Charles Stanley - God's Guide to a Fruitful Life
Do you want your life to be fruitful and feeling fulfilled and contented? And somehow in spite of all the difficulties and obstacles you have to face in life, you want to be able to sense a sense of contentment in your life, and the fact that your life's really counted. You haven't wasted it, hasn't just flown by. But you really want your life to count, you want to make a difference not only in your own life but somebody else's life. Well, there's a way to do that and I think most people just sort of get a little discouraged in life and ask the question, "Well, what difference do I make anyway?" Or, "how can my life count for anything that has any lasting value?" And the truth is it can.
And the passage of scripture that I want to talk about today is a passage of scripture that has served as, as two instruments in my life. One of them is an anchor that has anchored me in times of great difficulty and stormy times in my life. And the second is this, it served as a compass to give me a sense of direction, to show me which way to go, which way to turn. And oh so many times throughout these years I've turned to this passage of scripture. In fact, very few days go by that I don't either quote this passage to myself or read it in the Word of God, going back to ask for a sense of direction or having Him to anchor my soul in some troubled spirit, whatever it might be. It's always there, always trustworthy. It is an awesome powerful passage of scripture.
And I want to share it with you because I do know in my heart that if you allow it to be the compass of your life and the anchor of your life, things will get better in your life no matter what's going on. You may say, Well, you just don't know how bad things are. Doesn't make any difference how bad they are, this much I know. When you have God's perfect eternal compass in your hand, and you have God's absolute perfect promise of direction and guidance for your life. And your life is anchored to the rock that is immovable, unchangeable, unalterable, whether the winds blow, the storms blow against you, whether the water rises or the fire comes at you. These two verses of scripture will see you through no matter what.
So, I want you to turn if you will to Proverbs chapter three. He begins by saying, "My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; For length of days and years of life, and peace they will add to you. Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute or good report in the sight of God and of man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body, and refreshment to your bones. Honor the LORD from your wealth, and from the first of all your produce; So your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine. My son, do not reject the discipline of the LORD; or loathe His reproof, For whom the LORD loves He reproves, even as a father the son in whom he delights".
When I think about the pathway that is fruitful and fulfilling and contenting, and a pathway that will one day lead us to stand before the Lord Jesus Christ and amidst our failures and amidst our faults and amidst all of our difficulties in life, He will be able to say to us, Well done, good and faithful servant. You've been faithful over a few things. I will give you a position that deals with many. When I think about of all the scriptures, and you see, so many, so many things in the Bible are sort of isolated. That is, Paul would write about this section here or David would say this in the Psalms or whatever. And yet, here is a passage of scripture that encompasses the whole pathway. And so when we talk about a life of fulfillment and contentment and one that is fruitful and not wasted, here in one passage of scripture it's all there.
And so I want to begin with what I believe is the first and most important truth along this pathway. Because this pathway involves a number of things and I'm gonna ask you to give them back to me when I share them with you. So, I want you to jot them down. If you're wise, if you have any smarts about you at all, you won't walk out of here unless you have these things written down on something that you can refer to. This pathway, that leads to a life of fulfillment and contentment and fruitfulness begins, listen, with this simple truth. And that is, it involves, listen, this kind of life involves treasuring God's Word in your heart. Treasuring God's Word in your heart. What do I mean by treasure? I mean you place high, high value on the Word of God. Listen to what he says. He begins by saying, "My son, do not forget my teaching".
Why would he say, "Do not forget it". And so often he warns us about forgetfulness because God knows how prone we are to forget. For example, you can come in here on a Sunday and listen to a message, and if you don't jot down the main points, or if you don't jot down the truth that God said to you, you may not jot down but one idea, one phrase, one word, or a whole point, or all the points. If you walk out and forget them, then he says don't forget my teaching. And I'm not giving you my opinion about things, I'm just simply week after week giving you, Here's what God's Word says. You can't afford to forget it. Listen to what he says, Do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments. And when I think about what he's saying here, he's saying not only don't forget it, he says "but let your heart keep my commandments". That is, keeping his commandments means to obey them. He's not referring simply to the Ten Commandments, but he's referring to all the principles of scripture.
Now the writer of Proverbs knew quite a number of those principles, but then you add the work of the Prophets and you add especially the life of our Lord, His principles, and you add Paul's interpretation of the life of Jesus and all of His epistles. And we have the most awesome principles to live by. So he says, "Do not forget my teachings". He says, "Let your heart keep my commandments". Now when you think about keeping His commandments, or obeying God, think about it in two lights. We obey the Lord or keep His commandments or live by His principles for one of two reasons. And one of them is more legalistic and the other is more loving.
And so, if I should ask you, and if you will answer this question to yourself and no one else needs to know but you. If you are genuinely honest about this question, how would you answer this question? Do you, listen, do you keep God's principles? Do you live by them or attempt to live by, by them because you're afraid of the consequences? Or do you do it for this reason? You want to, you desire to, you love Him, you acknowledge who He is, you acknowledge what He's done for you, you acknowledge what He does for you, you acknowledge His promises. You want to obey Him. You want to keep His commandments. You want to live by the Word of God because you understand who He is, you understand His love for you, and you want to do it. Which of the two really describes who you are?
Listen to what he says. He says, My son, do not forget my teaching. Let your heart keep my commandments. Length of days and years of life and peace, they'll add to you. Now that's the promise. He says, If you will keep my commandments, here's what you can expect. Now what does he mean by that? Does he mean that if you and I go and live by His principles in our life, that, does that mean that we're gonna live longer than people who do not? Does it mean that somehow we can, we can rest assured and have the promise of a very, very long life, seventy-five, eighty, ninety years of age? Well it's very evident that's not what it means because all of us know some very, very godly people who do not live a long life necessarily.
So what does it mean? Remember what we said, we're talking about a life, listen, a life that is fruitful. We're talking about what are those things involved in a life that is fruitful? Certainly one of those things involved in a life that is fruitful is treasuring God's Word. That is it is so valuable I not only want it in my heart and in my mind, I want it as a guide to my life. And so therefore he's not talking about the fact that everybody who lives a godly life will outlive those who are ungodly, but he does mean this. He means simply this. When he says, look, he says, "Length of days and years of life". "Length of days," he's talking about this. God, listen, will so guide us to fill our days with things that count in life, things that have value in life. We will not waste time, we will not waste hours or minutes, but our life will be full. It'll be full of those things that really make a difference.
And so many people live their lives, they just sorta go through the day and they go through the week. They have nothing to really look back and say, Well, this was a valuable part of my day or my time. They just sorta, they just sorta getting along to the weekend so they can get through the weekend, enjoy that, so they can get back to their labors during the week. And he says if you and I will live by His principles, He says He will lengthen our days. Does He, He will stretch them so to the point that you and I can accomplish more. Not only our days but our years. And so the promise of God is this. I will become involved in your days. I will become involved in your years, so that, listen, I will stretch them so to speak as far as the fruitfulness of your life.
You know what that means? You and I will be able to accomplish more in walking in God's will by His principles in a given day than people who do not. He will, listen, He will lengthen our days when we have our goals that are clear, we have our sense of direction that is clear, and we're listening to God, following His principles. We're, listen, sometimes those days will be jam, jam, jam, jam, jam, crack, crammed full of, of events that make a real difference in our life. All of them will not be that way. That doesn't mean those days are wasted because refreshment of our soul, recreation and rest are very essential. What He's simply saying is this. He said, Look, if you want a full life, you want a life that's fruitful? He said, Don't forget My commandments, apply them to your heart. Here's what you can expect. He says, I'll fill your life up with things that really make a difference.
So, number two, listen to what he says. Verse three he says, "Do not let kindness and truth leave you". Bind them about your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart so you'll find favor and good repute or good report in the sight of God and man. Now why would he mix kindness and truth? He says, Don't let kindness and truth leave you but, he says, put them around your neck on the table of your heart. Well, truth, for example, we all want to know the truth. The truth is what the Bible says that sets us free in life, to live this life that is fruitful and fulfilling.
So we all want the truth but we all have to agree that sometimes we don't like the truth. Sometimes we are confronted with the truth that is rather threatening to us. Sometimes the truth runs against the grain of our life. Sometimes the truth causes us to have to face things in life we don't like to face. Sometimes the truth exposes our feelings and our attitudes in such ways we don't like. Sometimes truth is just downright painful. And sometimes it's sorta hurtful. And sometimes it comes from sense of, a sense of direction that we don't like. So, what has God done in this passage? He says, Don't let kindness and truth depart from you. Kindness, listen, kindness soothes very difficult truth.
And see, if you and I are going to relate to people, learn how to relate to them, and our life is gonna be fruitful and contenting and helpful to other people, we have to learn how to speak the truth in kindness. He says, "Don't let these, don't let them get away from you". He says, "Bind them about your neck". And he says, be sure... listen to this what he says. I love how he says it. He says, "And so write them on the tablet of your heart". Which is his way of saying, Listen, let truth and kindness so rule you that you do not allow your emotions to so overcome you and so overwhelm you that you foul up your relationships. And so, if I'm gonna have that kind of life, then I, I have to realize that I have to treat people kindly, and treat them with the truth.
Now he doesn't not mean that we are to just compromise everything and have no conviction about anything. But we are to live with integrity. We're to live with honesty. And we should be, we should be characterized by kindness. All right, look what he says beginning now in verse five. And this is the core of this passage and we'll come back to it later, but listen. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him". And he says He will do what? "He will direct your path". And I think if there's one thing I have seen God do in my own life. I've seen Him take me and put me in places that I could never have gotten to, didn't even know I was supposed to be there, number one.
And in spite of all the obstacles, and all of the hardships and all the difficulties, God knows how to take you where you are, put you where He wants you no matter what. Because remember this. And that is, He assumes full responsibility for the consequences of your decision when that decision is based on the principles of the Word of God and you're obeying Him. Therefore, in every single one of our pasts there are gonna be obstacles. So what am I to do? Fight the obstacles? No. I am to look to the God who set the path. I'm to trust Him who allowed the obstacle to either remove the obstacle, show me how to get around it, go over it, under it or whatever it might be. God will remove that obstacle to the degree that it will not, listen, it cannot hinder, it cannot impede, it cannot obstruct you from reaching the goals, the purposes God has for your life.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, He'll direct your path. And sometimes people feel like that they have difficulties in their life or came up in a bad situation or have some kind of physical handicap in life. And you know what? Sometimes they out, listen, they out-perform people who have it all together. Why? Because they get in the will of God and the center of God's purpose for their life and they understand that nothing can impede them, hinder them, obstruct them from finding, discovering, doing, walking in the will of God. It's the most exciting way to live, in fact it's the only way to live. And that is, he says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, He'll make you a straight path".
And the wonderful thing is knowing when you're walking in God's path, and you're walking toward His goal and His objective in your life, and you have Him to walk with you, you're going to get there. I'll tell you what that does. It relieves me of a lot of anxiety and stress and a lot of things that I'm sure that I have certainly experienced in the past. And somewhere along the way this passage of scripture really got a hold of my heart and I began to understand what he means. I'm gonna make your paths straight. All you have to do is to obey Me, follow Me. I'm you can forget the worry, forget the fretting, don't worry about what this, and what that and suppose this and suppose that. If I'm in charge of your life and you're following My path, all you have to do is follow Me.
Very, very important two verses. Storms may come, winds may blow, waters may rise, fire may fall, but you know what? When you're on God's path, He says you walk through the waters, they won't over, overflow you. Walk through the fire, walk through, listen, He didn't say run through the fire. He said walk through the fire, won't burn you. Why? Because you're on God's path and He's just like asbestos. Friend, listen. God knows how to protect you from anything and everything no matter what. It is foolish to try to live your life outside the purposes, the plans, the goals and the will of God for your life. And so if our life is gonna be a life that is fruitful, number one, we must do what? Treasure God's Word in our heart.
Number two, treat people with kindness and what? Truth. And thirdly, we certainly want to trust God with all of our heart. Well, look what he says. And he says in verse seven, "Do not be wise in your own eyes, fear the Lord and turn away from evil". It will be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones. Now watch this. When he says, "fear the Lord," that means to reverence Him and to be in awe of Him and to acknowledge who He is. And so often times the scripture will use the word "fear the Lord" which simply means "to obey Him". That is, if I genuinely reverence Him and acknowledge who He is, I am going to be obedient to Him.
And so he says I'm to obey Him. And if I obey Him I will turn away from evil. God would never lead our pathway into evil. He will never tempt us, He will try us, He will test us, but He, listen. He will never tempt us to do evil. He will never entice us to sin. And so therefore he says in this particular verse, he says, "Fear the Lord and turn away from evil". You and I want to, listen, we want to set our focus upon our Lord. We want to walk in obedience to Him, no matter, listen, no matter what it may look like, that's always the best way. Now, listen to this promise He gives us. And somebody says, Now wait a minute. Look at this. He says, Fear the Lord and turn away from evil. We have a choice. We can either turn to evil or turn away from it. But he says if you turn away from evil, look at this. He says, "It'll be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones".
Well, what's healing got to do with obedience? Well let's think about it for a moment. Now listen carefully so you won't you won't say something I didn't say. You listening? Say amen. All right. I am not saying if you're sick, you're living I sin. Did you hear that? I am not saying if you're sick, you're living in sin. Now it could be, but I'm not saying because you're sick you're living in sin. But let's think about something for a moment. I think more than we realize, far more than we realize, there are those attitudes within us that contribute to ill health. For example, a person says, Well, you know, I'm trying to be obedient to God and here I am sick. I understand that you and I and anybody who says that God heals all sickness every time has not read the Bible, I don't care who they are, because if that were true, there'd be some folks in the scripture you can't explain.
So therefore, God does choose to heal many people of very dread diseases. Sometimes He chooses to take people home through that sickness. But here's what I want you to see. What he's saying here is a statement I believe that's a principle. And let's think about this. There are people, for example, who have a lot of stress in their life because they can't handle difficulties. They have a lot of anxiety in their life. They worry, they fret over a lot of things. They are full of anxiety. Sometimes it's anger. Sometimes it's bitterness, sometimes it's hostility. Sometimes its guilt. Sometimes it's holding onto things in the past that they cannot yield and cannot give up and cannot be forgiving toward.
And so what happens? These poisonous emotions that flow in a person's mind and in their soul which is their conscience, consciousness, their mind, will, and emotions. Those emotions, those emotions are absolutely destructive in a person's life. Hostility and anger and bitterness and unforgiveness, listen. They are, they are not only objectionable, they are dangerous in a person's life if it goes on for years and years and years. And I do believe that if a person walks in the will of God and is obedient to God and clears up their conscience when something comes along, deals with those issues of, of unforgiveness, listen, they are going to have a better opportunity of living a healthy life because God created these bodies of ours to operate in a certain way.
Now this does not mean that you can go out and just eat, eat, eat, eat, eat, fat, fat, fat, fat, fat, and so forth and have a healthy life. It doesn't mean that you can drink and carry on and carouse and if you poison your body with the wrong stuff, that's one thing. But we're talking about walking in the ways of God, and we're talking about the effect of obedience upon the human body. You know, I cannot tell you that if you obey God you won't have this disease or you won't get sick. I can tell you one thing. God doesn't lie and here's what He says. He says, It'll be healing to your body when you and I turn away from evil and live obediently to Him. And refreshment to your bones which is His way of saying, Listen, God will energize us.
And I think anybody listening to this message will have to admit when your conscience is clear and you're obeying Almighty God, and you know that you're walking in His way. Your whole body is affected by it. If I want my life to be fulfilling and I want it to be contenting and I want it to be happy, if I really want it to be fruitful then certainly obeying God is certainly very, very vital in that issue. Well, let's look to see what else he says. Verse nine, "Honor the Lord from your wealth and from the first of all your produce, so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine". You trust the Lord with your finances by giving Him the first tenth. He says that honors God.
Well, how does that honor God? Here's how it honors God. It says, Father, I recognize that You're the source of everything I have. And in worship and in awe before You, I come to bring to You as You required of me the first fruits. I'm not doing it simply because You require it, because I want to acknowledge my dependence upon You. I know that You've said if, if I sow bountifully I'll reap bountifully, if I sow sparingly I'll reap sparingly. You see, if you take the scriptures about finances or whatever it might be in the scriptures. You take them and put them together, it is an awesome, awesome, awesome, listen, assurance of God's blessing to us when we honor Him with what belongs to Him.
So if I expect, listen, if I expect my life to be fruitful, I can't be stingy. I cannot cheat on God. I cannot keep from Him what belongs to Him, and I cannot deliberately, willfully, knowingly dishonor God. So, it's a matter of choice. What kind of life do I want? If I want the best life, I take His principles. Want the best life? Abide by His principles. Want the best life? Want, want the best that God has to offer? Do what God says. Well, watch this last one. Listen to what he says. "My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord; or loathe His reproof. For whom the Lord loves He reproves, even as a father the son in whom he delights".
You see, one of the very basic principles, and one thing that's involved in your life and mine if we're gonna have a fruitful life and a life that's productive and fulfilling. And that is, we have to deal, that is, let's put it this way. When it comes to, when it comes to discipline, you might want to jot it down this way. Take discipline as an expression of God's love. That's really what he's saying. Take discipline as an expression of God's love. Now what's discipline? Discipline isn't necessarily a whipping. Discipline is instruction. Discipline, when God disciplines us, what's He doing? God disciplines us in love always as an act of protection. It is an act of instruction.
For example, let's say that you and I head down the wrong path and what does He do? He sends something into our life that is a form of discipline in order to protect us from continuing down the wrong path and doing what? Moving us back in step with His will on the right path. And so he's simply saying this. That when it comes to this whole issue of discipline, accept it. Accept it as a part of the Christian life. Accept it as a part of growing up. Accept it as a part of getting in line with, staying in line with, on the path with Almighty God. And sometimes God sends discipline as if it were from heaven. Sometimes He sends it through others. Sometimes He sends it through circumstance. But the truth is this. I must learn to accept it. Now watch this. When you and I learn to accept discipline from God, we have learned an awesome lesson.
Now, let's put it this way. Most of us would like discipline by somebody coming to us and say, Here's a book that I would like for you to read and if you'd just read this book I think this'll help you. Well, you know what? You can lay the book down and forget it. But if somebody comes to you and says, I really think you need to examine this area of your life cause, I think, watch out, we pull up the barriers. Sometimes God will use people that we don't want Him to use to discipline us, to correct us, to get us in line with His will for our life. Often times He uses people whom we love to do the same thing. So, God has, listen, always has a purpose. And if I'm going to live a life that's fruitful, I have to accept, I must accept, I choose to accept discipline as a part of that.
Now, it's not enough to just accept it. I need to embrace it. That is, Lord, I just want to thank You, I just want to bless You and praise You that You love me enough to stop me dead in my tracks. I want to thank You Lord for not letting me head out and keep on going in the wrong direction. I just, I just want to embrace Your discipline. I can understand now what You were doing. Or, it may be that sometime we don't understand it for a long time, but I can tell you this. I've been a Christian for fifty-five years. God's never disciplined me that I didn't need it. He's probably, didn't discipline me as much as I thought at times that I did need it. God disciplines us in wisdom and in love and always the right amount and the right method. He knows exactly what it takes. So listen. I not only am to accept it as a way of life, I'm to embrace it. I am to, listen, I want to desire whatever discipline is necessary because the truth is, if we're gonna turn away from evil, and if we're gonna live a godly life.
If godly life is what I want, I must be willing to embrace, not just accept, but to embrace and invite any kind of divine discipline into my life that's necessary to keep my heart clean, my life pure, and my direction on target. Not only that, listen. I'm to accept it, I'm to embrace it. And thirdly, I will be in, I can be encouraged by it. What encourages me by it? God, You loved me enough not to let me wreck my whole life. Thank You dear God, thank You for sending it. Thank You for the trials. Thank You for the hardship. Thank You for the sandpaper. Thank You for the torch. Thank You for the hammer blows. Thank You for those things, God, that You use to make and mold us into the image of our Savior.
So when you and I think about the whole life, think about this. If you want life at its best, you'll treasure God's Word in your heart, meditating on it, living by it. You'll learn to treat others with kindness and truth because that's the way you want to be treated. You'll trust Him with all of your heart. Not lean to your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledging Him, let Him direct your path, make it straight. You'll turn away from evil because you don't want that in your life. Knowing that none of those things fit. None of those things, none of those things should matter. And surely you will honor the Lord with your wealth. You'll tithe your income. That is you, you'll be trustworthy in your finances. And last of all, you will accept and embrace and be encouraged by God's wonderful expression of love when He has to discipline you.
Now my friend, let me tell you something. You can't beat that for one passage of scripture that lays it all out together so beautifully. And right in the heart of that are these two anchor verses: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not to your own understanding. In every single aspect and every way of your life acknowledge Him". Come to Him, ask Him, seek His advice and wisdom and guidance. And He'll make you a straight path, listen, that no one will be able to interfere with it successfully because God will make a way.