How to Get More Out of Life
Scripture: Philippians 3:13; Luke 15:17 Do we really achieve maximum value and happiness out of life? Wouldn't all of us like to experience more of life's opportunities? How much are you really getting from life? An interesting and thought-provoking newspaper story told of an 80-year-old man who had kept a detailed diary of everything he had done each hour of every day for most of his life. He was a very meticulous character, it would appear. By studying this diary, he figured out the use he had made of his time during his life. And this is what he came up with: He had spent twenty-six years sleeping, twenty-one years working; 228 days shaving and 140 days paying bills! He also spent more than twenty-six days scolding his children, and two days yelling at his dogs. Only twenty-six hours were devoted to laughing. (He didn't state the time used in going to church. Probably the reason he laughed only twentysix hours was that he didn't go to church often enough!) Well, on the surface, this seems a rather bleak description of what one man got out of life. Of course, people have various ideas about this matter. One of the brightest and liveliest radio programs on the air is called, "Rambling With Gambling." This early morning show has been on the air for around forty years, and is carried in New York on station WOR, on which I myself have been broadcasting for a good many years. John Gambling, with his father before him, may be the oldest broadcasting team in radio. Lowell Thomas is, I believe, the oldest broadcaster personality in length of service on the airwaves today. Anyway, John Gambling is a friend of mine, a very fine and delightful man. But I would like to take issue with a certain sponsor for his program. There is a retirement center in this area using a slogan, which John has mentioned at times and it caught my attention: "When you stop working, then you can start living." Now, personally, I don't buy this concept. The idea that working is painful and only when you get through with it can you really start living doesn't make sense, at least to me. Personally, I wouldn't know what to do with myself if I did not work. I would hate to have to go to some retirement center and sit around doing nothing except play golf for the rest of my life. You can only play so much golf before you get fed up with it. Likewise, you can only fish or play shuffleboard for so many hours. Of course, there are lots of things you can do when you
retire; it is really up to you. But this idea that when you stop working you start living is open to question. At any rate, I want to give you a formula that will enable any human being to get more out of living, whatever his status. It is a three-point formula: 1. Learn all you can from your mistakes and then walk away from them, forget them. 2. Know yourself and treat other people with dignity. 3. Commit your life to God's guidance. Now let us take that first principle. One thing that causes people no end of misery is that constantly they dwell on their mistakes. Over and over they think about the so-called dumb and stupid things they have done. When mistakes have been made, they feel their lives and their chances for the future have been absolutely ruined. So their mistakes dominate the rest of their lives. Really, there is only one thing to do about a mistake. See what the mistake can teach you; then, having learned wisdom from it, walk away and go on. ome time ago I was reading a book on George Washington by Howard Fast, called "The Unvanquished." He presents a magnificent picture of Washington. The story begins with Washington's campaign in Brooklyn, where he lost 3,000 men. He was no match for the British and the Hessians, with their superior training and equipment. They pushed him down to the riverbank. Washington stood like a colossus, his generals around him. Fast points out that none of his generals was over 30 years of age, and one of them was 24. (The American Revolution must have been a youth revolution.) These men stood around this great character, trying to draw comfort from him as from a father. And they followed him in one of the great retreats of history. Washington led his army across the river into Manhattan. There the British and the Hessians made him retreat to White Plains; and from White Plains they drove him across to New Jersey; and from there they pushed him relentlessly down through New Jersey. It was retreat, retreat. One day General Nathanael Greene made some sort of mistake. What it was I do not know, but he imperiled the army, and General Greene was overcome with regret. As he lay on his cot bemoaning his error, he noticed a shadow pass over him. Washington had quietly come into the tent. He sat down on the edge of the cot, and in the gathering darkness Greene looked up at him. "I'm sorry, sir," he said. "Yes," Washington replied. "I understand. But listen, son. You made a mistake. I've made mistakes too. Let's forget it and go on." Then Washington stood up and continued, "We're in desperate circumstances; but we shall go on. We shall go on!"
Copyright © 1975 by Foundation for Christian Living, Pawling, N.Y.
Greene got to his feet. "Yes, sir. We shall go on. We shall go on!" With 2,200 men, Washington crossed the Delaware; on Christmas Eve he captured Trenton and changed the course of the war. If Washington had said, "Well, we made a mistake. It's all washed up; we're finished; there's nothing we can do about it," then there never would have been the immortal Washington or the immortal Greene or, for that matter, the nation. So walk away from your mistakes a wiser person, after thought and prayer. "Forgetting those things which are behind," the Bible tells us, "and reaching forth unto those things which are before..." That text is profound in its wisdom. Learn from your mistakes, but do not let them hold you back. Walk away from them, for they are in the past. Let them remain there. n outstanding writer, Arthur Gordon, was Editorial Director of Guideposts and a contributor to the Reader's Digest. His article about a famous psychiatrist is a masterpiece. He tells how he learned to bypass the roadblock of regret for mistakes. Waiting for his psychiatrist friend in a restaurant, Arthur was feeling frustrated and depressed because an important project had fallen through. He was meeting this psychiatrist for lunch, not as a patient but as a friend. When the psychiatrist arrived, he saw at once that Arthur was troubled. "If only I had not done this," Arthur lamented. "I don't know what's wrong with me. How could I have messed things up that way? If only I hadn't done it that way!" he repeated. And for fifteen minutes he continued to outline what was troubling him. After lunch, the psychiatrist said to him, "Come over to my office. I want to play some tapes for you. I want you to hear three conversations with three different people. See if you can detect a repetitive phrase in these conversations. It's the common denominator. The first tape was from a man for whom business was going badly. He was condemning himself, saying, "If only I hadn't done this (or that)," berating himself. Another tape was by a woman who didn't marry because she had a sense of obligation to her mother, who didn't want her to get married. After her mother died there were no more marital opportunities, and she recalled bitterly all the chances she had let go by. Then there was another recording by a father who was condemning himself because his teenage son was in trouble with the police. If he'd only done this; if only he hadn't done that...he kept repeating. The psychiatrist switched off the tape recorder. "Do you get the repetitive phrase in each tape? It's a phrase that is full of a subtle poison." "Yes," Arthur answered, "it's two words-'if only.' "
"That's right," said Dr. Smiley Blanton, "those are two of the saddest words in any language. 'If only I had done that; if only I hadn't done that.' You'd be amazed if you knew how many thousands of times I've listened to woeful sentences beginning with those two words, 'if only.' In our conversation in the restaurant you, too, used that phrase, 'if only, if only, if only.' " "Well," asked Mr. Gordon, "what is the remedy?" Dr. Blanton replied, "Let me suggest two of the happiest words in the language: 'Next time.' Slide those two words into your mind to cancel out the 'if only.' Those words supply a lift instead of creating drag." Gordon said he took the two words and, following the doctor's picturesque description, "slid them" into his brain. "I know it's only a fancy," he said, "but I could almost hear them click. From that moment I felt so much better. I knew that there was indeed a next time, that with the help of God I could make a next time, and still a next time!" So, to get more out of life, whatever you may have done—or not done—whether bad or just plain stupid, ask the Lord's help and then, forgetting the past, go forward to next time. Don't be victimized by your mistakes, your errors, your sins. Whatever you've done, get it straightened out with God and then put into your consciousness this new and creative and powerful phrase, "next time." The second point is: to get the most out of life you have to know yourself. That, of course, isn't always easy, and many people go through life trying to find themselves. But if you like and respect yourself, then you will like and respect others. Being alive will be exciting, and you will put a lot of yourself into life! So get wise to yourself and get more out of life. ne of the greatest stories in the Bible is that of the prodigal son. You know, the Bible writers are the greatest storytellers who ever lived. And they tell a story in a few words, and an immortal story, at that. This story is about a certain boy who was tired of living at home. (Probably there was a generation gap with his parents.) So he went to his father and said, "Dad, I've had it. I want to get away from here. I've only got one brother, and I know you are going to divide your property, so give me my half now." And the father did as he asked. The boy took his half and went off into a far country. Where did he go? Well, I suppose these days it would be Broadway or Hollywood or some other glamour spot. Anyway, he headed for the big city. But he was a fool, and people took him for a ride. He spent all his money. He didn't save it; he didn't buy any stocks or bonds; he just spent it. He didn't have much sense, when you come right down to it. And he ended up with nothing. He didn't have any friends; he didn't have any money; he didn't have
Copyright © 1975 by Foundation for Christian Living, Pawling, N.Y.
any training. There wasn't any welfare relief in those days, so he hired himself out to a man who had a lot of pigs. It wasn't a very high-class job, only tending the pigs and feeding them on bean pods. His boss must have been very mean, because he wouldn't even give this boy any of the bean pods for himself, and the boy was starved. Then the story dramatically says—and this is one of the greatest things you'll ever read: " And when he came to himself..." That is, he got wise to himself. He figured out, "I've done a foolish thing. But at least I can go home and ask my father for a job as a servant. I don't want anything more from him, because I've blown it all; but maybe he'll just give me some work in his fields so that I can at least eat." So he went home. His father was standing on a hilltop. He had been there every day looking for his boy. Finally he saw him coming in the distance. He ran to meet him and threw his arms around him and hugged him and kissed him and said, "Boy, I sure am glad to see you back! Come home and we'll give you a robe and a ring on your hand and shoes on your feet. You're right back where you belong, and we're going to have a big feast. We are going to eat and be merry because my son is alive again!" Well, he was a much wiser young man now. He had come to himself. Nobody will get more from life than they are now experiencing until they come to themselves and are masters of themselves. They will then acquire wisdom and insight and know-how to learn from their mistakes and to know who they are. They will know how to live, not in the "if only" but in the "next time." And the last principle is, get with God. After having come to yourself, get with God and He will change your life. Why do people make constant and continual mistakes? Why do they do the same old thing again and again, as if to say, "Won't I ever learn anything?" Why do they do that? It is because they themselves are always the same; they have gotten into a mistake, an error groove. Everything is going to be wrong in this case, because you cannot expect rightness to come out of wrongness. The only thing you can get out of wrongness is wrongness. If things are to be right, one must experience the grace of Jesus Christ. He changes a person and takes away not only his sinfulness but his wrong thinking, his wrong concepts, his wrong attitudes and, hence, his wrong doing. It is amazing how God can change people's lives. He can change your life in one minute. If your longing is deep enough, you can be changed by an act of divine grace. I know that because I have seen it happen many times.
ister. And when I got through a man came up to me and said, "I'm in terrible shape." "Aren't you happy?" I asked. "How can I be happy, being in as terrible shape as I'm in?" he replied. "How do you mean, 'terrible shape'?" I asked. "You look all right." "Oh," he said, "I've messed everything up. I'm a very bad man. Will you talk with me?" he pleaded. So I took him upstairs to my hotel room. " All right, tell me all about it," I said. So he poured it all out, and he was right: he was in terrible shape and he had done some pretty rotten things. When he finished, I said to him, "Well, what do you want me to do?" "You're a minister, aren't you? Why don't you tell me how I can be a different kind of man. I'm sick of it!" Well, you know, the Lord works in a strange way. There is a church in the Loop, and it has a cross on the top. Chimes are played from this tower at certain times every day. And they were playing a hymn, which we could hear through the open window, "My faith looks up to Thee, Thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine!" I sat thinking, "Should I give him a psychological, psychiatric conversation and see if we can explore the consciousness and come up with some kind of a scientific answer?" Then I heard the hymn. And immediately my good, old evangelical faith gave me my answer. "I’ll tell you what to do. Get down on your knees, right there by that chair. You have told me all that is wrong. Now tell the Lord that you haven't any strength on your own. Ask Him to fill you with His grace. Tell Him you want to be changed." He repeated almost the same words. Now you wouldn't think that just saying those words would accomplish something great. But it did, there was expressed a deep, sincere desire from a troubled soul. After a while he got up and sat in the chair; he was very quiet. Finally he said, "I feel peaceful and happy. The Lord has changed me." Just like that! This man lived for many years. He told me whenever I saw him that life never had any meaning until he had that experience, that "life has been wonderful ever since." So I'd suggest in closing, let us all let go our mistakes and, like the prodigal son, come to ourselves, then come to the Father, and life will be greater than ever before. Prayer: Our Heavenly Father, we ask You to bless this simple message. Bless the lives of all of us. Come into our lives and change us by Your Divine grace. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
ne time I was making a speech in the Palmer House in Chicago to a big crowd. It wasn't exactly a sermon, but everyone knew that I was a minCopyright © 1975 by Foundation for Christian Living, Pawling, N.Y.