If I was asked to identify one phrase that sums up the general mindset in our culture right now, I think it would be, “Live your best life.”
That phrase seems to be everywhere. A search for #liveyourbestlife on Instagram brings up 3.6 million posts, and lots of smiley people.
In a way I think it’s something we all aspire to. We all want to be happy, and we all want to make the most of life.
I like that the phrase recognises that one person’s “best life” may not be the same as another’s. We all have different interests, personalities, and desires, and it’s good to celebrate the diversity.
A couple of weeks ago, I began a study in the book of Proverbs, and the more I got into it, the more it seemed that what it contained was God’s advice on how to live our best lives.
It also struck me that the advice presented there about how to do this is quite different from the advice presented by culture.
“Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgement.” (Proverbs 9:10 NLT)
It starts with knowing and fearing God – not a fear that makes us cower in terror, but a reverence and a respect, recognising that he is God and we are not. Proverbs 14:27 takes it even further and describes the fear of the Lord as “a life-giving fountain.”
Much of culture’s advice on living your best life encourages you to focus on yourself. It teaches that your best life is found as you learn to know and value yourself, and discover what brings you happiness and fulfilment, but Proverbs turns that on its head, encouraging us that it begins with a focus on God.
“My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart. If you do this, you will live many years and your life will be satisfying.” (Proverbs 3:1-2 NLT)
Most of us don’t like being told what to do. This has become particularly apparent in the current pandemic where we are facing rules and restrictions greater than most of us have ever known. Whether it’s wearing masks or staying two metres apart, observing the limits on gatherings, or staying at home except under specific circumstances, there’s always resistance.
It’s fine when we agree with the rules or see the sense in them, but if we disagree or they don’t seem to fit with our particular circumstances it can be a much bigger challenge.
Proverbs repeatedly highlights that following God’s commands is the way to life. Even if we don’t always like them they are always good. Human leaders are flawed and make mistakes, but God knows what is best and has our best interests at heart.
We are called to treasure his commands, store them in our hearts, and live them out, knowing that they are not given to hinder us or to restrict us, but they are given in love, to guide us on the best path for our lives.
Culture would tell us that our best life comes from asserting our individuality and following our own desires, but Proverbs teaches that it comes from submission to God.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT)
Because “living your best life” looks different for everyone, the temptation is to depend on our own understanding. Our individualistic culture tells us “you do you”, and encourages us to see life from our own perspective and do what seems right to us.
Proverbs warns us that we should be seeking God’s will and his understanding rather than depending on our own. The verses above frame it in a positive way. Elsewhere the advice is far more blunt!
“There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.” (Proverbs 14:12, Proverbs 16:25 NLT)
Yes, exactly the same words are repeated twice in the space of a few chapters, so I’m guessing that must be significant!
Living God’s way is a tough call. Humility, submission, surrender and sacrifice don’t sound like fun, and they could not be further from the values of the world, but they are the way to our best life.
Jesus said, “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10:10 NLT)
That’s why he came, so if we want to find our best life, we have to find it in him.
“Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35 NLT)