Monday, May 28, 2012

Are You Successful?

I recently had a conversation on Facebook that was much appreciated.  A former student from when I worked in Campus Ministry told me that I had impacted many people while I was at that college; he said that I was approachable and able to reach different types of people because I could reach people where they are.

Since I have often wondered if I made a difference at all (I was only paid to work 10 hours per week and that is not nearly enough time to get done all that needs to be done, especially when it comes to building relationships with students), it meant a lot to me to see those words in my Facebook instant message box.

It is this types of impact that is not measurable by any standards.  In a world--even within the church--dominated by numbers it is the people with the most numbers that are deemed the most successful:
  • who can raise the most campaign money
  • who can get the most votes
  • who can sell the most books
  • who can get the most Twitter followers and Facebook likes
  • who can make the most money 
In the church, it is often:
  • who has the most attendance or membership
  • who has the most giving
  • who has had the most baptisms or professions of faith
  • who has the most programs
There is a novel by Francine Rivers called And the Shofar Blew. In this novel, the protagonist Paul is a pastor who spends many, many years trying to live up to the expectations of his pastor father.  Because of this, he screws up his life and family.  Throughout it all, his own personal ambitions slowly take precedence over listening for God's voice in any decision.  Because his father David built a Christian mega-church empire, Paul felt that he had to do so as well--and do it better.  There is mention of a grandfather, Ezra, who was also a pastor.  David had always told Paul that Ezra was a failure because the family had little money and had to buy clothes at rummage sales.

Towards the end, when Paul comes face-to-face with his own sins and discovers he was not only following in his father's church-building footsteps, but also in the footsteps of his father's sins, Paul's mother says to him:
"You couldn't be more wrong.  All Ezra ever wanted to do was serve teh Lord, to spread the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.  And he did!  If you go back to the places where he preached, you'll find churches, Paul.  Small but living churches, centered on Christ and the Bible.  Your grandfather served the Lord more faithfully than your father ever did."
We must be careful.  The allure of fame, wealth, popularity is strong, even for Christians.  We may feel as if we have something to prove--to others or to ourselves--and so we go after it, entwining our own ambitions and desires with those of God's desires for us, until we have strangled God's desires and put our own desires in their place--all the while thinking what we want is what God wants.

We may convince ourselves that God wants us to be the best, to rise to the top, to make it and prove that we can do it.  This comes at a price though, because the higher we go, the farther the fall if we should topple off of whatever pedestal we or others create for us.  Last week, I questioned whether or not there was room for humility in politics, and then yesterday in church heard a sermon about these very verses.  The pastor said that we are often encouraged to be proud of who we are in and of ourselves, and that we tend to look out for what is best for us, but these verses tell us to do just the opposite.  They tell us to look out for others and to treat others as better than ourselves.  Look at the beginning of verse 5:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus

It goes on to say that this mindset was one that caused him to voluntarily shed the power he had and become humble.  He did not use the power he had for exploitative measures but willingly gave it up.  It is this humility, this putting of others before himself, that caused Jesus to actually be successful, to  show that the power of sin and death could be broken, to show that new life was possible.

Can we all do that?  As Christians, can we be of one mind (verse 2) in humility?

I have never been a part of leading a big ministry; most of what I have done has been in small churches or small situations and I am glad for that.  Though I do struggle at times because of the allure of numbers, I am actually glad that I have nothing to brag about in that regard, because I know the temptation to make it all about me and what I have done is closer than I'd like to think.  

Do you feel a need to "prove yourself", to show that you've "made it"?  Do you see success as something measurable?  Do you struggle with pride?  Do you need help from the Holy Spirit in embracing the humility of Christ that we should all have?  Do you have the same mind as Jesus?

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