March 3, 2010

To Live is Christ — pressing on to maturity

Among other things, Olympic athletes have tremendous focus and self-control. They do it because winning a medal depends on those things as much as it does on physical strength and well-developed skill.

I’ve been thinking about the importance of focus and self-control, partly because of the Olympics and partly because of these verses I’ve been reading. 

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. (Titus 2:11–12)
God offers His grace that I might deny anything that pulls me away from obedience. The Ten Commandments lists sins like idolatry, murder, stealing and covetousness, but there are other sins more subtle.

Last night I was alternating between a magazine about quilting, a show on television, and the latest writers’ newsletter. I’d spent part of the day on a quilting project that I wanted to finish more than I wanted to make perfect, but was not happy about my workmanship. I was also thinking about how many interests that I’ve had but not fully developed. Easily distracted could be my excuse but I wondered if it was just plain lazy, that I didn’t want to make the effort to do one thing well. Dabbling in dozens and “good enough” was easier.

I often jest that I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but time is running out. That thought was making my heart heavy. Should I be focusing on one thing, like Paul who said, “This one thing I do  . . . ”? Or has God had me bounce around these many interests and occupations for a reason?

I prayed about it. One verse that I read this morning said, “ . . . the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Wherever struck me. Perhaps the choices are not so important as just making one. Whatever and wherever it is, God will be with me in it as long as it does not involve ungodliness or yielding to worldly passions.

Lurking in my mind was one of those worldly passions. It was the notion that if I do one thing (or many things) I must excel, do it well, be the best I can be. Yet I know that in God’s realm, sometimes He just wants it done. He supplies the skill to make it successful according to His way of measuring things, not mine. 

I also wondered if perhaps God gave me multi-interests and abilities that He might use them as arenas to teach me self-control and godly behavior. My Christian life isn’t about whether I write, or paint, or make quilts, or teach, or any other thing that interests me, but how I live, and why, and who gets the glory.

The questions I must ask myself come easily to mind. The first one: Will God be glorified in this? A sub-question: When I want something done well, is it because excellence reflects on Him, or is this about me?

Another question is this one: Can I happily go from moment to moment doing what God puts on my heart and not be concerned about career, life-statement, or anything that makes me feel satisfied or proud of myself?

The answer to such perplexity is found in the person of Jesus Christ. Did He concern Himself about such things? Of course not. He came to do the will of God, not His own. Even at the point of death, He said, “Not my will but Thine be done” (Luke 22:42). All Jesus cared about was obedience and bringing glory to God.

As I write these things, I can see that the root of my questioning is envy. The accomplishments of others (in the magazine, the newsletter, television) stirred up the green-eyed monster, which must vanish upon confession. This is ungodly and a worldly passion that has no place in the life of an obedient Christian.

My chief goal in life is spelled out in the Bible. The goal that God has for me is to transform me into the image of His Son. It also might be His will that I win medals or top the charts, but only if it is part of that transformation process. (Incidentally, He can use ALL things to do it, see Romans 8:28-29.)

The other reality about Jesus is that He listened to His Father. He didn’t start the day with a to-do list but on His knees. He was kept busy, was never bored, and never cared one whit about what He wanted to be because He is as grownup as a person can get.

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