Living Others’ Lives for Us

imagesNot everyone takes the same path we take. I know, it seems like such an obvious observation, but as I listened to people talking one day, I noticed the hint of judgment in the discussion.

It mainly centered on work and education. It was a casual conversation, but it included statements, such as,

  • If he/she would only get more education
  • If he/she would only use his/her education
  • If he/she was willing to work different hours
  • If he/she was willing to put in some extra time
  • If he/she was willing to…

You get the idea.

Every “if only” was following by the declaration that a particular choice would yield more money, status, or success. The underlying tone was, “Why wouldn’t someone choose this route if it will lead to more money, status, success?”

Because…not everyone defines success, status, or “enough” money the same.

We have to be careful. There are plenty of people who are living different lifestyles than us and doing just fine. They might not have all that we have, but that’s not a bad thing. They might not even want what we have, and that’s not a bad thing either. After all, do we always look at someone who has more and long for it? And if that person were to say, “all you have to do to be like me is…,” would we jump into action, or would we skeptically refuse to believe it’s as easy as someone makes it sound?

We might wonder why people don’t try harder and do more, but are we comparing them to ourselves and our ideals? Perhaps we could acknowledge they can provide and succeed in different ways, and we can encourage them where they are and toward where they want to go. Maybe they’re content in the work/money sphere, and their focus on change and growth are in other areas of their lives. Maybe we compare because it makes us feel better, as if our ideals are right. If we begin to admit someone leading a life different from ours, one we see as “less” than ours, can be satisfying, we may feel less about our standards and our lives.

Maybe we can respect and encourage others without making it about ourselves.

Defining Success

defining-success-in-your-organization-4-638But Moses responded, “Why are you going against the Lord’s command? It won’t succeed. (Numbers 14:41)

Every. Single. Time.

Success is not what we make it. Contrary to what we think or want. We’ve tasted bits and pieces of what we believe to be success and think we’ve figured our a sure-fire formula. Or perhaps it has been true success but we attribute it to the wrong causes. Or maybe we’ve been successful because we’ve relied on God but we then try to stay in that place or replicate the situation so that we get the same result. But success is only defined by God and it only comes through Him. We can only imagine and savor success when we set aside our assumptions about it and trust His definition of it, then let Him continue to change our concept of it.

After all, success is all about trusting Him.

What Is Success?

following-jesus-2What do we count as success?

Does it require recognition? Marked improvement or position? A new job title or salary range? Marital status? Living location? Number of children? Letters behind our names?

In the context of faith, perhaps it’s the number of times we’ve read the Bible in its entirety, how many studies we’ve completed, how many hours we’ve served, or in what positions we’ve served.

Many of those things aren’t bad in and of themselves, but when they become our main measuring stick of success, we miss out.

What about the opportunities to learn and grow in faith, to honor God? We don’t see such experiences as potential successes often because they’re usually filled with trials, discomfort, and discouragement. We may see them more as failures. But when we respond in ways that reveal our trust in God, when we say, “Well, this isn’t going as I planned, but I’m going to respond with integrity and truth and trust in God,” that’s a success.

What tough opportunities (a.k.a., opportunities for success) are you facing right now?

Are You Living Up To Your Potential?

Being capable and actually doing something are two different things.

I listened to someone’s plans and wanted to say,

“I know you can. But I don’t know if you will.”

I didn’t actually say it. (I’m usually thankful when I engage my filter.) I was fairly confident it wouldn’t be received in the way I meant it. I had full confidence of the person’s ability. I didn’t want to ebb away what confidence she had. I wanted to build her up. At the same time, I didn’t want to give her false confidence. Just because she’s capable of doing well doesn’t mean she’ll apply herself, approach challenges humbly, learn from disappointments and failures, and persevere. She can but only time will tell if she will.

Isn’t that the truth with all of us?

God equips us with so much. The gifts He gives us are abundantly sufficient to accomplish what He intends for us. But what accomplishments He plans for us might not be our perfect idea of accomplishments. What He knows is sufficient can seem inadequate when we face challenges. His gifts might seem to be misfits for us. We prefer to do things our own way, with our own sense of comfort or adventure, our own definitions of our successes, failures, and progress, and our own timelines.

If we’re going to actually do the thing God purposes for us, we’re going to have to trust that He has made us capable. More accurately, He is in the process of making us capable. We have to take the step of faith beyond believing we are capable into action steps into His purpose and plan. It is only then that we find true, sufficient satisfaction.

We All Need Rest

The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai: “Speak to the Israelites and tell them: When you enter the land I am giving you, the land will observe a Sabbath to the LordYou may sow your field for six years, and you may prune your vineyard and gather its produce for six years. But there will be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land in the seventh year, a Sabbath to the Lord: you are not to sow your field or prune your vineyard. You are not to reap what grows by itself from your crop, or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. It must be a year of complete rest for the land. Whatever the land produces during the Sabbath year can be food for you—for yourself, your male or female slave, and the hired hand or foreigner who stays with you. All of its growth may serve as food for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. (Leviticus 25:1-7)

It seems that the “complete rest for the land” is just that–for the land. And it is for the land, but it is also for the people.

God knows how to provide for His creation, including people, animals, and land. By resting the land, it replenishes the nutrients it needs. During that time, some food still grows because of seeds and fruit-bearing trees, so it continues to feed people and animals. The rest is actually nourishment.

That seems odd to us because we think nourishment can only happen with productivity. We feel we must do something to be successful and produce something. Otherwise, we’ll fall behind. Productivity will lessen, provision will decrease, and we’ll end up digging ourselves into a hole of debt and need. But that’s not the way God says it works.

Sabbath, whether it is our weekly rest or a seventh-year rest of the land, is productive. Rest produces something labor and striving cannot. Rest grows and nourishes us in ways work cannot.

Yet we avoid rest. (At least, most of the time. When we take it, we often justify it as something we deserve. We need a vacation or earned retirement. It’s not an intentional setting aside work and resting in God’s presence as much as it is our attempt to meet our recreational-escape needs.)

I don’t know many places where a Sabbath rest of the land occurs regularly. In the U.S., we have “set aside” acreage that doesn’t get farmed during certain years, but the most common motivation for setting aside this land is the government check that comes to compensate for the “loss” incurred. But setting something aside was never intended to be considered a loss.

The first time I visited Israel, the land was flourishing. It was gorgeously lush, producing so many crops of fruits and vegetables. When I visited again, the land was pretty but it wasn’t as green and productive. I learned it was the Sabbath year. While not every landowner take the Sabbath seriously, many do. It was evident as I drove by the fields.

What keeps you from rest? Are your reasons for not resting good ones? Would God agree? Why don’t you ask Him? He’s already given you instruction, which is always purposeful. Why not listen and follow?

 

Tebowtianity

We won’t watch Tebow play any more games this year. And I’m okay with it.

Let me clearly state…

  1. I respect Tim Tebow.
  2. I love football and enjoy a good game no matter who is playing.

I respect Tim Tebow for living out his faith on – and off – the field. It’s no easier for him than anyone else who publicly lives out their faith. In fact, it’s likely more difficult because he lives in the nationally broadcast eye. He regularly deals with people who judge him – not only for his football skills but for his faith. Not everyone agrees with his bold expression of faith. And then there are those who do, and it’s some of these people I struggle with the most.

That’s why I want to shout: “Beware of your adoration of Tebow!” There’s a fine line between respect and idolizing.

You must not worship or serve any idol. (Exodus 20:4)

When we start searching for “proof” that one person is superior to others because of the numbers of a football game or the “success” of a player, we enter a danger zone. Success is not measured in earthly wins or losses. God extends blessings to people in every situation, visibility, popularity, social strata, and earthly beauty. He reaches people where they are. His idea of the ladder of success isn’t ours. There are people on every rung of the ladder who are close to God and those who aren’t. It’s not where we are in everyone else’s expectations and definitions. It’s where we are in our relationship with God – not where we’re rationalizing we are but where God says we are.

Faithful people win by earthly standards and lose by earthly standards. How they respond draws them closer to God or creates space within the relationship. Tebow seems to (at least publicly) handle both wins and losses with grace. I can’t fault him. But there are many people’s responses that make me cringe, especially the ones equating Tebow and the Bronco’s success with God’s preferential blessing. God cares about every detail of our lives. Even football isn’t trivial to him. If it’s important to us, he wants us to share it with him, but God also wants us to replace our perspective with his perspective. If he says our priorities are messed up and need some major deconstruction and reconstruction, it’s time to get to work.

When we project our own definitions of blessings and curses, ability and status, onto those of God, we’re in a danger zone, and we need to turn and run.

The most ludicrous line of reasoning I heard leading up to this weekend’s game was an attempt to pit Tebow against Brady as good versus evil because of the stats of Brady’s draft. You can laugh. I hope most people take such silliness with a large grain of salt, but there are others who cling to such ridiculous reasoning.

For every truth spoken, there are innumerable untruths spoken. The most dangerous are those untruths mixed with a dash of truth, making it taste enough like truth that it’s easy to swallow and digest.

I don’t personally know Tim Tebow, but my impression is that he’d never want to hinder someone’s faith. Let’s make sure we don’t do the same, not because it’s not what Tebow would want but because it’s what God wants. Let’s honor God in everything we say and do, whether it’s about football or the Bible. We’ll make some mistakes along the way, but when we learn from them, our faith will grow along the journey.

The mayhem that’s surrounded Tebow and the Broncos will drastically die down in the coming days, but I hope to carry the lessons I’ve learned from the fervor into other areas of my life.

I want to be mindful of the moments my inadequately considered comments or rationalization spew statements about the character of God and his will that are misleading and inaccurate. I hope to hold my tongue or be honest in my uncertainty when I speak.

Will you join me in the commitment?

As a Christ-follower, I can respect others, but I can only remain in the footsteps of one. No matter how enamored I become with someone, no matter how much I love someone, no matter how I much I appreciate someone’s example, I will not be deterred or distracted as I try to place my steps in the footsteps of Jesus. It won’t be easy, but he already told us it wouldn’t be.

Enter through the narrow gate. The gate is wide and the road is wide that leads to hell, and many people enter through that gate. But the gate is small and the road is narrow that leads to true life. (Matthew 7:13-14)

Successful or Faithful?

As I was reading an article on parenting this morning, one section in particular made me pause.

The question we ask of ourselves must be reframed. We need to quit asking, “Am I parenting successfully?” And we most certainly need to quit asking, “Are others parenting successfully?” Instead, we need to ask, “Am I parenting faithfully?” Faithfulness, after all, is God’s highest requirement for us.

I began to expand this to many other areas of life. Consider areas of your life you try to measure or determine as successful (or not): marital status, education, musical performance, professional accomplishments, economic status, residence, material possessions. We feel we’re successful when things go well – or how our society defines “well.” We feel we’re failures when things don’t go so well. Our feelings of success/failure spill into our attitudes and beliefs and before long we’re defining our worth on those feelings. Instead of feeling of success or failure, we define ourselves as being a success or failure.

(Even as I’m writing this, my inbox chimed with a new email from a prominent Christian publication with the lead article titled When Christians Fail.)

What if success isn’t our goal at all? What if we toss self- or other-imposed definitions of success aside for the biblical responsibility of faithfulness? Are you being faithful in your parenting? Faithful in your marriage? Faithful at work? Faithful in ministry? Faithful as you blog, Facebook, Twitter, and text? Faithful when you shop?

My answer is going to be no sometimes! But that doesn’t make me a failure. It has nothing to do with failing. It has everything to do with faithfulness. When I’m not faithful, I can’t rewind and make a decision that better reflects my faith. But I can step forward in faith, deal with consequences and do what needs to be done to repair relationships – most important, my relationship with God.

If we’re not careful, we can even twist our faithfulness to be defined as success or failure. If we’re faithful, we’re successful. If we’re not, we fail. But that approach doesn’t accept who God truly is. He absolutely wants us to be faithful, but he doesn’t see us as failures when we’re not. In that moment, we have another choice to be faithful – or not. We can turn to him immediately – or not. And if we define ourselves as successful when we’re faithful…well, it doesn’t take long to realize how self-centered that perspective can become!

I pray this post encourages AND challenges you in your faithfulness. We need both…and God is faithful to consistently provide both.

But the Spirit produces the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Galatians 5:22 (NCV)