“‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’” (John 15:13). 

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Memorial Day began as a way to honor the more than 620,000 soldiers who died in the Civil War. Among those dead is a name you’ve probably never heard: Sullivan Ballou.

Shortly after the siege of Fort Sumter in 1861, Ballou, a 32-year-old lawyer and politician, joined the Union Army, leaving behind his wife, Sarah, and two young sons, Edgar and William.

A major in the Second Rhode Island Infantry, he wrote an elegant letter to his wife a week before the First Battle of Bull Run. Here is an excerpt:

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Not my will, but thine O God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter.

Is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar—that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for me, for we shall meet again.

Ballou was struck by a cannonball while leading his men at Bull Run, and he died of his wounds a week later. He was so committed to his cause that he was willing to lay down his own life—and to forsake his young family.

The Kingdom of God requires the same loyalty.

Jesus said, “‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple’” (Luke 14:26-27).

We are called to forsake everything for the Kingdom of God. That’s often easier said than done.

In the busyness of life, it’s easy to lose our focus on Christ and His Kingdom and to start focusing on worldly success: a better job, a bigger house, a nicer car. Even good things—like children, spouses or friendships—can divert our focus from Christ.

Everyone, regardless of age or socioeconomic status, starts each day with a bank account with a balance of 24 hours—no more, no less. It’s up to each of us to use that time wisely.

Roman philosopher Seneca once said, “We are always complaining that our days are few, and acting as though there would be no end of them.”

Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

The Apostle Paul truly knew the value of spending each day living on mission for Christ.

He wrote: “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8).

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>What can you do to be more intentional about building God’s Kingdom? >What is your biggest time drain?