What would you do if you had only twenty minutes left to live?
When Cynthia Manley realized she had twenty minutes left to live, she figured the best thing she could do with the time she had left was to send messages to her daughters. Her daughter, Alanna, was a student at Seattle University. She texted, “Stay strong and no matter what happens take care of you and sis. Find a way to get to California and be together soon and be a family. I love you so much.” To her other daughter, Alyssa, she wrote, “No matter what happens get your degree! Have a good life and be successful! And take care of your sister.”
It turned out Cynthia Manley had much more than twenty minutes to live. In fact, she and most of the state of Hawaii are still alive today. Maybe you remember hearing how in January of 2018, a state worker chose the wrong menu item for the state alert system and sent an alert to the entire island that said, “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.” For about a half hour, many people in the state thought they were just about to die in a nuclear blast.
Fortunately, it was a happy ending for just about everyone except the guy who sent out the wrong message alert. In fact, it could have been a gift to some people. What if it caused them to think about what really matters in life?
I wonder what I would do. I’d like to think that I’d contact my family and tell them I love them and it will be OK to let me go, and that I’d find the most crowded place I could and give my very best and my very last altar call sermon. Either way, that thought of just twenty minutes left to live gives some real perspective to what’s important and what we’re doing right now.
That alert is not altogether unlike an alert that’s in the Bible, that should literally guide how we live every day. Whether it happens in twenty minutes or twenty years, we will all one day stand before God and give an account for our lives. Jesus may return in a few weeks or a few centuries. We don’t know when that day will be, but we do know that we will not be here forever. We can be certain of that.
If you follow Jesus, the conversation on that day is already loosely scripted. In Matthew 25:23, Jesus said it will go something like this: “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’”
It is only by faith in Jesus that we go to heaven. But there are three things you can effect that will last beyond your time on earth: who you become in Christ, the glory you bring to His Christ, and the impact you have on other people.
I’m not certain if your dog or cat will go to eternity. I’d like to think so. But I do know your stuff doesn’t. Most of all, I am certain that you, God, and others are all eternal. Because His glory endures forever, everything we do to add to it endures forever as well. Because you last forever, everything you do to change, grow, and become more like Jesus will go on forever too. Because the people around you are eternal, every time you touch someone’s life, that impact will go on and on and on.
Today, we’re going to focus on the impact you have on others. In 2 Corinthians 5:10–11, Paul said, “For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body. Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others.”
What we do with people doesn’t get us into heaven, but it will go with us to heaven. Everyone who believes in Jesus goes to heaven, and everyone who goes to heaven will be rewarded according to what we’ve done with other people.
And what are we supposed to do with other people? Paul showed us the first step in 2 Corinthians 5. He said, “We try to persuade others.” Every person we lead to Jesus will spend eternity with Him. Therefore, there’s really no better use of our time and our lives than to help others get to know Jesus.
Some are ready. Some are not.
Now I wish I could give you one simple formula for persuading people that would actually work every time. However, if just telling people how, would actually convert everyone, the job would already be done. The problem is that different people are at different stages in their journey toward Jesus. Some are ready to hear the Good News. Some are directly opposed to it.
So I don’t have an exact formula for you to use. However, I do have a place where you can start with just about anyone with five easy-to-remember words. Craig Groeschel (Grow-shell) uses these words for his volunteers, but they are actually five great words to reach out to anyone. These five words open doors with atheists as well as Christians who have just sort of drifted away. They are, “I notice, and you matter.”
You may not have the right answer for every question. You may not have a persuasive speech or a world-rocking testimony. But you can notice people and let them know they matter to you. Almost everyone responds to being considered. Your efforts may or may not lead to their eventual conversion, but at least it’s a place you can start with anyone.
The Little Things
Remember Matthew 25, where Jesus said, “Well done, good and faithful servant, come and share your master’s happiness”? If you go down a few more verses, Jesus gives a little more explanation of that day: “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25:37–40).
A cup of water counts
On the day you meet Jesus, more than anything, you’ll care about where you stood with Him on earth. The next thing you’ll care about is how you touched the lives of others. The cool thing about it is the bar is not set that high for touching a life. It’s not too hard to make someone else feel like they matter. Jesus made it clear it’s not difficult at all to receive a reward on the Last Day. In Matthew 10:42 Jesus said, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.”
Did you get that? That counts. A cup of water counts. I love it. It’s like Jesus is saying, “Just get beyond yourself in any way, and I’ll take it.” You opened the door for the guy in the wheelchair? It counts. You smiled at that grumpy lady with the yippy dog next door? It counts. You complimented your husband? It counts. Even a little tiny compliment can have an eternal impact.
A little compliment can be a big deal. But here’s my problem with this. Most of us are sadly self-focused. I kind of see it like there are different tiers or levels of selflessness. I’m not saying God sees it this way. I’m just sharing this idea to explain how I want to grow and where I want to go in this area of my life.
Let’s call the starting level the Kindergarten of Kindness. The Kindergarten of Kindness is when you don’t shove other people out of the way to get to recess or you no longer have to be the smartest or strongest person in the room. I feel like most of us have graduated from Kindergarten Kindness. But I know, some days we wonder.
I would guess a lot of us are actually stuck at the Elementary School level. That’s the kind of selflessness where you can let other people go before you. You can share with others. When people are with you, you make an effort to put them first. But like a grade-school kid, when they are out of sight, they are out of your mind. Maybe you’ve been stuck at that level for a while and are ready to go beyond that. That would take to the High School level (We don’t do middle school in this scenario.)
I think the High School level of selflessness is when people aren’t with you, yet you think about them, you pray for them, you consider how you can be a blessing to them. The College level of kindness is not only to think about other people often when they aren’t with you, but also to sacrifice your own well-being, your own comfort, your own stuff to help them. These are the people who turn their families into orphanages because they just can’t quit bringing kids into their homes. These are the people who move to a third world country to bring people into the kingdom. Of course, Jesus gave us the ultimate example as He sacrificed His life for us even while we were still enemies of God.
Again, I am not saying God sees selfishness in this tier sort of way, but it does give us an idea of how to examine our kindness and how to grow in it.
If reaching out to others begins with “I notice, and you matter,” then how does it go to the next step? How do we get beyond the Kindergarten of Kindness to the upper levels? Again, I don’t have the formula, but I do have a method. You should know, however, that if you actually do what I am about to tell you, your life will be different from this moment on. It’s super simple, but it’s going to change everything and it’s going to radically change what happens on that day when you must give an account for how you touched others.
You might not be surprised to hear it’s found in a prayer. But it’s not a prayer that you will say once and move on. This actually has to become a new spiritual discipline for you and me. It has to become a regular part of your prayer life and a regular part of every day. Pray it every time you see someone in pain. Pray it every time God brings someone to mind. Pray it every time you notice someone and want to make sure they know they matter.
I promise you, if you will honestly pray this prayer every single day about someone, your life will change. Are you ready for it? Are you ready to graduate? Here it is: “Lord, what do they need?” And there’s a second part to it: “What should I do?” Do you see how that can change everything? Let me show you how it can work.
Let’s say you have a friend who lost a loved one a month ago. What do you do? If you’re like me, you say, “I’m so sorry. Let me know if I can help in any way?” And what do they say? “Just pray for us.” So you promise that you will, then you forget, and not much actually happens except you feel a little awkward the next time you run into the friend because you know in your mind you didn’t actually pray for them.
Now imagine after you find out about that person’s loss and before you say anything, you pray, “Lord, what do they need?” Then a thought comes to your mind. “They need to know they aren’t alone.” Then you pray, “What should I do?” Not long after your prayer, you have an idea to take them to lunch. So when you call, you don’t give the usual, almost impossible-to-answer question of “How can I help?” Instead, you say, “Can I take you out to lunch?” And just like that, you’re up in the stratosphere of serving.
This prayer is so small, but it is so big at the same time. Think of how our lives, church, and community would change if we all would make this a regular discipline where every day we pray for someone else. What if this prayer was as much a part of your day every day as brushing your teeth or combing your hair? There’s no way we can do this for everyone. But we can easily do this for someone, anyone.
It works at so many levels. It can work for the mean person who is working at the government office while you are standing in line. “God, what do they need?” I think they might need a little compassion. “What should I do?” I could tell them that I notice and appreciate how hard they work. It counts.
This prayer can work instantly. You can see a homeless guy and right there pray, “God, what does he need?” Dignity comes to mind. “God, what do You want me to do?” I think God might want me to go over to him, look him in the eye, shake his hand, and ask him if I can pray for him. It counts.
This prayer can be repeated for weeks for big issues. You might pray every day, “God, my daughter is struggling. What does she need?” One day it comes to you: “She needs to know I’m there for her no matter what.” Then you can pray, “God, what do You want me to do?” And the idea might come: “Find a way to reach out toward her every day and keep praying.” It counts.
It can happen with that jerk at work or school whom nobody likes. Pray, “God, what does that jerk need?” If God says, “He needs a hug,” you can pray, “Well, God, please bring someone who will give him one.”
It’s an effective prayer. But I want to warn you that it’s also a dangerous prayer.
James 4:17 says, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” The danger with praying this prayer is that as things come to mind, you need to follow through.
For example, what if it went like this:
“God, what does that couple You brought to my mind this morning need?”
“They need a car for their daughter.”
“What do You want me to do?”
“Give them one.”
Wow! All of a sudden, we’re playing with the big boys of faith. That’s College-Level Kindness.
So look, would you consider joining me in this? Would you start by finding one person every day where your actions say, “I notice and you matter”? Then would you pray these prayers just once a day for just one person a day? Maybe even pray for the same person every day for a few weeks. God may not immediately answer every prayer. And I don’t think you’ll have to buy anyone a car. But I’m certain that sooner or later God will bring some ideas to mind.
And if you will do it, on that last day, you’ll be so glad you did. And until the Last Day, your life will be packed full of ministry stories.
I want to challenge you all: Let’s try it every day this next week and see if anything happens. If this could be a daily discipline, I believe every single one of us will have scores of stories to tell about how God used us, included us, scared us, and came through for us.
What an adventure we are all about to live! I don’t want this to just be a nice sermon where people say, “that was a great message.” I am honestly praying this is the beginning of everything changing about your life, my life, and about the church.
Let’s pray: Father, thank You for the kindness You have shown to us. Thank You for our salvation. I pray that You would help us notice others because they matter to You. Remind us to seek Your will and Your plans for them. Please show us how we can make a difference and touch one life every day. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.