‘Build your empire’
‘Focus on your goals’
'Fight for what your want'
If you’ve spent more than 5 minutes online, you’ve probably seen quotes like these. They motivate us to be our best selves, to pursue our dreams and leave our mark on the world. The desire to make an impact is a noble one, one that keeps our eyes wide open to new opportunities. I’ll be the first to say that I'm passionate about making the most of my time, but here’s the thing: when we only focus on this, we risk hitting a wall.
Self-help is no help at all
What Jesus is saying here is quite different from the ‘focus on yourself’ narrative that surrounds us. When we focus too much on building ourselves, and only ourselves, we risk losing ourselves in the process. If it’s not moderated by something else, it consumes us, we feel an intense pressure to overperform and create anxiety through comparison.
We say things like ‘I need to make sure I’m completely sorted first’ before we do anything else, but the irony is the process of sorting ourselves out is a lifelong one. There will always be something we can do more of, have more of and be better at. Because we are always reaching, trying and stretching towards something, it becomes very difficult to be satisfied. If it's always our way or the highway, we will never be accommodating enough to let someone else set the pace.
It's important to note that I don’t believe that God is against us having passions, goals and visions - I think they're important, but life doesn't stop there. We need to stay focused on the bigger picture, which is going wherever God's word directs us and going with each other. While God works with you to build you up, you can only get so far without other people in the picture.
“Anything else I could ever expect to have in life will ONLY come from what is poured and sown into the lives of others […]
And in those times where I ‘feel’ the (false) need [anxiety, desperation] or lack that’s actually restless spirit [inner self] - a spirit frustrated and restless because it hasn’t been put to work in the way that it was created to.”
- Personal notes from Colour Conference, 30/04/16
Part of that work is to connect with others, to be an active contributor and participant in their lives. If we miss this, we miss out on how each of our passions are intertwined and strengthened when we connect. It’s explained beautifully in John:
This brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘dying to self’. It’s not necessarily about hurting yourself and living a life of struggle, it’s about recognising that as much as we are individuals we are also part of something way, way bigger. And that is equally - if not more - important.
Where the magic happens
Recently, Robby Lewis explained the ‘what’s in it for me’ phase is just the beginning of this God experience. It’s where we find our feet, where we get a clear and personal experience of how much God helps us as individuals. It’s where some of our biggest anxieties, fears and personal struggles start to get dealt with in an incredible way.
It’s a beautiful and important part of the faith, but we don't stop there. As we mature, the experience expands: it becomes not only about what God can do for us, but what we can do for others. This is where the magic happens. Without it, we get stuck and things get stale. It becomes a boring, lifeless trail of attending church, reciting wish-list prayers and living life in a vacuum.
"Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on" - Hebrews 10:25
There is something bigger, something that unifies our collective purpose: the pursuit of God and sharing this life-changing experience with everyone else. It depends on our individual contribution - what we give out, not what we keep for our ourselves. We let God set the agenda, and we flex our busy lives around it. We let go of our desire to be in control, and we open ourselves up to endless possibilities.
We accept that maybe, just maybe it’s not all about us. That maybe it’s about relationship, and what we could bring to the table if we think bigger.