Comparisons, Achievement & Glorifying God
"Is this really what I'm supposed to be doing with my life?" "I see what other people are doing, and I wonder if I'm really making any impact at all." "I felt good about my life until I realized she was the same age as me, and had done so much more." I've had a lot of conversations like this lately, and been on both sides of the issue. The angst is everywhere, so we think of it as a normal part of Christian life. However, generations of believers across the globe would find it foreign.
The anxiety about our calling (meaning career), significance and success is very much a contemporary issue. We live in a society so connected to achievement, success, self-improvement and significance that it's hard to see anything--including our faith--apart from it. But I think we need to strive for some perspective because we're driving ourselves crazy, and, in extreme cases, believing in a God who's more cultural than biblical.
Where does this come from? To a large degree, our angst comes from comparison. A few months ago, I wrote about how comparing one's real self to the image people present on Facebook is sending people spinning. But, of course, we know the comparisons aren't just online. We go to Christian conferences to see women who are witty, godly and skinny, and we suddenly feel like we're not enough. An old classmate's face grins at us from a book jacket in Barnes and Noble, and we feel like we've wasted the last decade. Friends' well behaved kids thank Jesus after being MVP of the game while ours our pick their noses on the bench. Envy is so accessible in our world. As a friend pointed out, for the first time ever, we're no longer comparing ourselves to the people in our community. Now, in a millisecond, we can turn on the TV or log into the internet and compare ourselves with people around the globe.
We compare ourselves to these high achievers for Jesus, find ourselves lacking, and assume God feels the same way. Surely, if we were strong Christians, we'd have written a book, or we'd be on the speaking circuit. If our faith was strong, we'd be opening orphanages (or at least adopting a few orphans). If we were really faithful, we'd be doing something...important.
The trouble is, we don't know what "important" is.
First, because our society elevates fame and image, we assume the "important" is the visible stuff. The more people who listen or buy or read our messages, the better we're doing. Teaching a small class is good. Teaching a huge class is obviously better. A small blog with a few followers is nice, a best-selling book is much more important. Fame, following, and Facebook "likes" are measures of the significance of our service.
Second, we assume that our job titles matter. If we were doing important work for God, someone would pay us for it. So volunteer ministry is a good hobby, but the truly faithful are on staff somewhere. And secular jobs? That's where volunteer Christians spend time between opportunities for ministry.
These assumptions would have our forefathers shaking their heads. They knew something we don't: that private, everyday obedience and faith is what God wants.
Most of the generations of believers before us didn't have much choice about their careers. They didn't worry about whether they felt their job was "significant". They did what they had to do to feed their family. It wasn't a matter of what they did--it was how they did it. Farmers had to farm, but faithful farmers could pray for wisdom and strength and protection. They could deal ethically in business. They could give to and serve their church and their neighbors. They could thank God for the bounty, and raise their kids to do the same.
Shopkeepers, blacksmiths, carpenters, seamstresses all had the same choice: to do whatever they had to do to the glory of God or not. It wasn't about titles, but about obedience. It wasn't about getting a crowd of admirers, but to follow Christ--everyday, ordinary, consistent faith.
We've lost the importance of everyday obedience, but God hasn't. We value public over private, but God doesn't. Today, concern yourself less about the titles and big splashes and the angst, and concentrate on following Christ wherever you are.