of His life, we are now free to go to heaven (provided we make the right choice to believe and confess that He is Christ the Son of God, and that He died, was buried, and rose again by the power of the Father) and spend the rest of eternity with Him. He did that all in thirty-three years! Yes, He lived His short life to the maximum, and He lived it well. Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven, because of what He did. So much cannot be said of King Henry the Eighth. With every material item he could ever want at his fingertips, he should have been happy. No. Instead, a more cantankerous, murderous and cruel king in the whole of England never ruled. He married 6 wives, 2 of whom he decapitated on fictitious grounds of treason because they did not bear him a son. As he grew older, the miserable king did not hesitate to kill anyone who crossed him. By the end of his life, Henry was a sad and lonely person, and he became terrified of getting ill. He lived for 56 years, (a ripe old age in the Tudor times), but by the time he died, everyone feared him and celebrated at his death.

However, not everyone will have to choose between a long and ‘bad’ life and a short but good life. There are people who live long and rich lives. God even promises longer days to those who fear the Lord, “The fear of the Lord prolongeth days: but the years of the wicked shall be shortened.” When we live in obedience to God’s commands, not only will we have the inner satisfaction of having lived well, but we will even have longer lives. Wow! What a bonus and blessing!

Earthly blessings should not be our only motivation to live well. After death, each of us will have to give an account of our doings to God, and He will judge us according to what we have done. If we believed and accepted the path Jesus made for us to heaven, then we would be free to enter heaven. But if we didn’t, we will go to hell. If we did well on earth, God will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord.” But if we didn’t, He will cast us out into darkness where there are weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is added motivation to live well, isn’t it? No matter how long we get to live on earth, it is only a miniscule fraction of the time we will spend in either Heaven or Hell. We have the whole of eternity to reap the consequences of our acts on earth. We may enjoy ourselves on earth but not make the right decisions, and we will end up spending the rest of eternity reaping our desserts. On the other hand, living well, and obeying God on earth (even if it means persecution and pain) is far preferable to spending forever in hell. Our pain and persecution lasts for awhile on earth, but our not only does the Bible say our pain in hell is far, far worse than the most excruciating pain we’ve ever felt, but that it lasts forever. It never goes away.

We must not take our days on earth for granted. Besides the fact that we never know when we will die, we only have a specific time on earth to fulfil our purpose on earth, so we should not waste our days. We want to hear the welcome words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” when we meet God face to face. We want to please God with our doings on earth. That can be accomplished by living well but not necessarily by living long. That is what’s important- living well. “Wish not so much to live long as to live well.”

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