31 August 2014

The Siren Call of Earthly Significance

The voices of self-promotion are all around us.

Be someone. 
Do great things. 
Find your calling.
Leave your mark on the world. 
Take risks. 
Make a name for yourself. 
Find your niche

And instead of combating the ego-boosting message of the world, the church tends to Christianize it by adding "for God" to the end of all those statements.

{Go ahead. Try it. The phrases might even sound more familiar.}

However, just tagging God's name onto ambition and adventure doesn't make us holy, neither does it make our missions righteous. We've begun in the wrong place if we start with ourselves. That is the natural way, the sinful tilt of our hearts. It is the same thrust of Christ's followers who urged Him to reign on earth, of His disciples who wanted to be first in His kingdom, and of Simon the magician who wanted to up his career with spiritual authority like Peter's.

I've heard these pseudo-Christian voices in my ears too--as a teacher, as a wife, as a mother, and as an expat/missionary. It's the ungodly urge to step out from my given role to do something of more significance, something of more worth--"for God" of course!

Photo courtesy of Schyne

Am I doing enough?
This is the question that plagued me for years, as I stayed home with my children in a foreign country. My hands were busy all the live-long day, but outside our home the world zoomed on without me making a dent in it. Should I do more?

The voices say, "You can do more. Your children are holding you back." Have you heard the same snake whisper to you? "You were meant for more than [this position]." Have you similarly forgotten that it's not our situations that matter but rather our faith? If I'd listened to these lies, I would have neglected my family to pursue "bigger things" in the "name of God"--but behind the holy language would have been a selfish, stubborn, and irresponsible heart.

Recently, I bought a book by a popular pastor. In it, he said this: "How would evil forces keep you from your destiny? Their scheme is covert. The enemy wants you to think you're doing something significant, when in reality you may be doing nothing at all." I don't agree with this. Actually, I would reverse the whole reasoning to this: The enemy wants you to think you're doing nothing at all, when in reality you may be doing something significant.

The world shouts, "Do great things!"
The Bible says to be faithful in the little things.
One elicits pride and the other humility.

The parable of the talents in Matthew 25 has been (mis)used many times to encourage people not to waste their talents--their abilities and gifts. (Most people don't realize that the word "talent" in our vernacular was actually derived from this parable. So when Jesus was talking, "talent" was merely a monetary term.)

Yes, we are given spiritual gifts. Yes, we shouldn't squander them. But the situation of Jesus' parable is often overlooked for the ambitious message of "do something!"

The master gave his slaves their talents, and the slaves did their duty in their stations. The first and second slaves were wise to invest what was given, but they didn't have wild dreams to break free from their situations (as slaves!) or to parade their talents in pride. They were faithful, obedient, and humble. The master's response to them was "Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master" (vs. 21).

Similar to this parable is the situation I found myself in when moving overseas as a stay-at-home mom. As a former teacher, I felt pressured to enter the classroom and/or tutor English. As an expat, I felt pressured to merge into the community and find ways to volunteer and evangelize. As a writer, I felt pressured to start an editing and/or proofreading business online--or at least a blog. As a scholar, I felt pressured to pursue my doctorate.

But what was my role? First and foremost, I was a wife and mother. Before leaping out into the possibilities of the world, I needed to secure myself in my role and be faithful in the little things. Like the slaves who obediently served their master in the station they had, I needed to realize contentment in my place and manage the talents entrusted to me where I was. And, most importantly, I had to get my eyes off of myself (and my desire for recognition) and back onto God.

Can I do any of those other things? Yes, with careful consideration, with accountability, with balance. BUT I must be faithful first as a wife and mom, and other ambitions should never hinder that.

My role may be invisible. It may come with little recognition. It may not seem great to others, and the only name I make for myself may be "Mommy." BUT I'm trying to ignore the voices of the world and follow the Bible instead. I'm trying to be faithful with the talents I'm given in the role I have. And I long to hear these words: "Well done. Enter into the joy of your Master."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said this:
We still cannot imagine today God really doesn't want anything new for us, but simply to prove us in the old way. That is too petty, too monotonous, too undemanding for us. And we simply cannot be constant with the fact that God's cause is not always the successful one, that we really could be "unsuccessful": and yet be on the right road. But this is where we find out whether we have begun in faith or in a burst of enthusiasm.
His is priceless advice to remember whenever we embark on something risky or new or big.
Is it based on faith or on enthusiasm
Is it based on what is right or on what works
Does the choice make me more dependent on God or more independent
And am I becoming more humble or more prideful because of it?

Furthermore, the Beatitudes do not focus on how to be a "great" Christian, but instead on how to be a "blessed" one.  These traits describe a servant with undivided interests, with a humble heart, and with a willingness to do anything--be it a big or little thing.  Jesus said,

May we all drown out the siren call of earthly significance to hear God's voice:

Come, follow Me.
Be faithful.
Let your light shine before men 
in such a way that they may see your good works, 
and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Abide in Him,

Do you struggle with the desire for significance by the world's standards--recognition, admiration, impact?
Can you hear God's call for you to be obedient, content, and faithful?

Related articles you may also appreciate:
Good Works, Faith, and the Fruitless Fig Tree
Phrases That Steal Praise: Dissecting Christianese
Just Obey: My Cry to my Kids and God's to Me

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