April 21, 2008

Grace not ambition

When I was young, I wanted to be the best at whatever I did. I had lots of ambition, the support of my parents, and so many interests that I didn’t know where to start. I remember telling my mother about all the things that I wanted to do. She said, “You will lose interest in most of that.”

I wanted to prove her wrong, but she was right; I have lost interest in most of my ambitious plans. Some were frivolous. Some were too expensive. Some were beyond my talents. Most of them just fell to the bottom of my priority list.

However, a few still linger as those “I wish I had . . .” activities that perhaps fit into the category of a recent movie title, The Bucket List (about things to do before we 'kick the bucket'. In the time I have left, is it possible to fit some of these into my life? Could I tackle those projects, travel to those places?

Even as I wonder about them, I know full well that I am not in control of what happens in my life. I am very cautious about writing such a list. The Bible says:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin (James 4:13-17).
Life is relatively short. I’m not here long and the hours in the day are not long enough to do everything. From this and other passages, I believe that doing what God wants me to do will have eternal consequences, whereas if I disregard the “good” opportunities He puts before me, some sort of loss will be the result.

Today’s devotional reading pointed me to Jeremiah 45:5. Baruch served the prophet Jeremiah. He must have had some ambitions, but the political and spiritual circumstances in Israel were such that few people had any freedom to do anything. Jeremiah offered this assurance, “And do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for behold, I will bring adversity on all flesh,” says the Lord. “But I will give your life to you as a prize in all places, wherever you go.

For Baruch, being allowed to live during those days was a gift from God! These lines to him show me that there is much I take for granted in my world. It is easy to assume that I will not only live but also have the freedom, even the right, to make plans and do whatever my heart desires.

My reading says that God, in great wisdom, refuses such plans when made by His people. He will not let us thrive in our selfishness because whatever we go after will choke our spiritual life and prevent us from living in His will. Any activity prompted by “vain ambition” is not from God, nor will He bless it. Instead, He wants me to forget about aiming at being the best in the worldly view of things. This is unprofitable because such pursuits prevent me from knowing and living out His plans.

Jeremiah also wrote these words that Christians love to quote: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11), but too often we leave off the next two verses; “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Seeking God with my whole heart does not include dabbling in my own plans on the side. Today’s devotional read points out that even if I developed my spiritual talents and gifts to the fullest extent (never mind any other abilities), and even if other people almost worshiped me for what I have done or am able to do, one day I will “lie upon a death-bed—when eternity is in view, and (my) soul has to deal with God only.”

Then, as the author says, I will want no gifts or even consider them, because the wonderful grace of God will be the only thing that can do me any good, and the only thing that I can offer back to Him.

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