Have you ever had a birthday in which you didn’t receive many cards? In fact, except for your wife or husband, who may have handed you a card, you didn’t receive any. Quite likely it was troubling at first and then it was a bit depressing. No one remembered your birthday!
Having never been really big on sending cards yourself, you probably passed it off as no big deal, when in fact it was a big deal to you. It wasn’t like you hadn’t dropped hints by telling people. For two weeks you probably walked around and said, “You know I’m turning a year older next Wednesday.” It seemed the more you talked about it, the less attention people paid to it.
Then one evening later that month you were rummaging through a closet or cleaning out one of the drawers in your desk. You came across a box of cards that you had received in years past and wanted to save. You looked at them and the emotion of the moment welled up inside you. There was one from your mother and father who told you how proud they were of you. There was one from your little sister or your aunt who had written a cute line on it. There was even one from your grandmother from a number of years ago, long before she died. As you paused and reflected on the cards you received, it was then you realized that long-lost truth that spans all eternity: if you want to receive birthday cards, you have to send them.
Cards are just a small example of being able to reap that which you sow. Thomas Merton once wrote, “We do not exist for ourselves (as the center of the universe), and it is only when we are fully convinced of this fact that we begin to love ourselves properly and thus also love others. What do I mean by loving ourselves properly? I mean, first of all, desiring to live, accepting life as a very great gift and a great good, not because of what it gives us, but because of what it enables us to give others.”
If a person is to ever truly live, then he or she must accept the gift of life and be willing to use it for everyone’s benefit. To do otherwise is not only a waste of one’s life, but it is also a mockery to God.
I. Choices Have Results
Life is full of choices. Sometimes the choices are not clear. Sometimes they are too clear and we miss it. Not all of the choices we make are right. But one thing seems especially clear. The choices made on behalf of other people are the ones which reap the most bountiful results. When we sow seeds of joy, we reap a crop of happiness. But when we sow seeds of discontent, we reap a bounty of unhappiness.
Charlie Brown was out walking with Lucy and Snoopy in one of the Peanuts comic strips. In the first frame Lucy is in one of her philosophical moods. She says, “Sooner or later, Charlie Brown, there’s one thing you’re going to have to learn …”
In the next frame she says, “… You reap what you sow! You get out of life exactly what you put into it! No more and no less!”
The final frame shows Snoopy thinking about what Lucy just said. A bit forlorn, he says, “I’d kind of like to see a little more margin for error!”1
Have you ever felt the same way? Except for the grace of God, there is no margin for error. Life is exactly what you make of it. If you blunder your way through, then you can only expect absurd results. If you strive to make others happy, then you can expect to be happy yourself.
Reaping what you sow is an idea that has been around for centuries. In the verses from
II. The Choice to Mock God
If a person chooses not to pursue the Christian life, then he chooses to mock God. A person mocks God when he thinks he can kick up his heels and sow his wild oats, and not reap corruption. The people who live their lives by the motto carpe diem — seize the day — have a lot to learn.
No one can continuously seek pleasures of the flesh and the results not be tragic. A person is mocking God when he interprets the gospel of grace and mercy in a way that causes him to trivialize the sin in his own life, denying the consequences that will surely come. He treats God with contempt by regarding salvation that comes through Jesus Christ as some sort of immunity to sin rather than as a deliverance from it.2 When he is confident that no matter how much he sows to the flesh he will reap eternal life, then he has cast a fateful sneer to the face of God.
When Paul wrote the words of
The faithful, however, were still lacking. There were those who practiced patience and humility and still had nothing to show for it. Paul pointed to a basic principle. God must be taken at His word that a person will reap what he or she sows. If somebody’s life was invested in the desires and concerns of the flesh, that person would reap corruption. But if a life is invested in the things of the Spirit, then there would be a harvest of eternal life.4
For those individuals who become discouraged at the lack of quick, visible results in their spiritual lives, Paul said, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (
The fruit that will be produced will be the process of becoming that which has been sown. It was Cervantes who said, “Love not what you are but only what you may become.” In essence he was saying that we should not love that which we are now, the troubles that are faced, the difficulties that surround us. Instead, we should keep our sights on the end result and love that which we are to become through the grace of God. That which we face might force us through some miserable times, but through it all we are promised the fruits of happiness.
III. The Choice to Pursue Happiness
When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he guaranteed every American the right to the pursuit of happiness. But because the Declaration of Independence is a political document and not a religious one, it does not warn us of the frustrations of trying to pursue that right.
The reason it doesn’t is because the pursuit of happiness is the wrong goal for us. You don’t become happy by pursuing happiness. You become happy by choosing to live your life as though it means something.
The happiest people are probably not the richest or the most famous. They are probably not the ones who work the hardest at being happy by buying and reading books on the latest fads. The happiest people you know are the ones who choose to work at being kind, helpful, and reliable. Somehow happiness sneaks into their lives while they are doing those things.6
As Harold Kushner put it, “You don’t become happy by pursuing happiness. It is always a by-product, never a primary goal. Happiness is a butterfly — the more you chase it, the more it flies away from you and hides. But stop chasing it, put away your net and busy yourself with other, more productive things than the pursuit of personal happiness, and it will sneak up on you from behind and perch on your shoulder.”7
If you choose to be a happy person, you must first sow the seeds that will produce happiness in others. We are not put here with so many other people simply to seek our own self-interest. On the contrary, we are to bring delight to the lives of those around us.
IV. The Right to Choose
Even though each of us is a separate person, we are still the subtle combination of forces which will likely never occur again. We are all singular and unique. Who and what we are has been primarily determined by our heredity, society, education, family, and friends. All of these forces have helped to make our lives richer and more exciting. But they have also brought complications, frustrations, and contradictions which have made severe demands upon us. It was in this way that who we are was created, both by the rich and exciting, as well as the frustrating and melancholy. Somewhere in between will lie our true selves.8
As Christians we know we have the right to be what we are, even if that means that what we are is not compatible with what God wants us to be. We have a right to choose for ourselves, even if it means that the choice will be different or the choice will be frowned on by others. But it does not mean that we have a right to inflict ourselves on others any more than we would want others to inflict themselves upon us. It does mean that we have a right to choose, develop, and live in harmony with our God, and to share Him without apology. That choice is ours: to have a spirit of love for our brothers and sisters, or to ignore them.
Carl Jung wrote in 1928, “The woman is increasingly aware that love alone can give her full stature, just as the man begins to discern that spirit alone can endow his life with its highest meaning. Fundamentally, therefore, both seek a psychic relation one to the other because love needs the spirit, and the spirit love, for their fulfillment.” If we are to ever fulfill the lives God granted us, we must sow seeds of harmony. Only then will the high calling of who we are to become be evident.
If you’re unhappy with what you’ve become, then those around you are likely to be unhappy with what you’ve become, too. Why have you become the way you are? If you’re unhappy, if you’re lonely, if you don’t feel right about things, then what have you done to get to that point? Whatever it is, there’s still time to change it. Make some new friends. Write another card. Sow some new seeds.
1. Robert L. Short, The Gospel According to Peanuts (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1965), p. 111.
2. John William MacGorman, “Galatians,” The Broadman Bible Commentary, vol. 11 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1971), p. 122.
3. David C. George, “Galatians,” Layman’s Bible Book Commentary, vol. 21 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1979), pp. 88-89.
4. Ibid., p. 88-89.
5. Ibid., p. 89.
6. Harold Kushner, When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough (New York, NY: Simon and Shuster, 1986), pp. 22-23.
7. Ibid., p. 23.
8. Leo F. Buscaglia, Personhood (New York, NY: Fawcett Columbine Books, 1978), p. 100.