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Friday, May 7, 2010

Dirt with a Purpose

"A man's own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord" (Proverbs 19: 3 NIV).

Someone once recommended to me that I should make the phrase, "It's all about ME!" my personal catchphrase if I ever wanted to succeed in my career.  "Is this a joke?" I wondered, but unfortunately I discovered it wasn't.  Worse still, that wasn't the last time I got that advice.  So, since this is graduation season (and I can think of at least half a dozen people I know who are graduating in the next couple of weeks), I thought it was a good time to bring this up.  When it comes to serving God and trying to succeed in our careers, is it possible to do both?

Now, I understand that sometimes we have to put other people's problems and concerns out of our mind long enough to get through a day's labor, because if we don't focus on dealing with our own problems, disaster will come.  Still, that doesn't translate to "It's all about me!"  If we aren't thinking about deadlines in college, we'll probably fail out; if we're not thinking about completing that report for our boss, we'll probably get fired. This is expected behavior in such circumstances, and only extreme situations would prompt different behavior from most people.

It's when we have begun to think that our lives are more important than others' concerns, when we believe that others have nothing better to do than to help us with our problems, when giving up anything we want for the benefit of another is unthinkable, and when someone's demand for an apology seems aggravating or outrageous, that we have arrived at the "It's all about me" mindset.  In other words, we need to be able to "turn off" our self-focused "knob" at will, and drop everything to focus on someone else for awhile, or we've got a problem with self-absorption.

When this individual gave me that advice, I was horrified, and worried that I was being given a hint about something I was doing in my own life.  I went immediately to my bedroom and didn't rest until I'd spent a few hours seriously seeking the Lord about it.  Why did it trouble me so much?  In all my years of reading the Bible, I've never seen evidence in Scripture that God blesses this mindset.  It's not all about us.  It was never all about us.   This mindset comes from our fallen natures, where we raise ourselves up to be gods at the centers of our respective universes.

The truth is that even our biggest concerns aren't important at all, even our goals for our careers, and in fact, we aren't important.

Now, I can hear people correcting me, saying, "You're wrong, Rachel. You are important because Jesus died for you.  Why would you think so little of yourself and your life if God thinks so much of you?"

Well, I'd have to respond that I am important, but not because I had any right to be important, or any inherent quality that made me important.  I'm important to Jesus because He gave importance to me, and aside from the value Jesus chose to put on me, I am nothing (Romans 5: 6-8; Psalm 8: 4-6).  In reality, even though the thought somehow hurts my pride, God made me out of dust (Genesis 2: 7), and everything I have and do, and every day I live, are privileges and gifts from God.   God doesn't fool Himself about what I really am and where I came from, so why should I?

"So what are you saying, Rachel?  God wants us to go around feeling like dirt all the time?"

Well, not exactly.  We're dirt with a purpose, and that purpose is to obey God.  To say we are unimportant is not saying that as followers of God, we have nothing to live for, no right to be happy, and nothing good to say about ourselves.  God wants us to have good things in our lives, but none of our own efforts can achieve those things as long as we are ignoring Him.

The Bible repeatedly emphasizes that without humility--without the ability to honor God and stop worshiping ourselves--we are living in opposition to God.  As long as we refuse to believe what God has said about humankind, we will get nowhere (Psalm 127: 1); but as soon as we submit our lives to God's direction, we will have God's help and His blessing on what we are doing.

As Jesus said, "The greatest among you will be your servant.  For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Matthew 23: 11-12 NIV).  How often do we pass over those words without really reading them?  What does this mean, really?  I read it as yet another reinforcement of something God had already told us.  In essence, God opposes those who mock His ways, but He upholds those who obey Him ( see also Proverbs 3: 34).

Turning again to the subject of my own career (and perhaps yours), I think it's better to have God's help than to try to do it all myself and think only about how my decisions affect me.  Life is short, and I need friends--most importantly, I need God as my friend. I cannot let my own views of what I think I need interfere with what God knows I need, and what others around me need.  I know that I have often failed at taking my own advice, but I'm still trying to do my best every day to submit my life to God and let it all be about Him.
"If the Lord delights in a man's way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall,  for the Lord upholds him with his hand" (Proverbs 37: 23, 24 NIV).