They conquered lands. They ruled nations. They accomplished feats no other did. And yet, in the end, every one of them was disappointed. Consider the following:
- Alexander the Great conquered Persia, but broke down and wept because his troops were too exhausted to push on to India.
- Hugo Grotius, the father of modern international law, said at the last, “I have accomplished nothing worthwhile in my life.”
- John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the U.S. wrote in his diary: “My life has been spent in vain and idle aspirations, and in ceaseless rejected prayers that something would be the result of my existence beneficial to my species.”
- Robert Louis Stevenson wrote for his epitaph, “Here lies one who meant well, who tried a little, and failed much.”
- Cecil Rhodes opened up Africa and established an empire. His dying words were, “So little done, so much to do.”
(McCullogh, Donald. “The Pitfalls of Positive Thinking.” Christian Times, September 6, 1985).
On a surface, physical level, these men accomplished remarkable things in their lives. Despite their achievements, they all had at least one thing in common: they felt their life’s accomplishments were inadequate.
But why would they feel this way? Surely they understood they were making history. Surely they understood they were some of the most prominent and powerful men on the earth. So why would they feel their accomplishments were so empty? If we are allowed to venture a guess, it is because the accomplishments were all physical and temporary. What they actually accomplished would not reach past this life. Their influence would stop with this life. Nothing eternally beneficial was actually done.
If we’re being honest, we too struggle with similar thoughts. Is what we are doing really making a difference? It’s humbling to think that we are “but a vapor” in the grand scheme of things (James 4:14). No matter how many great, noble, and glorious things we do in this life, if all we do is succeed physically then we too will share in those men’s disappointments. Even the great Solomon came to the same conclusion when he tested all parts of life and found them to be “vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2; 12:8).
So what should we do to lead a truly fulfilling life? It’s actually pretty simple. First, get yourself to heaven by fearing God and keeping His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; John 14:15). Second, get as many of your family to heaven as you can (Luke 15:11-32). Third, get as many others to heaven as you can (Matthew 28:19-20).
If at the end we make it to heaven, then we’ve lived a truly fulfilling life.
If at the end we have helped our family make it to heaven, then we’ve lived a truly fulfilling life.
If at the end we’ve helped other people get to heaven, then we’ve lived a truly fulfilling life.
Don’t lead a disappointing life that focuses only on this world. If we want to live a fulfilling life, then let’s focus on eternally significant things.