BY PASTOR T. O. BANSO
“‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher; ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’” (Ecclesiastes 1:2 NKJV). Solomon, the writer of this book, repeats this same truth in Ecclesiastes 12:8 and talks about the vanity of life in other verses in the book.
The vanity of life is a truth that seems to be commonly known but humans live their lives ignoring it because of the deception of worldly things. But in their moment of clear-headedness and loneliness, human beings come to terms with this reality. Life is empty, meaningless, and worthless except we live it in obedience to the Word of God and in fulfilment of God’s purposes for our lives.
In this message, I want to share with you how to live a productive life. By a productive life, I mean a life that bears fruits and achieves maximally God’s purpose for it. It is not about amassing wealth, establishing a financial empire, receiving chieftaincy titles from all nooks and crannies, etc. If the life of a man can be summarized in terms of material possessions, then he is a small man. What do you need to do to live a productive life?
1.Be born again. The beginning of living a productive life is to give your life to Jesus (John 3:3-8). What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul? After you give your life to Jesus, you begin a journey in the faith and when you join a Bible-believing church, you will be taught how to live your new life in Christ Jesus and your rights and responsibilities as a child of God. It is the sincere milk of the Word of God that helps you to grow (1 Peter 2:2).
2. Fear God and keep His commandments. Ecclesiastes 12:13, says, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (NKJV). Live a God-centred life and eschew evil. Keep your focus on God and the fear of God will keep you from evil.
3. Be committed to a living church where every department of your life will be ministered to and you will flourish.“He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper” (Psalm 1:3 NKJV). The Bible says those who are planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God (Psalm 92:13). Don’t keep moving from one church to the other and hope to live a productive life. Prayerfully decide on a living church you want to belong to as an effective and functional member and settle down there. There is no perfect church. What are you looking for? The church is not heaven; all of us in the church are imperfect people. God is shaping us to become who He wants us to be.
4. Discover your purpose in life and pursue it without distraction– be sold out to it. The purpose of God for Jeremiah is contained in Jeremiah 1:5-10 and God will assess his life based on this. God will never reward any man for what He has not asked him to do. There are things we have been predestined for and that is what matters to heaven not what catches our fancy or what we are propelled by an ambition to do (Ephesians 1:11).
5. Be led by the Spirit of God – walk by the Spirit. A child of God is to be led by the Spirit of God, not to be led by the world. As many as are led by the Spirit of God they are sons of God (Romans 8:14). The life of Jesus teaches us that we should be led by the Spirit of God as He was led (Luke 4:1; Matthew 4:1). Galatians 5:18 says, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (NKJV). And Galatians 5:16 says, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (NKJV).
Walking in the Spirit is how to live the higher life because we are not being led by our senses. Those who are controlled by their senses live a lower life and their productivity in life is hampered.
6. Avoid procrastination – seize God-given opportunities as they appear. Opportunities often first pose as problems; it may be the little light heaven is giving you to step out with. Eliminate time-wasters; don’t wait for a perfect condition.
Procrastination is not only the thief of time; it is the thief of destiny. If you habitually procrastinate, you can never live a productive life because you waste so much time. Really, it is not time you are wasting, it is your life. Time is more than money; time is life. Ecclesiastes 11:4 says, “He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap” (NKJV).
7. Correct positioning – right place, right time, and right actions. A productive life is not just about labouring and sweating; it is about correct positioning. The Bible says the labour of the foolish wearies every one of them for they know not how to go to the city (Ecclesiastes 10:15). To live a productive life, your labour must be in wisdom. You have to be in the right place at the right time doing the right thing. Take note of the three components. If you get these things right, there is no way your life will not be productive.
Ecclesiastes 9:11 says, “I returned and saw under the sun that — the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all” (New King James Version).
The Living Bible renders the same verse thus: “Again I looked throughout the earth and saw that the swiftest person does not always win the race, nor the strongest man the battle, and that wise men are often poor and skillful men are not necessarily famous; but it is all by chance, by being at the right place at the right time.” To live a productive life, you must be at the right place at the right time doing the right things.
8. Shun vision-killers. Beware of critics, negative people, and zero people. Don’t be discouraged by critics; don’t surrender your life to destructive criticisms. Most criticisms are out of envy; most critics are those who have attempted and failed in what they are criticizing. Let criticisms make you better, not bitter. David shunned Eliab, his elder brother, who envied him for coming to the battlefront where he killed Goliath. He did not allow his negative comment to discourage him (1 Samuel 17:28).
He said, “What have I done now? Is there not a cause?”(Verse 29 NKJV) and just moved away from him to continue in the direction God was already stirring his spirit – to confront Goliath and kill him. Learn a lesson from David. Don’t sit down arguing with your critics or trying to convince those who don’t believe in you. Separate from them no matter how close they are to you and whatever role they had played in your life in the past. You cannot be living your life to please them while you neglect your divine purpose. For how long will you keep on despising your destiny to please them? If you separate now to pursue your life assignment, when God has proved you right, the same people will come back to you. I am not talking about the inability to walk with people, which I am going to deal with later in this message. You must know how to manage relationships.
You should also be careful with who you share your vision. Do they see themselves as your friends or your competitors? In Genesis 37, we see how Joseph’s father and brothers reacted to his dreams when he told them. His father rebuked him and kept the saying in his heart and his brothers were angry, envious, wanted to kill him, and eventually sold him into slavery.
Compare Joseph’s action to that of Saul when his uncle asked him about what Prophet Samuel told him. I Samuel 10:16 says, “So Saul said to his uncle, ‘He told us plainly that the donkeys had been found.’ But about the matter of the kingdom, he did not tell him what Samuel had said” (NKJV). Don’t share your dream with a dream-killer, those who see you as a threat and not a blessing.
9. Concentrate on your strengths; don’t exaggerate your weaknesses. Everybody has one weakness or the other. Don’t spend more of your time trying to eliminate your weaknesses that you neglect your strengths. Everybody has liabilities and assets; our real strength is in God (Psalms 84:5; 27:1, 68:35; 2 Corinthians 12:9). When you maximize your assets, no one will notice you have weaknesses. And by weaknesses, I am not talking of sin. You must repent of sin in your life especially the one that constitutes your Achilles’ heel, the sin that you are most vulnerable to.
Look at your life and ask yourself what you do best. Identify it and do it often and excellently. If you do that long enough, people will know you and associate you with it. Concentrate on your strengths and leave others to concentrate on theirs too. But let me add that you must never overestimate your strength. “No king is saved by the multitude of an army; a mighty man is not delivered by great strength” (Psalm 33:16 New King James Version).
10. Have faith in God. Live by faith, not by fear. See problems as challenges and stumbling blocks as stepping stones. Be a possibility thinker. Believe all things are possible. Have positive expectations. Believe everything shall turn out well; it shall be well. Don’t be negative about steps, results, people, actions, etc. Have a positive attitude to life – live by faith (Mark 11:22; Matthew 17:20; 21:21; 2 Corinthians 5:7; Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38; Mark 9:23; Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27).
Life is full of challenges which many see as problems. The fulfillment of your dreams doesn’t come cheap. To overcome and achieve your goal you need faith in God and the continuous hearing of the Word of God produces faith in us (Romans 10:17). If you walk by sight, you will never get anything substantial done in life; there is always a price to pay. By faith, pay the price, the prize is worth the price.
11. Invest in other people’s lives. Be part of somebody’s success and somebody’s dream. Help somebody, sow into somebody’s life. If you live for yourself alone, you’ll die a small person. The generous soul will be made rich and he that waters shall be watered (Proverbs 11:25). Give and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. The same measure that you use shall be used to measure back to you (Luke 6:38).
Don’t live for yourself; give of yourself to others. Jesus spent three and a half years pouring himself into the life of the 12 disciples and they continued his ministry after him. That was the most productive life anyone can live. As it is often said success without a successor is a failure. Joseph didn’t exploit the deficit of godly wisdom among the wise men of Pharaoh when he became the Prime Minister to make himself a tin-god. He impacted them with his wisdom. The Bible says he thought the Senators in Egypt – the king’s aides, the older men, the king’s advisers – wisdom (Psalm 105:22). He invested in them.
12. Get along with people. Develop people skills; increase your social intelligence. With God all things are possible but without the right people in your life and around you, you will achieve so little about your life’s dream. Without people-skills, you will be a lone ranger.
Don’t have a reputation for not getting along with people or of not being able to accommodate people. Be careful you don’t fall prey to the temptation of arrogance in leadership; always lead with humility no matter the height of your success. Arrogance in leadership is lethal. People may tolerate you but you have a way of still exhausting their tolerance.
In order to be able to get along with people, recognize that people are different and they have assets and liabilities just like you. They are not perfect and you are not either. Therefore walk in love and humility. Avoid strife. Learn to give people a discount in your relationship with them; be forgiving. Show gratitude and approval. Honour people and appreciate the people God has given you; don’t frustrate them.
Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (NKJV). That means you should do your best to live in peace with people and leave the rest to them. According to Hebrews 12:14, we should “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (NKJV). We are to do nothing through strife or vainglory (Philippians 2:3). Rather, we are to be patient with all (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
This earth is not meant for you alone; you need the right people to partner with you or work with you to realize your purpose in life and except you have good interpersonal skills you will put them off as they come close to you.
13. Be diligent. Don’t be slothful. Labour in the area of your grace. It was a combination of grace and labour that made Apostle Paul excel other apostles and not grace alone (1 Corinthians 15:10). The Bible does not spare the slothful but commends hard work. You cannot dream of a productive life only; you must work it out practically.
There are so many scriptures especially in the book of Proverbs on diligence, slothfulness, sluggard, laziness. I encourage you to study them. But look at what Proverbs 13:4 says, “The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich” (NKJV). Being made fat means being abundantly gratified, being richly supplied.
Proverbs 12:24 also says the hand of the diligent shall bear rule, but the slothful shall be under tribute. I love the way the Moffatt Bible puts that verse, “The diligent will get the upper hand, but slothful men will end as serfs.” What that means is that diligence will guarantee you the upper hand especially if you are a child of God. As you add diligence to grace, there is no stopping you!
14. Forget the past. This includes past failures and past successes. Don’t build monuments on them. Use your windscreen more than you use your rear mirror. Your best is still ahead. Don’t be complacent or discouraged.
There is a lesson to learn from Paul here. He said in Philippians 3:13, “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (NKJV).
If you are going to live a productive life, you cannot afford to rest on your laurels neither should you be crippled by your negative past. Bury your dead out of your sight as Abraham did. After the death of Sarah, his wife, he said, “I am a foreigner and a visitor among you. Give me property for a burial place among you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight” (Genesis 23:4 NKJV). And in Genesis 25:1, the Bible says, “Abraham again took a wife, and her name was Keturah” (NKJV). Bury your dead Sarah and marry your Keturah. From where you are, go forward. Use one achievement as a step to the next stage of God’s purpose for your life.
15. Maintain balance in your life. Your life has different departments – marriage, work, spiritual, social, etc. Let there be order; don’t live a disorderly life. The most important department of your life that will feed other departments of your life is your spiritual life. What is your relationship with God? After this, comes your family life, before you talk of your work life.
I hope you agree with that order. But if you don’t know, you will agree one day but it may be too late then. How can you promote your work life as number one? If you don’t leave that work, one day your employers will ask you to go either through retirement or reorganization. Where will you go then? You will go to the family that you’ve neglected or other employment? You will get old one day and you won’t be a good material for employment again even if you want to seek one.
Please don’t alienate yourself from your Maker. Don’t destroy your family life with your career life. Your success at work can never compensate for your failure at home. You may be a workaholic (and there is no reason for that, just be hard-working!) while your family is suffering because you are an absentee parent. You are winning awards at work but you are losing your children to the devil at home. Shouldn’t an award from your family for spending time with them at home also be as precious to you as the one from your employer? I know you are the breadwinner but that is not enough reason to allow the devil to be winning your family while you stay too long away from home. Balance!
You should balance your career life with your family life. The children you fail to spend quality and quantity time with to impact their lives in this world of no standards may turn out to embarrass you in your career by their anti-social behaviour. And they will be described as your children.
Please hear what the psalmist says in Psalm 127:1-2: “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the LORD guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so He gives His beloved sleep” (NKJV). May the LORD help you to live a balanced life that gives priority to God and the family.
16. Avoid anxiety, envy, and unforgiveness. These are three silent killers. They kill dreams and visions of people and also kill physically too. Don’t worry, don’t be jealous (envious), and don’t keep malice. Relax, God is in control. Heaven will not fall over anything you are going through now. The worst you think will happen will not happen.
God knows His thoughts towards you; they are thoughts of good and not of evil to give you a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11). That is why He told you to be anxious for nothing but with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving make all requests known unto God (Philippians 4:6). Do not be like Martha who was worried and troubled about many things. Jesus had to rebuke her but was pleased with Mary who chose to sit down quietly to listen to Jesus (Luke 10:41-42).
Please read the following scriptures on what the Bible says about forgiveness – Matthew 6:14-15; 18:21-35; Mark 11:25-26; Luke 17:3-4; 2 Corinthians 2:5-7. Also read the following scriptures on what the Bible says about envy: 1 Corinthians 3:3; Romans 13:13; 1Timothy 6:3-4; 2 Corinthians 12:20; and Galatians 5:19-21.
If you avoid in your life these three that I consider as dangerous silent-killers, you will live a productive life.
17. Be excited and enthusiastic about life, your vision, and the pursuit of it. Your enthusiasm or lack of it affects others especially those on your team and the recipient of the communication of your vision. Pursue your life with passion; communicate your vision with passion.
The unexcited and unenthusiastic will demotivate himself and others around him. He’ll be a frustrated lone-voice in the wilderness; he’ll lose his voice because he won’t see anyone coming to him. There is a shadow of doom around him and it is his own handwork. Enthusiasm generates energy within you, self-motivation which attracts people and engenders belief in your assignment.
18. Be patient. It takes time to produce a good product. Be patient with yourself. Be patient with people. Don’t bypass the divine process. Don’t take a short-cut; a short-cut will cut you short! Don’t cut corners. Everyone that cuts corners is always living in the fear of being found out. Don’t be in haste. Haste is waste; haste is stress. He that believes shall not make haste.
In Genesis 8:1, the Bible says, “Then God remembered Noah…” (NKJV). But that was after about 150 days of water prevailing upon the earth (Genesis 7:24). Don’t be in haste if you want to live a productive life. Only those who walk and work in faith and patience inherit the promises (Hebrews 6:12).
If you will meditate on this message, you are guaranteed a productive life. Be a doer of the word and not a reader alone! It is well with you in Jesus’ name.
If you are not born again, you need to give your life to Jesus now. I urge you to take the following steps: *Admit you are a sinner and you cannot save yourself and repent of your sins. *Confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. *Renounce your past way of life – your relationship with the devil and his works. *Invite Jesus into your life. *As a mark of seriousness to mature in the faith, start attending a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church. There they will teach you how to grow in the Kingdom of God.
Kindly say this prayer now: O Lord God, I come unto you today. I know I am a sinner and I cannot save myself. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross to save me and resurrected the third day. I repent of my sins and confess Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I surrender my life to Jesus now and invite Him into my heart. By this prayer, I know I am saved. Thank you, Jesus, for saving me and making me a child of God.
I believe you have said this prayer from your heart. Congratulations! You will need to join a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church in your area where they will teach you how to live your new life in Christ Jesus. I pray that you flourish like the palm tree and grow like the cedar of Lebanon. May you grow into Christ in all things and become all God wants you to be. I will be glad to hear from you. The LORD be with you.
T. O. Banso is the President, Cedar Ministry International, Abuja, Nigeria.
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