DAY 16 What Matters Most No matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love. 1 Corinthians 13:3b (Msg) Love means living the way God commanded us to live. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is this: Live a life of love. 2 John 1:6 (NCV) Life is all about love. Because God is love, the most important lesson he wants you to learn on earth is how to love. It is in loving that we are most like him, so love is the foundation of every command he has given us: "The whole Law can be summed up in this one command: `Love others as you love yourself." Learning to love unselfishly is not an easy task. It runs counter to our self-centered nature. That's why we're given a lifetime to learn it. Of course, God wants us to love everyone, but he is Particularly concerned that we learn to love others in his family. As we've already seen, this is the second purpose for your life. Peter tells us, "Show special love for God's people." Paul echoes this sentiment: "When we have the opportunity to help anyone, we should do it. But we should give special attention to those who are in the family of believers." Why does God insist that we give special love and attention to other believers? Why do they get priority in loving? Because God wants his family to be known for its love more than anything else. Jesus said our love for each other-not our doctrinal beliefs-is our greatest witness to the world. He said, "Your strong love for each other will prove to the world that you are my disciples." In heaven we will enjoy God's family forever, but first we have some tough work to do here on earth to prepare ourselves for an eternity of loving. God trains us by giving us "family responsibilities," and the foremost of these is to practice loving each other. God wants you to be in regular, close fellowship with other believers so you can develop the skill of loving. Love cannot be learned in isolation. You have to be around people-irritating, imperfect, frustrating people. Through fellowship we learn three important truths. THE BEST USE OF LIFE ISLOVE Love should be your top priority, primary objective, and greatest ambition. Love is not a good part of your life; it's the most important part. The Bible says, "Let love be your greatest aim." It's not enough to say, "One of the things I want in life is to be loving," as if it's in your top ten list. Relationships must have priority in your life above everything else. Why? Life without love is really worthless. Paul makes this point: "No matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love." Often we act as if relationships are something to be squeezed into our schedule. We talk about finding time for our children or making time for people in our lives. That gives the impression that relationships are just a part of our lives along with many other tasks. But God says relationships are what life is all about. Four of the Ten Commandments deal with our relationship to God while the other six deal with our relationships with people. But all ten are about relationships! Later, Jesus summarized what matters most to God in two statements: love God and love people. He said, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart....' This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important.- `Love your neighbor as yourself. 'All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments."' After learning to love God (worship), learning to love others is the second purpose of your life. Relationships, not achievements or the acquisition of things, are what matters most in life. So why do we allow our relationships to get the short end of the stick? When our schedules become overloaded, we start skimming relationally, cutting back on giving the time, energy, and attention that loving relationships require. What's most important to God is displaced by what's urgent. Busyness is a great enemy of relationships. We become preoccupied with making a living, doing our work, paying bills, and accomplishing goals as if these tasks are the point of life. They are not. The point of life is learning to love-God and people. Life minus love equals zero. Love will last forever. Another reason God tells us to make love our top priority is that it is eternal: "These three things continue forever: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.” Love leaves a legacy. How you treated other people, not your wealth or ccomplishments, is the most enduring impact you can leave on earth. As Mother Teresa said, "It's not what you do, but how much love you put into it that matters." Love is the secret of a lasting heritage. I have been at the bedside of many people in their final moments, when they stand on the edge of eternity, and I have never heard anyone say, "Bring me my diplomas! I want to look at them one more time. Show me my awards, my medals, that gold watch I was given." When life on earth is ending, people don't surround themselves with objects. What we want around us is people-people we love and have relationships with. In our final moments we all realize that relationships are what life is all about. Wisdom is learning that truth sooner rather than later. Don't wait until you're on your deathbed to figure out that nothing matters more. We will be evaluated on our love. The third reason to make learning to love the goal of your life is that it is what we will be evaluated on in eternity. One of the ways God measures spiritual maturity is by the quality of your relationships. In heaven God won't say, "Tell me about your career, your bank account, and your hobbies." Instead he will review how you treated other people, particularly those in need. Jesus said the way to love him is to love his family and care for their practical needs: "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' When you transfer into eternity, you will leave everything else behind. All you're taking with you is your character. That's why the Bible says, "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." Knowing this, I suggest that when you wake up every morning, you kneel by your bed, or sit on the edge of it, and pray this: "God, whether I get anything else done today, I want to make sure that I spend time loving you and loving other people-because that's what life is all about. I don't want to waste this day." Why should God give you another day if you're going to waste it? THE BEST EXPRESSION OF LOVE IS TIME The importance of things can be measured by how much time we are willing to invest in them. The more time you give to something, the more you reveal its importance and value to you. If you want to know a person's priorities, just look at how they use their time. Time is your most precious gift because you only have a set amount of it. You can make more money, but you can't make more time. When you give someone your time, you are giving them a portion of your life that you'll never get back. Your time is your life. That is why the greatest gift you can give someone is your time. It is not enough just to say relationships are important; we must prove it by investing time in them. Words alone are worthless. "My children, our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which shows itself in action."i2 Relationships take time and effort, and the best way to spell love is "T-I-M-E." The essence of love is not what we think or do or provide for others, but how much we give of ourselves. Men, in particular, often don't understand this. Many have said to me, "I don't understand my wife and kids. I provide everything they need. What more could they want?" They want you! Your eyes, your ears, your time, your attention, your presence, your focus-your time. Nothing can take the place of that. The most desired gift of love is not diamonds or roses or chocolate. It is focused attention. Love concentrates so intently on another that you forget yourself at that moment. Attention says, "I value you enough to give you my most precious asset-my time." Whenever you give your time, you are making a sacrifice, and sacrifice is the essence of love. Jesus modeled this: `Be full of love for others, following the example of Christ who loved you and gave Himself to God as a sacrifice to take away your sins." You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving. "God so loved the world that he gave...." Love means giving up-yielding my preferences, comfort, goals, security, money, energy, or time for the benefit of someone else. THE BEST TIME TO LOVE IS NOW Sometimes procrastination is a legitimate response to a trivial task. But because love is what matters most, it takes top priority. The Bible stresses this repeatedly. It says, "Whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone." "Use every chance you have for doing good." "Whenever you possibly can, do good to those who need it. Never tell your neighbor to wait until tomorrow if you can help them now." Why is now the best time to express love? Because you don't know how long you will have the opportunity. Circumstances change. People die. Children grow up. You have no guarantee of tomorrow. If you want to express love, you had better do it now. Knowing that one day you will stand before God, here are some questions you need to consider: How will you explain those times when projects or things were more important to you than people? Who do you need to start spending more time with? What do you need to cut out of your schedule to make that possible? What sacrifices do you need to make? The best use of life is love. The best expression of love is time. The best time to love is now. DAY SIXTEEN THINKING ABOUT MY PURPOSE Point to Ponder: Life is all about love. Verse to Remember: "The entire law is summed up in a single command: Love Your Neighbor as yourself." Galatians 5:14 (NIV) Question to Consider: Honestly, are relationships my first priority? How can I ensure that they are?