What am I doing? I asked myself as I slipped out the door for a much-needed walk at dusk. Most days it seemed I was running from the moment I got up until the moment I went to bed — dressing the kids and getting them to school on time, working with my husband to navigate our family business to that next level, hosting neighbors for dinner, teaching Sunday school, trying to exercise, keeping the house clean . . .
If only we could bring in that big client, I started reasoning as I walked. If only I could get a better routine in keeping the house clean . . . if only I could get the kids over the next hurdle in school . . . then I could relax and be content. But as my feet thudded down the pavement, I caught myself. Those thoughts were familiar — except that they used to be, If only we could start a family . . . if only we could have a bigger house in a good neighborhood . . . if only we could own our own business. . .
The glimmer in the distance
It is so easy to be lured into chasing success. I never thought of myself as a person who was preoccupied with being successful. I didn't need to be rich or powerful. I didn't need to have the most glamorous home, career or family. But the pursuit of success can be much less obvious than that.
Many times, we fixate on getting to the next level in our lives; we tell ourselves that when we get there, we will have accomplished something good. But we never arrive there because it is only a mirage. When we attain what we thought was that next step to success, our attention is immediately drawn to a new glimmer in the distance.
The irony is that Christians can become entrapped in the deception of success in a sincere effort to accomplish good things for God. Doesn't God want us to be great parents; involved, hospitable neighbors; examples of excellence and integrity at work; financial providers who take care of our families and give to others; and effective ministers of the Gospel? Doesn't the Bible encourage diligence and hard work?
When we pursue these godly priorities, the outcome often looks much the same as that of a secular person. How is God's success different from what the world strives for, if, in the end, the outward results and rewards can look similar?
Numerous verses in the New Testament tell us to put aside selfish ambition (Luke 9:23; Philippians 2:3; James 3:13-16). Sometimes we believe that because we have changed our ambitions to be focused on "good" things, we have fulfilled this command. But the heart of this command is in relinquishment. We must give up our ambitions and allow Christ to dictate our goals.
Not too long ago, I heard a pastor mention a turning point in his ministry. After working for years trying to be successful for Christ, he realized that all the accomplishment, skill and achievement available in the world was, by itself, not enough to achieve the Great Commission. He saw that his own life was full of spiritual activity without transformation.
This pastor was busy trying to disciple others without attending to his own discipleship. The dichotomy was driven home sharply while he was reading about another clergyman who had achieved great success and influence in ministry. The pastor began to feel depressed and envious. As he recognized the intensity of his feelings, he couldn't escape the painful revelation that his motivation in ministry was full of selfish ambition.
Like this pastor, I find I am often doing the right things for the wrong reasons. It is good to want to support my family; it is good to want my children to do well in school; it is good to have a hospitable home and be effective in serving others. But I can't chase after these things in an attempt to build a lifestyle, reputation or significance for myself. I have to hold all these goals with an open hand toward God, saying, "Your will, not mine."
We should not be driven by achievements but rather be motivated by the desire to obey Christ. Contentment, faith and humility are critical to changing our motives and allowing us to escape an empty pursuit. As Oswald Chambers wrote, "If God has made your cup sweet, drink it with grace; if He has made it bitter, drink it in communion with Him."
We must have enough faith in His purposes and His love for us to relinquish control of our lives into His hands. We have to live humbly, not seeking our glory but His glory.
If we could truly grasp these principles, our attitudes and priorities would turn upside down. Our happiness would not be dependent on being "successful." Our life would be characterized by peace and joy, regardless of circumstances. We could succeed without being elated, and we could fail without being crushed. We could truly say, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).
Ever feel like you need to wear a mask to cover up who you are? Are you concerned that, if people knew who you really are and how you really felt, they wouldn't understand?
One minister, two jobs and the family that's at the top of the list. The number of bivocational ministers, those in full- or part-time ministry who carry an additional job, is estimated by some researchers to be as high as 30 percent of ministers nationwide.
"You should see the church they attend," Lucille said, armed with bulletin and newsletter. Creases formed across my brow as celebration gave way to comparisons a trap that had sprung too many times.