Written by Aaron Gullerud / November 2016
Have you ever wondered what that uneasy feeling is that you can’t explain? That little extra weight on your shoulders as you go about the day? The reason you sometimes can’t fully be in the moment, enjoying a friend’s laugh or a beautiful sunset? The feeling that no matter how much you accomplished in a day it just wasn’t enough? That subconscious drive to strive, please, and perfect? The general uneasiness that comes from just being…you? Well I hope this letter provides the answer. Quite simply it really boils down to just one nagging question, and that is, “Am I significant?”
“Hmmm…” you’re probably thinking, “I don’t recall that crossing my mind yet at this age.” And yet it was always there. “Boy I hope I get picked within the top three for soccer today.” “I can’t believe I got those wrong; now I have a stupid B minus!!” “Don’t screw up the solo!” “I wonder what people were saying when I missed that shot.” “Everyone has always liked what I put out there but why is no one singing my praises on this one?” “Your career better be something special.” “Look at what your parents, siblings, and classmates have already achieved.” “What if I don’t get married?” “What if I don’t have kids?”
As pointless as these worries may seem on the outside, there’s a good reason for this striving for significance. At some point early on in life you swallowed the lie that the more significant you are, the more worthy you are of being loved.
An identity rooted in yourself will lead to sorrow, pain, anxiety, and disappointment.
Here is some advice that you won’t get from the world: Don’t strive for greatness. The desire for significance will always come at the expense of pride, looking down on others, and wanting to see others perform worse than you. Think about it, if you want significance for yourself, what does that say about what you want for those around you? Not only will you move further away from receiving genuine love from others, in this mindset of domination over others you will never know peace.
By anyone’s estimation, King David achieved greatness as a champion over lions, bears, armies, the unmatched warrior, Goliath, and was a talented poet and musician to boot. And yet, we find him in Psalm 131 writing, “My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.”
As accomplished as King(!) David was, he knew that his achievements were nothing compared to God’s resume. Only someone who has carried the burden of having a haughty look (which God says he hates in Proverbs 6:16-17) can appreciate the renewed peace found in a humble heart. It’s a heart that takes comfort in the fact that our performance, good or bad, does not equal more or less of God’s love. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8) Really get that equation.
So then, we work hard not for the furtherance of our own name, but His. Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
Leaning on the significance of who Jesus is and what He achieved so that we receive His 100% acceptance and love, we can without reservation 1) raise up His name above all others 2) raise up those around us above ourselves.
A well-known preacher, Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Fill your sphere, brother, and be content with it. If God shall move you to another, be glad to be moved; if he move you to a smaller, be as willing to go to a less prominent place as to one that is more so. Have no will about it. Be a weaned child that has given up fretting, and crying, and worrying, and leaves its mother to do just what seems good in her sight. When we are thoroughly weaned it is well with us — pride is gone, and ambition is gone too.”
An identity rooted in yourself will lead to sorrow, pain, anxiety, and disappointment. Instead, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:17-19).
So what can be said about our relationship to hard work and those around us? Let your hard work be to love one another. ”Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10).
There will be times in your life when your calling will be to follow behind others with a broom, mop, and toilet brush, and other times when your calling will be to lead others. It will not be a graduation from one to the next. Even within the span of a day your sphere will be changing, some tasks being more glamorous than others. Fueled by a desire for significance so that you can win the love-approval of God and others, your tank will quickly run dry. Without the heart of a humble servant you will only know anger, jealousy, scorn, discontentment, discouragement, insecurity, sadness, and fear. Leaning instead on the significance of who Jesus is and what He achieved so that we receive His 100% acceptance and love, we can without reservation 1) raise up His name above all others 2) raise up those around us above ourselves.
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).
In closing, my advice to you is this: Read this letter every day, because the devil will be working every day to revert you back to the old way of thinking. Study Scripture, memorize Scripture, encourage others with Scripture. Come to the foot of the cross daily to ask for forgiveness as your motives go astray, and pray for that renewed mind. Do whatever it takes to never forget that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Because that, my young friend, is significant.