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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Dr. J. Vernon McGee :: What Do You Do With Your Burdens?

Dr. J. Vernon McGee :: What Do You Do With Your Future?

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What Do You Do With Your Future?


Are you entering this year as an unguided missile? Multitudes are — including many Christians — and before the year has concluded, they will have done an inestimable amount of damage. The entire human family faces this coming year with mingled feelings, different degrees of uncertainty, misgivings, and insecurity. “What does the future hold for me?” is a reasonable question that every normal individual is bound to ask.

If I could peer into a crystal ball and determine every event that will take place in the future, I’d be the most popular person in Los Angeles. Washington would be calling me — I’m confident of that. The White House would be in close touch with me, and the capitals of the world would make contact. Also, every car driving out to the Santa Anita Race Track would come by my place! My friend, today many are posing as prophets, and they say, “I predict so-and-so for this coming year.” But no man can know the future. No man stands in such a unique position.

There is an axiom that we can put down, and it is this: The past cannot be changed. It is likewise axiomatic that the future cannot be known. As we scan the horizon, looking for the dawn of a new day, we cannot see clearly. Anything that’s in the future must be very hazy to us. In fact, there is a total blackout as far as being able to determine what the future holds. And the Scriptures make that very clear to us. The writer of the Proverbs stated it well:

Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. (Proverbs 27:1)

And you’ll find that Isaiah had a great deal to say along this line. In speaking of evil men, he used language like this:

Come, say they, I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink, and tomorrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant. (Isaiah 56:12)

Many prognosticators — as they look into the new year — are predicting prosperity. Well, they could be right and they could be wrong. No man knows the future at all. And that’s what James says (if we have a text at all, the following verse must be it):

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the next day. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. (James 4:14)

You see, it’s not that the future is unknown. It’s not that time is like a runaway truck going down a grade on the Ridge Route, careening from side to side, without brakes or a steering wheel, and the only thing sure is that it will crack up at the bottom of the hill. Time is not like that. There is Someone today at the controls. There is Someone who does know the route. There is a mighty hand upon the steering wheel of time, my beloved. God knows the end from the beginning. And the writer of the psalms expresses it in a very, very significant manner: “…From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” (Psalm 90:2). In the Hebrew language it is really more picturesque than that. Literally it is “from the vanishing point of eternity past to the vanishing point of eternity future, thou art God.” Today there is calm about God’s throne as He enters into the future, because known unto God is everything that is in the future. So, you see, today the difficulty is not that the future is unknown, because the future is not unknown. It is man who is uncertain. Man is the unknown quantity in the equation of life. Man is the one for whom you have to put down an “x.”

Listen to James 4:14 again. “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the next day.” Why don’t we? Well, because the difficulty is within ourselves. “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” Today your life and my life are like the vapor that appears on the hillside, and the oncoming sun drives it away. Here in Los Angeles we are like a little bit of smog. That’s all we are. It appears for a little while, and then it just disappears. Isaiah was quoting our Lord when he said:

The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, because the breath of the LORD bloweth upon it; surely the people are grass. (Isaiah 40:6, 7)

My friend, today your life and my life are just like the grass that’s out in the front lawn. It won’t take much of a frost to kill it. Or in the summer neglect watering your lawn for awhile, and it won’t be long until it disappears. Your life and my life today are like a little bit of mist on a hillside or like a little grass in the valley.

The Scriptures describe it further by saying it is like the flight of a bird, the passage of a bird out of darkness through a window into a lighted room and then out another window into the darkness. It is like the passage of a ship in the night. Because of the brevity of life, you and I look vainly into the future, and God says to us that we know not what a day will bring forth.

Now I’d like us to make a brief analysis of our lives. There is a verse of Scripture to which I’d like to turn your attention. It is filled with a wealth of meaning. Notice carefully:

And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

What is your life? Well, your life is body, soul, and spirit. We are triune beings. Let’s look at these three different components into which you and I are divided.

The Body

The Greek word Paul uses for the body is interesting. Soma is the word. The body is the somatic side of us, and we’re hearing so much of it — the physical and the material. The emphasis is right at that point today. Everything in this life is geared to it. The entire program of the world is directed toward the physical man. Television, radio, newspapers, magazines, billboards pro-mote pastes and powders, perfumes and pills for the physical man; there are liquids and soaps and shampoos and tonics, and each one of them contains a “miracle” ingredient. They come in boxes and bottles and tubes and in plastic containers. You can pour them on, you can sprinkle them on, you can rub them on, or you can get the large economy size and go swimming in the gooey stuff. Also, there is a phenomenal interest in health foods and in diets of every description and in exercises for physical fitness. All these things are designed to make you a new person physically — take inches off the waist and add years to your life span.

My beloved, the body is important. It is one-third of man. We’re told that it is made up of fifteen chemical elements. Some waggish chemist years ago figured that if you took man all apart and collected each of these fifteen chemical elements and sold them on the market, at that time they would have sold for $0.98. But don’t let that disturb you, because inflation has increased your value considerably. However, this same waggish chemist went on to find that there is enough phosphorus in us to make the heads on eleven matches and enough lime in us to whitewash a chicken coop. Sometimes we say, “My, So-and-so has a lot of iron in his system.” Well, he has only enough to make three shingle nails. And sometimes a fellow comes to the conclusion that some little girl is all sugar. May I say to you that there’s not enough sugar in her to sweeten a cup of cold coffee.

My friend, man physically is not very much. His body is not very valuable. Actually, it disintegrates right back into the earth. “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19).

However, may I say to you today that God has put a value even on the physical man, and for the Christian He says, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

But only one-third of man, at most, is physical. When you consider the relative value of the body, you must turn to the words of our Lord when He says, “Is not the life more than food and the body than raiment?” (Matthew 6:25). The whole philosophy of the world is expressed in a verse of Scripture:

And, behold, joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine; let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die. (Isaiah 22:13)

That’s such an important verse that Paul quoted it in 1 Corinthians 15. He quoted it in order to be able to say that no Christian can live by that philosophy of life because these bodies that we are living in today are crumbling; they’re falling down; they’re fading away. John Adams, second President of the United States, after he’d passed the age of 90, was taking a walk one day in Boston, Massachusetts. He met a friend who said, “How are you today, Mr. Adams?” He said, “Well, I’m fine, but this house that I live in is growing very feeble, and I suspect I’ll be moving out of it before long.”

Oh, I don’t mean to be a pessimist, but look around you at the throngs of people. One out of one hundred will not be here next year. You won’t be here long, my friend. Isaiah again says, “Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils” (Isaiah 2:22). This is very picturesque language that Isaiah uses. Literally it is, “Cease ye from man, whose breath stands tiptoe in his breathing places.” My friend, when you breathe it out, you do not know whether you’re going to pull it back in or not. And one of these days you won’t. Because of that fact, as we look into the future it must be with an element of uncertainty, for man physically is not something you can depend upon.

The Soul

Paul says to the Thessalonians that there is another department of man. He calls it the soul. In the Greek language the word is psuche. We get our word “psychology” from it, and it is the psychological part of man. Somebody says, “Well, I thought the soul and the spirit were the same.” Well, the words are used interchangeably in many passages of Scripture. But the Scriptures also divide the soul and the spirit:

For the word of God is living, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit…. (Hebrews 4:12)

And only God’s Word can divide the soul and the spirit. I won’t take the time here to go into the distinction between these two but simply mention them in a cursory way. There is a difference between soul and spirit.

The soulish part of man is the mental part. It is his mind. It is the thing that puts man on a cultural level above all the other creatures that are in this world today. It has disturbed the evolu-tionist to find in the bodies of certain animals brains that are larger than man’s brain. It is hard to explain. But, you see, man is a soul, a living soul.

Several years ago there was a battle going on in the collegiate circles. I noticed that during the holidays the college professors and presidents got together, and in one convention a president certainly did tee off and express himself. He deplored our present methods of education with the emphasis on specialization. He pointed out that we are taking men and making them specialists, that we take away from them every subject but the subject they are specializing in, and we are making engineers and physicists and chemists and atomic scientists with no broad basis of education and culture. It is leading to abnormality. We’re merely turning out machines today that are like geniuses. But they are robots. And he said that the International Business Machine Company can probably turn them out just as well!

Oh, my friend, there is a part of man that appreciates the better things of life. There is a part of man that thinks.

Man, a thinking being, is defined.
Few use this grand prerogative of mind.
How few think justly of the thinking few.
How many never think who think they do.

Man is a thinking being, my beloved. And he gives estimations; he determines values; he puts a price tag on everything with which he comes in contact. He says what’s important to him. He makes decisions. This is the man who moves through life today.

But our Lord had something to say about him. In the following parable will you note that the reference is to the man’s soul and not to his spirit:

And he [Jesus] spoke a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no place to bestow my crops? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease. Eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee; then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? (Luke 12:16-20)

What a picture of man in our day! He makes all of his plans for the future. Man gathers together and accumulates that which he thinks is worthwhile, puts his price tag on them, gives his own value to them, and then sits back and says that everything is taken care of for the future, not knowing that God requires of him his soul. And in the case of the man in the parable, it was that very night. Because we do not know what a day will bring forth, we cannot boast ourselves of the morrow for we do not know what the morrow holds for us.

The Spirit

Then finally, man is a spirit. When God created man in the Garden of Eden, the record in Genesis 2:7 says that God breathed into his breathing places the breath of life. The “breath” in that passage is spirit. It is the pneumatos, the pneumatic part of man, if you please. And you say to me, “What is the spirit of man?” I do not know how I would have explained it fifty years ago, but I think today we can reach out and put our hands on an illustration that will make clear what the spirit of man is.

When I was in Chicago many years ago, there was a very fine-looking young army officer who attended the services where I was preaching. I got acquainted with him and found out that he had charge of the Nike sites that were all around Chicago at that time. They were guided missiles. He could sit at a desk with a great many gadgets in front of him. He could turn a switch, push a button, move a lever, or he could make certain adjustments that would activate one of those big missiles out yonder. It would have lifted up and started out, and it would have gone exactly where the officer wanted it to go. He said that inside that guided missile there were many little tubes and wires and gadgets, and because of those little things inside, he could guide the missile from the ground.

My friend, when God created man, He breathed into his breathing places the spirit, His own Spirit, so that instead of being down here and guiding a missile up yonder, God up yonder could guide man down here. But something happened. Something happened to the “missile.” And that’s the reason I opened this message by asking, “Are you entering the new year as an unguided missile? Multitudes are.” Because man in the Garden of Eden broke loose and that God-given spirit died within him, God could no longer press a button and guide man. God could no longer speak to man and lead him. The first man went out in rebellion against God.

May I say that when Nike went wrong in the air, it was tragedy, and it meant the destruction of Nike. When man went wrong, it was tragedy. But, honestly, it didn’t mean the destruction of man at all, for God was busy even in the Garden of Eden working to restore the communication and bring man back into fellowship so that again He would be able to push a button and guide man. If you think I’ve stepped over the bounds in an illustration, listen to the language of the Apostle Paul:

So, then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:8)

When man in the Garden of Eden fell, the spirit within him died as far as God was concerned. No longer did he have contact with God. He was in rebellion against God. And it can be said today, “They that are in the flesh cannot please God,” because even if we wanted to (which we don’t in our natural condition) we could not respond to God when He pushes the button. There is no contact.

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither, indeed, can be. (Romans 8:7)

God says that man has broken loose. No longer can He control him. He goes through this world an unguided missile. Nicodemus was a religious man whom you and I would have passed any moment, but our Lord Jesus said to him in John 3:7, “Ye must be born again.” In other words, “You’ve got to get a new nature. You’ve got to be in Christ.” When you become a new creature, old connections are broken, new connections are made, and again you can respond to the Creator. That’s the reason “ye must be born again.” Now He said to one who is born again:

They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit….The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God. (Romans 8:5, 16)

When God created mankind, He did not equip us with a steering wheel. God never put a steering wheel on any of us for the simple reason that He wants to guide us by remote control. He wants to lead us and direct us.

Little wonder that when we stand on the threshold of a new year, we peer into the future with uncertainty and ignorance, unable to penetrate the darkness. Why? Because the One at the control panel is up yonder. Some folk attempt desperately to penetrate the future, and some will even plunge defiantly into the future on their own — as unguided missiles. Is that the way you are entering this year? Notice the declaration of the Scriptures:

There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. (Proverbs 16:25)

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

The fundamental trouble today with all of us is those three little words — “his own way.” We don’t want to go God’s way. We want to go our way.

However, the Lord Jesus said,

I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:6)

Paul said yonder in Lystra,

Who in times past allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. (Acts 14:16)

But now God says, “You’ve got to come My way.” With great assurance our Lord was speaking to you and me out of the Upper Room and saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Those are dogmatic directions. As a UCLA student said to me several years ago, “That statement is too dogmatic!” I agree with him. It is dogmatic. Truth is always dogmatic. I like it that way myself.

I remember that the first time I went up to The Firs conference grounds in Bellingham, Washington, Mrs. McGee and I drove. I had been to Seattle by train but had never driven before. We spent the night in Portland, and the next morning there was a great deal of fog. When we drove out on Highway 99, I don’t know what happened — we got off 99 somehow — even before we got out of town, it seemed like to me. We drove around and couldn’t get back to where we were supposed to be. I said to my wife, “I don’t see how in the world we ever got on the wrong road with both of us driving” — me at the steering wheel and she sitting in her accustomed place. But we did. We got off the main route. And finally I said, “There’s only one thing to do, and that’s to go back and start all over again.” We turned back into Portland, and we started over again. We went into a filling station and asked a young fellow there if he knew the way to Highway 99. He had a broom in his hand and pointed with that broom in five different directions. Finally I asked him how long he’d been there. He said, “Two weeks.” I said, “You, then, don’t know?” He said he really didn’t. So I went across the street. An older man was there opening up another filling station. I said to him, “Do you know the way to get onto Highway 99?”

He said, “I certainly do. You go down here three blocks. There’s a street light. You turn right, and you continue that right until you come to another street light. Then go left, and you’re on Highway 99.”

“Are you sure?”

He looked at me in amazement. “Of course, I’m sure!” Believe me, he was dogmatic! He was dogmatic because he knew what he was talking about.

The Lord Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Friend, have you come this way? Have you come to the One who knows the way into the future? You don’t know, I don’t know, no man knows, but He knows. Let me give one final word from Scripture.

The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the word of our God shall stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

Man is as grass — and the grass withers, but the Word of God abides forever. The Bible, friend, is the only road map we have. God has given us only one road map, and it’s His Word. Oh, I wish that I could get you closer to the Word of God. I have one ambition, and that is to get more people into the Word of God. Now I don’t mean this practice of sticking it under your arm and carrying it on Sunday morning and saying, “I believe it’s God’s Word.” I mean to really dig in and know what it is all about. I wish I could get you to seriously study the Word of God in order that you might see His road map.

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth” — that’s you and that’s me. “But the word of our God shall stand forever.” We stand on the threshold of the unknown future. Paul can stand with you,

Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13, 14)

As you face the future, are you looking to Jesus Christ? Unsaved friend, have you come to Him, the One who is the way, the truth, and the life, the One who can bring you into contact with God and bring you to the Father and restore that relationship?

Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)

Examine your own heart and life. It is so easy to put up a front. It is so easy to use subterfuge. It is so easy to say things that are not true. No wonder that today multitudes have hearts filled with fears and anxiety as they look into the future. They don’t know where they are going. None of us know what a day will bring forth. God does. I urge you to put Him at the controls of your life.

What Do You Do With Your Past? ← Prior Section
What is Christmas Without the Resurrection? Next Section →
What Can Believers Do in Days of Apostasy? ← Prior Book
What is Christmas Without the Resurrection? Next Book →
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