Success in certain terms

This past week or so I have had myself in a mess. I have been considering the future and worrying about what’s going to go on. It bothers me so much that I can’t predict what will be. I can’t say whether anything will turn out the way I’d like, or whether I will just have to adjust to so many things staying the same even though new seasons of the year are unfolding. Does this sound familiar? Maybe it is — I’m sure I’ve said something along these lines several times by now. But each time I explore these questions in the light of a new situation, I take away lessons that are rich with significance for the times I’m living in. 

This time, I have to ask myself, what makes my life a success? Is it in my dreams coming true without delay, or is it in knowing no matter which way my life unfolds, my Father is caring for me? I have to decide these things if I am to be at peace with God, myself, my life and what happens to me — even if things don’t change.

You see, I have decisions before me. I have prayed about not dwelling on disappointment or the discomfort of my present trials, and God’s answer has been a surprise to me. He says, “I won’t just give this to you; you have to work on it. I have already done enough in your life to know that I am trustworthy and abundant enough to be all that you need. Now you have to work this out in your heart. You know what to believe, you just have to decide to live it out.”

How do we do this? For one thing, I need to stand back and assess my situation based on the truth that I want to live by. I may not be able to count on little things that I would like to enjoy right now, but this cannot — and should not — diminish what I do have and what I can have.

I can live for today, not basing my happiness on anything that I can’t fully enjoy right now. At first this may sound foolish, but I don’t believe this is because it is in any way unbiblical. I don’t want to dismiss the overflow of blessing that I have in this moment that I can only be guaranteed today. I don’t want to hold on for more as if what God has provided for my needs at this time is not enough. I have all the fullness of God to enjoy and to strain for in this moment. I pray that I would not be caught up in vain pursuits that discard my God for lesser things.

See the sovereignty of God in what I lack. He does not expect me to believe that things things are inherently bad or that desiring them is bad, but that by withholding them — even while they be good things — He is teaching me to trust Him without condition. How shall I trust His heart if I do not allow Him to freely take from and give to me whatever He sees as best? Truly it is impossible for me not to grow and benefit from His will if I am putting it first in my life.

God honors the sacrifices of praise that we offer to Him, therefore, let us be swift in lifting them up to Him. My life is not what I hold in my hands in this moment, but in what I hold in my heart. If lacking material, social or temporal things puts me in touch with the abundance of possessing Christ, than I will rejoice in whatever loss I have.

I also need to deal with my perspective on my present and my future. The more aware I become of the truth, the more responsible I become for keeping my heart diligently committed to it. The lesson here seems to be that because I have grown more mature in my faith through the Holy Spirit’s work in various trials, God will no longer be treating me as a child in the faith. He will be calling me to stand up and bear more of the brunt of living for Him. I know how now, after spending so much time observing His love in taking care of me, His consistency in instructing me as a parent, and His provision in building up my spiritual muscle.

Weak in dreams, strong in reality

Isn’t it crazy how what we dream of always falls so short of what God has for us?

I had my life all figured out for myself, I would achieve unprecedented success by attaining my life-long dream of personal perfection. Everything I did would be to impress and lift myself up in the eyes of the world. Then, then, I would love who I was and be confident that my life was not worthless and my being useless. I would live and make the most of everything I had.

Yet, of course, God had other plans — so much wider plans. His plans began with me and who I would be rather than what I would do. If I was not first someone of importance and influence, how could any of the things that I did be considered significant or purposeful?

He had to show me that my value was not a figure subject to detraction based on the outward judgments of a limited world. I am the possessor of life and breath that have come from the Creator Himself. He made me like Him and thus He loves me. Because I am His handiwork and I show off His marvelous fingerprints to the world, I am marked by divine intention and intelligence. I am here for a reason.

Therefore, when the world and its residents reject me as an unfitting or illegitimate member of humanity, they are questioning more than the dignity that God has given me, but the dignity of God Himself, who alone can distribute and support this in each of us.

If God is so closely related to everything that we are because we are like Him, certainly we must recognize that something is evidently wrong with anything of us that exalts God’s opposite in evil and wickedness. Why are these things apart of us, and is it possible for them to be made over into things that reflect the beauty of Christ our King?

The glory of our stories is that God is in them no matter how vile we become; from a great distance He sees everything wrong with us — every evidence that we have chosen our way of sin over His way of love — and yet He runs toward us when we return to Him because His dreams for us never died with the Fall.

Since our original fore-bearers disobeyed God — believing Satan’s lie that they should know good and evil and be like God if they did — we have lived with the horrible reality that our greatest mistake has ripped us apart from the good we once knew and knit us together with the evil that we were never meant to have unity with.

Though sin is certainly a blot on our existence, what we do not realize is that it has totally reoriented us away from the God we were first created to love and serve. Because this is so, we do not recognize what is truly good for us, but reject Jesus Christ because He will not support any of the things we live for now.

All the judgments of God that we make in this position are proportional to us and our ability and not Him and His — thus they are inaccurate, meant to satisfy our system of measurement, but not our need for knowledge and reconciliation to the Most High.

Believe it or not, it is often the surrender of our dreams that makes it possible for us to see reality in a new light, the Light that leads us to the Reality-Shaper. We would normally paint this as unreasonable suffering, yet if we take another look, we may have a chance to see more than we perceived in our first glance.

Suffering, when it is used by God is a positive instrument. This does not mean that is somehow fun, or less painful, but that it is conceived in purpose. We should think of it as a pregnant woman about to give birth. The pressures she feels are necessary — something is growing within her — without the life within her forcing her body to accommodate it by stretching and supporting it, that life would die.

Suffering is like that — it is a difficult blessing, but it trains our eyes on the end that we want. Trying to retain self-supported dreams would be like a new mother trying to retain her pre-baby figure. There is nothing wrong with either of these things — in the right context. If there is nothing else in play here, then we can hold on to what we have had and enjoyed, but if a new life needs to be given space and nourishment to develop within us, then certain changes will need to be applied. If God has plans for you that He has set within you, we must either attend to them to the neglect of anything that should endanger it — as a loving and protective mother would — or we ignore its presence and let it die because we have trained all the life within us towards things outside of us.

The most grievous thing about this — something that few of us realize — is that when life within us dies, we die. Our bodies, minds and hearts are not life in and of themselves, they are merely instruments that support life. These things are to be used by us to hold onto life, not constrict it that they may each have full “freedom.”

When we follow the desires of our bodies, our minds or our hearts, we will become callused and brutal. Aggression will mark all we do. Yet, when we seek Life — what we can only have in Christ — with all the power of our bodies, minds, and hearts brought together, we will obtain the fullness that puts us at rest. Even if we suffer or sacrifice to obtain this fullness of Christ, we will not emerge deficient, but more able to chase after the life we need. We will be matured in such a way that we will know and understand what we need; no longer wasting our time and efforts on what is not really satisfactory to us.

We do not become brutes when we receive our fill from God. Yet, at the same time we do not become weaklings who cannot survive in our world. Weakness is the work of ungodliness within us — a failure to recognize that we are nothing without Christ in a world that is made by Him, for Him and through Him.

Any attempt to pump ourselves up is exposed as measly attempts at disingenuous strength when we stand before Christ. Each inclination we have to this buried deep within our hearts must be dragged out of us until we are supple and able to be filled with the Father’s strength. And it is here that we realize the privilege of possessing and displaying a power only known by the begotten of God.

Power and prestige come from God. When it is at work within us, it stuns the watching world because they have nothing like this. To willingly have ourselves — our sinful selves that do us no good — broken down and left for dead takes a unshakable might that must flow through us from another Source — it could not spring up out of the same broken vessel.

No matter what God does in our lives, we can rejoice because we know what He is doing. We are without holiness, and He is intent on restoring us from our rebellion against Him so that we might become holy. Therefore, it is essential that we don’t mistake bitterness for God-honoring strength. Bitterness, at its root, is always a problem with God and what He is doing. But, when we enjoy God for who He is, our faith grows even in trying times, and we glorify God with a joy that appears stellar in its unlikely surroundings.

When we take these things into consideration, we should come to the point where we would ask ourselves why we should ever expect God to tip-toe around our problem-sensitivities to avoid our flare-ups. We will be glad that He does not, allowing complications in our far-fetched ideas for how our life should proceed, to reveal that He knows our hearts inside and out.

Pride looks almost beautiful (and certainly acceptable) when we label it as sensitivity and self-protection. We do not bother to look further than this into the essence of ourselves. We are at once sensitive to our own comfort and insensitive of the Truth. We cannot accept the reality that we are ugly and poor and beyond the reach of pity unless He who is beautiful and rich and merciful did something to bring the two of us together in an enviable arrangement.

Through every trial and painful reformation of ourselves He is teaching us to wed ourselves to this reality:

This is what I consider beautiful: Every time you set your heart on Me when you could be focused on everything else that is swirling around and inside you, you touch My heart.

This is the crux of really living.

You look at your friends to find out what living looks like, but only I can show you. If anything short of a life fully-focused on Me (and surrendering all of yourself to Me) is what you call “having it all together,” then you really don’t know anything about life.

I am not here to show you the world — anyone around you can, and does, try to do that — I am here to show you everything the world cannot.

“Yet, God,” I ask, “what do I do when giving You this beautiful lee-way in my life turns the life I thought was beautiful upside-down — You call me into a Christ-centered agenda that deletes my precious plans?”

You mourn them —

the imaged

reputation

position and

prospects

that you thought you would most certainly have. Only when you do this will you be able to cleave unto Me and love Me above all things; capable then of enjoying and experiencing the full entourage of My blessings for you.

I die when pride and I collide

Turning against God cursed the understanding and vision of we earthly-dwellers. Created to embrace Life in its fullness through our relationship with Him, we live isolated and largely dull existences because we have wandered so far away from Him. It is no wonder that we live for the power and prestige that we can create, rather than for the passion and promotion of what God has already created.

When I think about success, I normally evaluate my goals, my disappointments and how these things make me feel. This leads me to ask questions that begin with why, center on me, and pose a problem with God‘s exercise of His sovereignty.

Evidently I have not had my soul satisfied in Christ to the extent that work and its potential for personal recognition will not keep me on a see-saw of egocentric emotions. There is yet sin that chains my heart to hopes that cannot recognize Christ as King. Hopes that will never allow me to recognize freedom in the alliance to things eternal and incomparable.

I have no choice but to confess to Him the loyalties of my deity-dethroning heart. My tension is self-inflicted, yet used by God to point out the weakness of my hold on grace; the dimness of my focus on Christ.

God has so much more for me — like Him — but I can’t see any of it unless He commands the computations of my brain and the desires of my heart. God often alerts me to our need for Him to take more Elaine-ground with a simple question that gets right to the central error He wants to deal with in my heart. Two nights ago it was

What is your definition of success?

Is it what you can hold onto of

ability

beauty

competition

dominion

excellence

fluidity

god-ness

hierarchy?

What if Mine was the success and there was nothing besides that? What if you live not to succeed, but to soak Me up? To revel not in making much of yourself, but in letting Me make much of Myself to you?

What else could I respond but with gratitude that my Lord would convict me of my sin and lead me to repentance?

Father, let Your Son be my joy; let His sacrifice and reward be my boast. May this life be my only life — a beauty and satisfaction that drips down into the empty vessels of my words and acts.

Don’t let me miss the point of living and working, Lord; it can only be to know Christ and Him crucified, for this is the only peace and joy for me and my world.

Reveal the truth of who You are to me in a new degree that I might freely acknowledge that I am nothing to promote, but that my worth is revealed in who I get to promote. My joy and peace and satisfaction is also summed up in the greatness of You and not of me. You don’t need me to promote You, but surely I need to promote You. To be consumed with making You known I must first be consumed with knowing You.

Do I really get what ministry means?

If my concern is about the success of my ministry it is most likely born of a concern for my success. Ministry is not about the success of me or what am I doing. As obvious as this sounds, this perspective does not come to me naturally. I need to be presented with the truth again and again until it wears down my pride and lets me see Christ above all my own personal claims to acclaim.

If everything I am, and everything I do is His work, being meant to point me and everyone who knows me back to Him, then I really don’t figure so greatly in the ministry He conducts through me. If I want everyone observing me to see God from beginning to end, then some of my concentration has to be adjusted. Questions that naturally come to my mind like the following have to be reconstructed:

How did I look?

How do I feel now?

How many rewards do I see?

How has what happened benefited me?

God is welcoming me to become a top functioning organ of His body that lends my best to all the other members. I must not still His hand or the work of His Spirit through me by drawing undue attention to the empty vessels that He chooses to work through.

Therefore, my primary questions in evaluating anything of my life — not the least of which would be personal ministry and influence — should come from an entirely different interest. I must begin and end with God if I should hope that others should exhorted to do the same by their interactions with me:

How did God work to perform this miracle?

How did His Spirit affect hearts (mine being first)?

How is the word of the cross turning us all to His truth?

How is God revealing evidence of the advance His kingdom?