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Description: Are we still trying to persuade ourselves that we are self-existent beings, having the weight of our lives on ourselves? Is anyone in control?
The Purpose of Existence
Sermon Transcript by Reverend Ernest O’Neill
Let’s imagine that we are driving a jaunting cart on a winding, hilly, Irish country road. A
jaunting cart is a spring cart like an old-fashioned surrey except that it is just two wheels. As we
are driving along we see an old, old man carrying a heavy stack of wood on his back. He is bent
under the load. As we draw level with him we call to him, “Would you like a ride?” He looks up
gratefully and says, “Yes, thank you.” He climbs laboriously up on the cart beside us and our old
horse strains to get the momentum going as we head for the hill.
Then as it’s straining like mad to pull us up the hill, we happen to look around and the old man is
sitting there with the stack of wood still on his shoulders and his face red with the strain of
balancing this thing on his shoulders. We say, “Listen, why don’t you set the wood down beside you
on the seat? What’s the sense of carrying it on your shoulder?” He says, “Oh, no sir. I’m grateful
for you giving me a ride, I wouldn’t ask you and the old horse to carry my wood as well.” And the
old horse would feel like turning around and saying, “If you were between the shafts like I am, you
would know who is pulling that wood up this hill!” Because whether it is sitting on his shoulders or
not, we are still carrying it for him.
It is interesting, because it is utterly unreal on his part, isn’t it? He is not being realistic. He
isn’t actually carrying the wood. Our old horse and cart are carrying the wood. It is not realistic
at all, the way he is looking at things. Because of that lack of realism he is living under a lot
more strain than he needs to live under. He could have set that wood beside him and sat back and
enjoyed the ride. He certainly is living under a lot of strain that he doesn’t need to live under.
Thirdly, he isn’t being quite fair to us, is he? He is showing us gratitude for giving him a ride
but he is still trying to hold on to some sense of gratification. “Well, they may be giving me a
ride, but at least I’m carrying my own burden.” He still has the feeling, “Well, actually I’m doing
this myself, though they happen to have given my body a ride.”
That’s exactly the same as the situation between you and your Creator. He is carrying and has
carried you every second of your life. You couldn’t turn your head at this moment if he didn’t
continue to hold together the molecules that constitute your vertebrae and your neck. You couldn’t
even think through the end of this sentence I’ve just spoken if he weren’t holding together the
elements of logic and enabling your mind to understand those elements of logic.
Yet, you know our relationship with him is shot through with the same unreality as that old man’s
relationship to us. Our relationship is shot through with the whole feeling of independence that we
have. We are carrying some of it by our own independent strength. Yet it isn’t true at all. You
think that you are sitting still at this moment; you think you are sitting in one place. You’re not.
You’re moving at hundreds of miles an hour at this moment. Since I started this sentence, you’ve
already travelled thousands of miles through space in a very complex orbit due to the turning of the
earth on its own axis and its passage around the sun.
Yet you and I will get up at the end of this service and walk out the door and we will be utterly
convinced that we have done it by our own strength, without anyone’s help. We are so delighted when
we do it fast, never realizing that this dear God has already propelled us through thousands of
miles of space without any effort on our part at all.
Loved ones, that attitude of ours is so deeply ingrained in us. It’s the attitude that says, “Oh,
yes, but I can still do these things myself. I am doing them myself. My life is dependent on my own
efforts and on nobody else’s.” That attitude is so deeply ingrained in us, that, of course, we end
up in hideous positions of strain and tension. We are bound to end up in those ways.
You have only to think of one poor guy standing upside down in Australia. The only reason it is
possible is if some other being is holding the laws of gravity in position. Otherwise that little
guy is going to fall off Australia. Underneath our life there are all kinds of situations like that
that are only possible if there is some power or force that is holding this thing together.
It breaks upon us at times with cancer, doesn’t it? I think many of us are getting over the idea
that cancer is in itself as threatening as
often the emotional name “cancer” is. Nevertheless, it does bewilder us, this multiplication of
cells, doesn’t it? We are all aware however successful our professional lives are, however healthy
we are keeping ourselves, we still can point to some guy or girl who did exactly what we did, had
just as happy and successful a life, and yet in a flash some cell began to over-multiply and no
doctor could keep it back, however much he cut out of their body.
Isn’t it true, that whether it’s the Dow Jones going through the roof and then coming back down
again, or whether it’s the interest rates going sky high, or whether it is some fellow in Iran doing
something ridiculous, all of us know fine well that there are a thousand different factors that
affect our lives that we cannot control? That’s what causes us incredible tension and strain, isn’t
it? We like to try to think that we can control it all. We are like the old man; the attitude is so
ingrained in us that we can’t stop it even when we come against problems such as the ones we listed.
Even when we see there are obvious examples of factors and forces that we cannot control, yet we
still hold on to this idea that somehow we are controlling it. It’s up to us to control it by our
own strength and effort. Yet deep, deep down we know that here we are on this piece of earth, and
the shots of Saturn and other planets serve to impress on us that this earth is miniature; it’s like
a little tiny marble in the mass of space, and it’s going through the air thousands of miles an
hour. How do we know; why should we believe, that we will stay on it? How do we know it won’t crash,
it won’t collide? Loved ones, despite that, we still keep up the age-old deception and strain that
that old man had, as he sat on the cart carrying his burden. We still keep trying to persuade
ourselves that we are actually self-existent beings; the weight of our lives is on ourselves. There
really isn’t any being who is looking after every little event.
Now, loved ones, it is our dear Father’s task to convince each one of us in the seventy-or-so years
that we have on earth that he is carrying our stack of wood as well as carrying us. That’s what our
dear Father is intent on doing and for the same reasons that we would want to convince the old man
of that fact. The result is that we will begin to live realistically and in real dependence and
trust in him as our Father, on whom all things depend. That’s our Father’s task.
I’ll tell you how he does it. He constantly gives us commands that we know deep down are right, but
we can only obey them if we trust him. Here’s one, loved ones, if you will look at it. They are
verses that I don’t think you have often looked at. Yet they are relevant to our twentieth century
rushing kind of life. I think we will all see ourselves in these verses without any trouble. James
4:13-16: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a
year there and trade and get gain’; whereas you do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For
you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the
Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All
such boasting is evil.”
Yet you know what we say. We say, “Listen, you have to set goals for your life. Now isn’t that true?
That’s self-evident; everybody knows that. You have to set goals for your life.” You know as I say
that, loved ones, all our minds agree and we say, “Yes, obviously that is a self-evident truth that
was given right to Adam in the Garden of Eden.” Of course, it wasn’t at all, but we are utterly
convinced that setting goals for your life is right. We are convinced it is a godly and right thing
to do. So we set our goals and feel justified in setting them. We set goals for our professional
lives, our family lives, our marital lives, our financial lives, our entertainment lives, our
Then do you know what we do? We worry, worry, worry, worry about how far we are from those goals,
how near we are to those goals, or whether we are on the way to fulfilling those goals. We make up
little laws with which we beat ourselves over the head for the rest of our lives. All of us little
beetles and insects and flies are flying around the earth with our own little goals trying to wear
ourselves out getting to our little goals. Instead our Father wanted us to live each day fully
knowing he had tomorrow taken care of.
We all say, “Well, it is just irresponsible to live a day at a time and do what lies to your hand
with all your heart. That’s irresponsible!” Of course, that’s what God wants us to do. He wants us
to do what lies to our hand with all our hearts, enjoying today and letting tomorrow take care of
itself, but you can’t do that unless you can really trust that there is some great computer-mind up
there that is taking all the events and circumstances, all the achievements and failures and all the
things you do and don’t do, and is weaving them into the pattern that he has in mind for your life.
Unless you believe that, unless you trust him to do that, you have real trouble with the command “Do
not be anxious about tomorrow”. Do you see that? The very reason he gives us that command is to let
us see that you are not obeying it. That’s not just so that we will be discontented with ourselves,
but so that we will see that the reason we are not obeying it is because there is some huge area of
our lives connected with our futures or our present that we are not leaning on God for. There is
some stack of wood that we are trying to carry ourselves.
Now, loved ones, that’s the purpose of God’s commands. We often think the purpose of God’s commands
is so that we will obey them, but the purpose of God’s commands is to drive us to see that if we
trust him and lean on him, his commands will not any longer be commands but descriptions of our
lives. So, in a sense, God expects us not to be able to obey the commands unless we are actually
trusting him, living in trust and faith in him.
Now that’s what this verse that we are studying today says, loved ones. It would just summarize the
truth that we have been discussing. Romans 11:32; “For God has consigned all men to disobedience,
that he may have mercy upon all.” That’s it! He has consigned us all to disobedience, he has given
us commands that we can’t do anything else but disobey so that we will come and lean on him and find
out that his horse and cart is actually carrying us as well as the stack of wood that we are
carrying. That’s his purpose; that’s why God gives us these commands.
One of the most obvious commands is the one about choosing a life partner. It’s in I Thessalonians
4:4: “That each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor, not in the
passion of lust like heathen who do not know God.” So each of us who are not married, that’s what we
want to do. We say to ourselves, “I don’t want to choose somebody just because I want to jump into
bed with them. I don’t want to choose somebody because I am overcome with my own desire for
satisfaction. I want to choose a wife or husband in holiness and honor. I want to have God first.”
So we try to do that and three or four days later we have the old binoculars out again searching,
because we think we should help God a little. We do it because deep down we don’t trust him. That’s
it! We don’t trust him for that. That’s why we have trouble with the lusting. It’s stupid. We think
we have trouble with lusting because there is something wrong with our emotional life. No! We have
trouble with the lusting, we have trouble with the going out searching, we have trouble with the
looking all the time, the watching, trying to make good impressions — we have trouble with that
strain because we don’t trust him.
We have this stack of wood that is called marriage and we are carrying it on our back. We will not
lay it on the cart and say, “Father, will you carry this? Whatever you want to do with it, you are
the boss. You know my nature, you made me, and you know me better than I know myself. You know if
I’ll be happy married; you know if I’ll be happy not married. You know who I’ll be happy married to.
Lord, there it is; it’s in your hands. I’m going to do what you told me to do–enjoy my life and
live fully–and I’ll leave that in your hands.” Suddenly the lusting becomes no problem because we
are happy, we are fulfilled, we are satisfied deep down with our lives.
Now, I’d say to you, “Do you have any disobedience in your life? Do you have any command of God that
you are finding difficulty obeying?” Well, now will you stop for a minute trying to obey and will
you begin to ask your dear Father, “Lord, I can’t breathe if you didn’t give me the power. I would
burst apart at his moment if you didn’t exercise control over the parts of my body. Lord, everything
I know is dependent on you. Father, will you show me if there is some area of my life which I have
not put into your hands and I’m trying to laboriously carry on my own shoulders?”
Loved ones, it will take some time and some real desire on your part to find that out. It will,
because here is the strange thing. We are so contorted, we human beings. If we said to the old man,
“Look, why don’t you put your wood down on the seat? Why bother trying to hold it on your shoulders
when the horse is pulling both it and you?” The old man would probably smile rather sheepishly and
say, “Well, I suppose you are right. I could sit back and relax and kind of pretend that I’m
carrying it. Okay.” God gives us a command: “Why don’t you leave your burden down and let me carry
it and sit back and enjoy the ride?” Do you know what we say? We lie back, balancing the burden on
one hand and we say, “Is this the way I would be relaxing if you were carrying the wood which I know
you are really carrying?” That’s what we say. We are dumb.
We say, “Well, I don’t want to trust you with my marriage, but I won’t lust. I won’t lust.” Or “I
won’t worry about tomorrow, I won’t, I’m going to set my goals, but I won’t worry about tomorrow.”
We are mad. We determine to obey God’s commands, which can only be obeyed if we are trusting him, we
determine to obey them without trusting him. We are so stupid!
Loved ones, that’s why God gives us such a hard time. That’s why so many of us have trouble with
obedience. The problem is not the obedience, the problem is us contorting our sin or compounding our
sin a second time by trying to look as if we are obeying without obeying.
The real problem is we need to ask God to show us what is wrong in our trust of him in that area of
our lives that makes us disobey him so continually. We are not meant to be walking with bent
shoulders. We are not! We are meant to be walking tall and glad and joyful because we have a dear
Father who has done everything for us. We all know that if he were to move one finger, the air in
this room would be unbreathable; we would die immediately, so dependent are we on his goodness and
kindness. Has he failed? Has the sun failed to rise? Have the days failed to follow one another?
Have the seasons failed? No! How often we have found that he has continued to be faithful when we
had long ago forgotten him.
Loved ones, our dear Father has everything in our lives organized and he, believe it or not, can
carry and is carrying the wood whether you acknowledge it or not. He will carry it on through this
life. You have the choice of realizing that and sitting back and enjoying the ride and trusting him.
Or, you can continue to try to pretend that you are doing something on your own.