Back in January, I boarded a flight returning from the Dominican Republic. When I fly, I rarely talk much to my fellow passengers, but since it was going to be a few hours, and I was in the middle seat, I decided we all ought to get to know one another because we might have to negotiate bathroom visits and such.
What I soon learned was that both of my seatmates had been in the country on medical mission trips. The man to my right was a physician with a major-league baseball team whose organization sponsors medical trips every year. The woman to my left was from Atlanta and was volunteering with a religious organization. She had been participating in similar medical relief work in the Dominican Republic and in neighboring Haiti. Ironically, I, the pastor in the middle, had been sitting on the beach at a resort.
I'll never forget my conversation with the woman. Sitting there together, I was tanned and rested and, by contrast, she looked ragged and worn out. And after hearing about all her hard work, I said to her, "I bet that you are exhausted!" But then she surprised me by responding, "I am exhausted, but I feel so good."
In the New Testament epistle 1 Timothy, the author writes, "Tell those rich in this world's wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they'll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life" (1 Timothy 6:17-18, "The Message").
I do not know the financial status of the woman sitting next to me on the plane that day, but I do know that she is rich in "doing good and helping others" as she shared with others from the vast resources of her life. And according to the letter to Timothy, she is truly living.
Of course, you do not have to go on a foreign mission trip to do good work for others. In fact, I see people doing good every week right in the church that I serve.
They are Richard and Celeste who go out of their way each Sunday to pick up Jeri, a woman with cerebral palsy who would be unable to come to worship otherwise. June delivers flowers and communion to shut-ins. Nan devotes many weeknights during the school year coordinating a tutoring program in the church fellowship hall for neighborhood youth. Amy crafts quilts for the bereaved, and Roberta knits prayer shawls for the shut-ins. Mike brings donuts every week to share, and Todd makes sure the building is operating.
You know these people, too. They are the countless people who go out of their way to make life a little better for others in any number of ways—serving hot meals downtown at Stewpot Community Services, picking up trash along neighborhood streets, reading with elementary school children in Jackson, building a Habitat for Humanity house. This list goes on and on, but you get the picture. If you ask any of these why they do it, the likely response is, "Because when I do it, I feel so good." Each of them is rich—rich in "doing good and helping others" as they share their lives and resources with other people.
So often, we are led to believe that the "good life" is attained by amassing all that we can. In this way of thinking, we only look at how much wealth we have collected as a measure of success.
The true measure of a good life, however, does not come by examining your bank account but only when you examine your heart. Is it beating merely to give you life or is it beating in order that you might give life to others?
Do good and be rich in helping others. Then and only then will you know what it means to truly live.