New Original Written Piece By Hervict Jacobs: “We Were Created To Live For Other People: The Day I Read Ephesians 2:10 At A Conference And How It Changed My Life Forever”

“My life is only important if [I] can help plenty people [sic].

If my life is just for me, my own security, then I don’t want it. My life is for people.”

—Bob Marley

I was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa. I left my family and came to the States ten years ago to go to school, and after falling in love with—and marrying—a beautiful southern belle, I have remained here ever since. Every child who grows up in South Africa grows up with a deep awe and respect for Nelson Mandela. After all, he is the father of our nation, our treasure, our national hero. Everyone back home grows up with a deep affection and admiration for this man who gave up so much to secure a brighter future for all of us— and for future generations—so we would never have to suffer under the injustice of racial oppression. And I too, like all South Africans, have always had that profound admiration for Madiba, as we affectionately call him in South Africa. He was like a beloved grandfather whom you love and have heard many great things about. But only after I grew into adulthood was I able to truly appreciate the incredible sacrifice he made for me and for my generation.

Think about it: Here’s a young guy, a promising law school graduate, who was just settling into his career as an up-and-coming law professional with his own practice, and he walked away from it all to take up the fight of racial injustice. He went from living a normal life surrounded by friends and family to living as a fugitive, constantly hiding and running for his life, knowing that he could be killed at any minute. He even lost his wife, who told him if he wanted to take on the whole apartheid regime, he’d have to do it without her. With all the humility and sincerity of heart he could muster, he looked her in the eye and said he couldn’t turn back. That choice cost him his marriage. It cost him his law practice, his career, and his hopes and dreams of a stable life. From that point on, he was hunted by the South African government. All because he dared to say that human beings are equal regardless of their race or the color of their skin.

He was sent to prison for twenty-seven years for this belief and spent most of his adult life locked up, though he did nothing wrong. I remember how moved I was when reading his autobiography after I finished high school. He writes that, for him, the most painful memories of prison were when his loved ones came to visit and he wasn’t allowed to embrace or kiss them.

What would possess a man to give up everything, even his very life, for the freedom of others? In a time when almost everyone else was afraid speak out against this injustice, why didn’t he do the same and enjoy the rewards of his education and hard work? He gave up everything because he put his people and fellow countrymen who had suffered so severely above himself. And by standing up to that unjust regime, he gave an entire generation courage.

My claim to fame is that I did see him once in real life. I was nine or ten years old at the time, and he was campaigning to be the next president of South Africa. It had been just two or three years since his release from prison. His party, the African National Congress, or A.N.C., was going to hold a rally at Athlone Stadium, a local soccer stadium in Cape Town, and my dad looked at me and said, “Let’s go. We will get to witness a profound moment in history.” To this day I remember pulling up to that stadium and seeing a sea of people— on foot and in buses. The traffic was gridlocked for miles around, and it seemed like everyone was singing and chanting and celebrating. We managed to get seats in the stadium. Near the end of the rally, after he had made his speech, Nelson Mandela got on the back of a white pick-up truck and rode around the stadium slowly. He was standing on the back of the truck waving his fist in the air, and the people were losing their minds. He came within thirty feet of me. It felt like I went into a time warp as he went by. To this day I remember that moment in slow motion; though people were screaming and jumping with deafening noise, I heard only silence as I watched him wave at us. As he passed us, no one could stop smiling; we were high-fiving each other and hugging strangers. We couldn’t believe we saw Nelson Mandela in real life.

When I think about all that he suffered and everything he gave up, I can’t help but think, “Man, I don’t know if I could ever do what he did.” Never mind sacrificing my life, I don’t even like being inconvenienced. (Especially if I’m watching football.) I will gladly admire Mandela’s sacrifice from a distance, but I would never want to sacrifice something in my own life. And yet that is exactly what God asks of me: to step out of a life where I am the focus and into a life where others and their needs take precedence.

Genesis 12 records an encounter between Abram— who would later be renamed Abraham—and God that forever changed Abram’s life. It records the account of Abram’s call, when God told him to leave his family and friends to become the father of a new nation. This story is significant for many reasons, one of which is that it gives us great insight into the nature of God’s call for his people: God always calls us away from ourselves and into the humble service of others. The story opens in chapter 12, verse 1:

“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from 16 your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

‘I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you’” (Genesis 12:1-3).

My favorite translation of verses 1 and 2 is that of the Amplified Bible, which says:

“Now [in Haran] the Lord said to Abram, Go for yourself [for your own advantage] away from your country, from your relatives and your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.

“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you [with abundant increase of favors] and make your name famous and distinguished, and you will be a blessing [dispensing good to others].”

God’s call for Abram was to leave behind a life of self-service and enter into a life of “dispensing good to others.” Abram was living a normal life in the desert land of Haran when God called him to a life that would bless other people. In the same way, you and I were created to be a blessing to others.

Living a life that seeks to serve others is not a sentence to something we hate; rather it’s an invitation to discover our true selves, who we were made to be from the start. One of the most profound truths of the human experience is that we feel most alive and fulfilled when we’re doing something good for someone else.

This is one reason why being a parent is one of the most incredible experiences in the world, though at first glance it seems the opposite. Think about it: you have to exchange a life where you live for yourself and do whatever you want, whenever you want, for a life where you have to think about someone else before yourself, where you can’t just do what you want. Your time is no longer your own, nor is your money, and yet no other experience comes close to the joy of being a parent.

It is one of the mysteries of the human soul that we feel most alive and satisfied with life when we live for more than just ourselves. Think about the times you’ve helped somebody in your life; those are times we all remember fondly because they expose the imprint of God’s nature on our own souls. We are wired to live for others.

One of my favorite verses in scripture is Ephesians 2:10, which says, “For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (NKJV). God used this verse to change my life in such a profound way that it affected how I view myself, my gifts and talents, my future, and my understanding of what my life is supposed to look like as a Christian.

When I was a junior in college, I went to a student missions conference in St. Louis. They held devotions in the hotel every morning, and I had planned on attending each one. Each morning, however, I found myself sleeping through the morning devotional time. On the third day of the conference, I was determined to make it to morning devotions. I got myself up and made my way to the part of the hotel where the devotions were held. When I got there, the place was packed with students all quietly listening to a man on stage. I slipped in and took a seat close to the door, and a girl handed me a hand-out with the Bible passage that was being studied that morning on it. It was Ephesians 2. Not really paying attention to the guy speaking on stage, I looked down at the hand-out and I started reading the passage printed on it. Beginning at verse one, Paul talks about how God saved us; that we were dead in our trespasses and sins, but we have been saved by grace—not by our own volition. And I kept on reading until I got to verse 10: “For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

That verse hit me like a ton of bricks. I saw it in a totally new way, and I was fascinated by the term “good works,” because a good work, by definition, is something you do for someone else. And we are created for good works. For the first time, I saw what that verse was saying: I was saved—“created in Christ Jesus”—to serve others—“to do good works.” My life is supposed to be about other people, not myself. God saved me so that I could serve, assist, give to, and help others. I remember reading that and thinking, “Man, that is so far from how I live.” At that time in my life, I was thinking about life after school—my career, starting a family, buying a house—and then I read that verse. It changed everything for me. It showed me that God wants me to view my life, and the way I think about my future, as a tool with which to serve other people. I realized then that I needed to change my whole perspective in order to live the life God wants for me.

© Hervict Jacobs 2015

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