YOU ARE NOT
WHAT YOU DO
When the purpose of our pursuits is to give God glory,
it helps us escape the stifling trap of self-promotion
Watch any online motivational video and, soon enough, you’ll hear one focal message: pursue your goals. We are told to dream big. We are persuaded that we can make that audacious dream a reality. We are convinced that our fulfilment and our identity lie wrapped up in that achievement. We are egged on to “make something” of ourselves. Don’t let anyone tell you, “You can’t,” the self-help gurus pontificate.
Sure, maybe we can. But the question is: should we?
Should we pursue goals that have as their core: me, myself and I?
Seldom are we told that throwing ourselves into chasing a prize may leave us bedraggled, never quite satisfied, still grasping for that sense of abiding peace. Rarely are we cautioned that our dreams may be narrow, selfish and self-centred.
We tend to define ourselves, our worth and our significance in pursuing and accomplishing our goals. It gives us an adrenalin rush, a fleeting sense of fulfilment, which we assume to be our soul’s satisfaction.
But is it really?
In Every Good Endeavour, Tim Keller points out that “thinking of work mainly as a means of self-fulfillment and self-realization slowly crushes a person.”
We are created for God’s glory (Isaiah 43:7). This is His design for the universe. This is His design for us. All things were created by Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16). When we subvert this supreme design and seek to glorify ourselves, we remain unfulfilled, restless, and in an incessant race for the next best thing.
God and our goals tend to run on parallel tracks. The two meet only when we ask God for His help in accomplishing our already-chalked-out goals – the pursuits which serve the purpose of supposedly propping us up. We relegate God to the role of “Best Supporting Actor”.
No, there’s nothing wrong with charting goals for ourselves. You’ve set your sights on cracking that test. You’re aiming for admission at a top-ranked university. You want to do exceedingly well at work and get that promotion. Those are, without a doubt, good things. But have they innocuously transitioned from being a “good thing” to, in Keller’s words, “the ultimate thing”? Have our aspirations become our idols? Are we bowing down to them, defining our purpose, our identity and our self-worth in accomplishing them?
John Piper speaks of this selfish ambition when he says, “The tragic thing about modern self-oriented life… is that it all leaves us without our ultimate treasure, our ultimate reason for being; namely, to know and understand and perceive and experience and delight in God himself. God is subtly treated as a means to what we really, finally want; namely, I want to be something. I want to be someone.”
What if the “someone” you want to be is who you already are: a child of God. Just like a toddler loves to bring delight to his dad, we are created to bring joy to God – and in that pursuit we find our deeply rooted satisfaction and our God-given identity.
The why of our goals is worth examining: are we pursuing the goal as an end in itself? Are we striving as a way to gain a sense of worth or self-esteem? Are we attempting to win the approval and admiration of people?
Or, are we running the race marked out for us with the intent of giving God glory?
When the purpose of our pursuits is to give God glory, it helps us escape the stifling trap of self-promotion.
Whatever we do, we do it for the ultimate purpose of lifting Jesus up. That way, even if our goals, our plans or our earthly ambitions crumble, it won’t break us. And if we do accomplish them, that success won’t puff up our egos.
We are not defined by what we accomplish, but by what Christ has already accomplished for us, and what He continues to work out in and through us.