What does a meaningful life look like? Is there even an answer? If so, where would you begin to look? Several years ago, Bronnie Ware attempted to answer that question. After hundreds of conversations with people staring death in the face, one answer overwhelmingly dominated: live your life to minimize the regrets you might have at the end.
Ware, in her 2012 book The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying, says the greatest regret of people facing death is that they have to die knowing their choices prevent them from honoring even half of their dreams.
It’s a sad reality that most people reach the end of this life with regret. Why is that? How come more people in their final days don’t say, “I lived a meaningful life. I pursued my dreams. I made a difference.”
The answer? Most people don’t realize a meaningful life is a paradoxical life.
The greatest truths, the keys to a full life, are wrapped inside paradoxes. The apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 4:4, says Satan is the god of this world. The father of lies is the primary party responsible for the values, ideals, and philosophies of this world. Maybe this explains why Jesus used paradoxes often during his ministry.
The first will be last. The greatest will be a servant. Through weakness, you are strong. The humble will be exalted.
It was almost as if Jesus was saying, “Hey guys, stop looking for a meaning to life using the world’s criteria. Most everything the world believes is from the father of lies.”
Most people aren’t plagued with regret because they lack effort or desire. They’re plagued with regret because they use the wrong criteria. I want to address some paradoxes that are true. Jesus provided several during his ministry. But here are 10 Jesus didn’t explicitly mention because they’re specific to our context and culture.
1.) The world treats you the way you expect to be treated.
I’ve always wondered why some people find trouble, while others don’t. Regardless of where some people are, they find conflict. Drama and cynicism hover over them like an angry swarm of bees. Then I read a book called The Go-Giver, and it hit me.
It’s not mere coincidence that trouble and conflict follow certain people. It’s mere perspective.
You see, the world gives you what you expect. If, by default, you question people’s motives, you will be surrounded with people who aren’t trustworthy. If you believe people are always seeking their own way, you will find people who seek their own way.
But…if you expect people to do the right thing, generally speaking, that’s what you will get. And it’s not because people change depending on your perspective. It’s because you change.
If you want to impact the world, you must believe people are good, you must believe people are worthy of respect, and you must believe people are hungry for transformation. This all stems from the heart of God, who loved the world SO MUCH that he sent his only Son to redeem it.
2.) Your worth is determined by how much value you add to the lives of other people.
Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.Martin Luther King, Jr.
What’s your worth? If you defined it, what variables would you use? Power? Title? Salary? Accomplishments?
No. No. No. And…no.
Your worth is determined by how much value you add to other people. The foundation of a meaningful life is this question, “How can I serve people?” If you get this question right, everything else will come. Accomplishment. Salaries. Titles. Everything the world defines as “success” is really a by-product of how well you serve others.
Think about the people who changed the world. Take Steve Jobs, for example. Was he successful? Heck yeah. Was he rich? Absolutely! But here’s what Steve Jobs said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in 1993.
I do not want to be the richest man in the cemetery…I go to bed thinking we have done something wonderful, that I do care.
Steve Jobs added value to people. He made serving people his life’s goal. And this brought what the world would define as success. What about Martin Luther King, Jr.? He restored dignity and pride to a race of people. He broke down walls. And because his life’s goal was serving other people, he will be remembered in American history forever.
Jesus is the pioneer of this mindset, right? He came not to be served, but to serve (Matt. 20:28). For some reason, however, I don’t believe Jesus. I don’t think I must become a servant to impact the world. But what if Jesus is right?
What if you change the world by washing more feet, not by climbing the ladder?
3.) To become a servant, you must be open to receiving.
Recently, I left Lowe’s with two bags of mulch over my left shoulder, a cart full of tools, and two boys. On my way out, an employee asked if I needed help. You know the response, right?
“Naw, I got it man. Thanks, though.”
My wife then turned to me and said, “You’re so prideful. You never allow other people to help you.” When she said this, I smirked and shrugged it off. But she was right. I love to give. I love to share knowledge, wisdom, time, etc. with others.
But I HATE receiving gifts from people. I HATE asking for help. Hell will freeze over before I pull over and ask someone for directions.
There’s a word for that. Pride. And most would say that’s second-tier pride. No. It’s first class pride. The kind of pride that put Jesus on the cross.
Here’s the deal. Giving and receiving are cyclical. You can only give in proportion to what you receive. So, if you want to live a meaningful life by serving other people, you must allow other people to serve you. When you refuse advice, help, and gifts from others, it’s not only dumb…it’s arrogant.
I believe many people are burnt out, lacking joy and peace, because they refuse to receive as much as they give. I also believe this is why many get to the end of their lives plagued with regret. Many people love to give their time, energy, finances, etc., but they hate to receive from others. When this is your attitude, there’s a cap on how much you can give.
Receiving is the fuel for giving. Giving is the fuel for receiving. If you allow your heart to receive from others as much as you give, your impact on the world will be without boundaries.
So, stop saying, “I give God the glory,” when you receive a compliment. Everybody knows that. Stop refusing help from employees at Lowe’s (or anywhere else). Stop acting like you’re disappointed when someone gives you a random gift. Let someone serve you the way you want to serve others. Don’t be prideful.
If you do this, the gratitude that fills your heart will overflow into more serving, which results in a greater impact on the world.
4.) The more you fail, the more likely you are to succeed.
Thomas Edison once said, “I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” No, Mr. Edison, with all due respect, you’ve failed 10,000 times. And that’s ok.
Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t think people sit around thinking, “You know what? I don’t want to impact other people. I want to have a meaningless existence. That sounds awesome.”
Somewhere in the game, fear creeps in and says, “You know those great plans for your life? Yeah, you’re a loser. You can’t achieve them. Don’t even try.”
And, sadly, many people listen. Failing doesn’t mean you’re a failure. The only people who fail are the ones who listen to failure’s lies. So, just for a second, let’s assume failure isn’t part of the equation. If you knew without a doubt you couldn’t fail, what would you do with your life?
Now, if you want to live a life without regrets, actually make decisions like failure isn’t part of the equation. Think about what sets your heart on fire.
Then, go do it.
5.) The more you argue with people, the less likely you are to convince them.
One thing I’ve learned in my short existence on earth: stay away from arguments, especially with argumentative people. They serve no purpose. They drain energy you could be using to live out your calling. And, besides that, argumentative people are master manipulators and often consumed with pride. Even if they know they’re wrong, they will argue until you back down. And if they see you’re gaining an advantage, they start using weapons. Usually increasing their voice, they shift their focus from winning the argument to attacking your character.
If you want to impact the world, stop arguing and start listening. Learn from everyone. Approach every conversation with humility. Stop convincing people and start serving people.
6.) If you place other’s interests FIRST, your interest will always be taken care of. ALWAYS.
Most people laugh when they hear the secret to success is giving…Then again, most people are no where near as successful as they wish they were.Bob Burg and John David Mann
This paradox goes against the core of American ideals, which says look out for number one. If you don’t take care of number one, nobody else will. Could this be why our culture is blanketed with greed, narcissism, and debt.
Looking out for number one might fatten your bank account. It might increase the size of your house. But when your goal is to build your kingdom, you will have only one constituent…you.
Bob Burg and John David Mann refer to this paradox as the theory of enlightened self-interest. I dare you to try it. Relentlessly pursue the needs of other people. Support them. Help friends, enemies, competitors, and family members get what they need.
As a church leader, I dream of a culture where God’s people get this right. A culture where churches aren’t competing. A culture where Christians use prayer meetings to build up other churches, not bash them because they see a particular doctrine slightly different. I dream of a culture where Christians come together because they agree on one thing, Jesus, instead of dividing because they disagree on…well…anything else.
Putting the needs of others ahead of your own seems counter-intuitive. But, if you do this, you will get whatever you want in life.
7.) If you don’t love yourself, you can’t receive love from others.
Too many failed marriages are the product of someone disliking their looks, personality, etc., then looking for a partner to help them forget about their own faults. God created you exactly the way he wanted to create you. He didn’t mess up.
You’re not ugly. You’re not fat. You’re not a drug addict. The world told you those lies. Don’t forget the ruler of this world is also the author of lies.
God says you are beautiful. God says you are created to do great things. Until God’s love for you floods your heart, it’s not possible to receive love from other people.
All of your relationships, from marriage to friendships, will lack depth and intimacy, at best, and completely implode, at worst.
8.) If you can’t trust other people, you can’t be trusted.
This speaks to another paradox…the faults you see in others are probably the ones you’re most likely to overlook in yourself. And, consequently, they’re probably the one you struggle with most. So, if you struggle to trust other people, it might also be true that you aren’t a trustworthy person.
You might need a second to swallow that pill.
If you want to change the world, you must trust people. Yeah, you will be stabbed in the back. But if you’re always looking around, trying to keep yourself from being blind-sided, it’s impossible to focus on what’s ahead.
People who aren’t trustworthy and can’t trust other people, live lonely, cynical, bitter lives. Don’t be one of those.
9.) What you fear most is probably what you love most.
Your greatest fear often reveals your heart’s greatest desire.Erwin McManus
My first full-time ministry job was at a church in Jackson, MS. The youth group included kids from a local children’s home. No Christian college or seminary prepares you to hear the stories of brokenness I heard from those kids. But here’s one thing I noticed: most of the kids at the children’s home wanted to be loved and accepted more than anything, but they put up walls that kept most of them from experiencing love.
The one thing they wanted was the one thing they feared most. And this fear prevented them receiving what they wanted.
Some people fear the world seeing their weaknesses. So, they force their children to be perfect and always wear a smile, even if their heart is mourning. Some people fear losing their job, so they work long hours, compromise their integrity, and sacrifice their family.
If you fear anyone or anything but God, your life will be crippled with a continuous cycle of anger, bitterness, and anxiety. If you want your life to have meaning, fear God. He is the only one who can absorb all of your fear and turn it into love.
10.) The more you show vulnerability, the more others will think you’re strong.
Why do we like to pretend and play games? You’re screwed up. I’m screwed up.
What if you told the world what it already knows? I’ll start. Hey, my name is Frank Powell, and I’ve struggled with porn. Every day, I battle anxiety. I struggle with contentment. I fight hard not to become bitter and cynical. Like real hard.
You see, being careful and playing it safe tells a powerful lie. You want to hear it? Here it is. The best leaders, the strongest people on earth, don’t struggle with stuff like you do. They might say, “Poop” occasionally. But they don’t struggle with addiction. They don’t struggle with approval and acceptance of other people. And, even if they did, they would never tell people. They would suck it up and pretend everything is ok.
Here’s the irony of this lie. When a leader or a “strong Christian” (whatever that means) makes themselves vulnerable, do you think they’re weak? Probably not. You think they’re courageous and bold.
You see, power and strength come from within. The strongest people I know have a quiet confidence that begins with full assurance in their identity through Christ.
When your eyes are fixed on Jesus, your weaknesses become your strengths (2 Cor. 12:10).
If you want to live a meaningful life, you must leverage your weaknesses, not bury them.TWEET THIS!
If you want to live a meaningful life, you must leverage your weaknesses, not bury them.
A paradoxical life isn’t easy. But, if you lean into God, the essence of truth, you will reach the end of this life without regrets. As you stand with one foot in this life and the other foot in the next, you will think, “Well done. I lived with passion and risk, serving others.”
And God will say, “I agree. Take my hand. It’s time to come home.”