A few weeks ago I came across my old high school letter jacket while looking through some items in storage. It was fun to find. I don't think I have worn that thing since my senior year of high school.
For those of you who don't know, letter jackets are a common practice in many high schools where I grew up. They are a jacket in the colors of the school with a big letter often sewn over left breast. The letter is usually the first letter or letters of your school. In my case, it's a big black S for Stillwater Area High School.
The letters on the letter jackets are not just given out or sold. They have to be earned. Through achievement in some extra curricular activity or activities you can get a letter and various patches to show what you did well that earned you the letter. Some people, like me, had simple letters with just a few patches. Others had ornate coats with dozens of patches and awards. Many in our school never earned a letter. Yet all of us have one thing in common.
Regardless of how many patches and awards we got, none of us wear our letter jackets today. If we went to our jobs, or the store, or on a date with our spouse wearing our old high school awards, we would be seen as foolish and be snickered at. No one in the adult world boasts about meaningless awards and prizes they got in high school. Yet when we were in high school we all worked hard to earn them.
I wonder how much we will look back on our lives someday and think the same about all the awards, prizes, and gains we worked to earn throughout our lives. We strive for status because we believe it gives us value. We strive for promotions or awards. We strive for accomplishments that will make others think we are important because we crave the praise of people.
Yet, I suspect that the day will come when we realize that all we have struggled for is foolishness. At the end of our lives, when we look back on all we have accomplished, will it amount to a jacket full of awards that we will never wear again, or will our life have real value?
Centuries ago, a great and wise king who had accomplished much pondered a similar thought. He came to the conclusion that everything he had done was meaningless. He gave great reflection on his life in search of true value and meaning and came to this conclusion:
"The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgement with every secret thing, weather good or evil."
Some of us are real estate agents, some of us sell tools, some of us are professors, some of us are musicians, some of us are in ministry. We all have something that we do for a living.
Many of us earn rewards along the way. Some of us get trophies. Some of us get raises. Some of us get PhD's. Some of us get respect.
We find our value in our accomplishments. We sell more than our coworkers. We write more books than our peers. We pastor a church with 500 members.
None of these things are bad. The problem comes when we fool ourselves into thinking these meaningless matters really matter. At the end of our lives when we enter into our eternal home, I suspect we will look back and view these accomplishments that seem so amazing and important now in the same way we view school awards. We think it means something now, but in the long run, it means nothing.
When you work toward a goal, ask yourself why you are doing it.
Are you trying to gain respect? Then in the long run it will mean nothing.
Are you doing it for your pleasure? Then in the long run it will mean nothing.
Are you doing it because you want others to like you? Then in the long run it will mean nothing.
Are you doing it because you want to be in control? Then in the long run it will mean nothing.
Are you doing it because you want power? Then in the long run it will mean nothing.
Are you doing it to gain God's favor? Then in the long run it will mean nothing.
Are you doing it for yourself? Then in the long run it will mean nothing.
Everything you do to put another patch on your life's letter jacket is ultimately meaningless. Anything you do in obedience to God has real meaning.