Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD.Jeremiah 17:5
We often find ourselves inspired by the achievements of others. Famous athletes, powerful political figures, celebrities, and a host of other professionals become role models to so many who just know they can follow their dreams and become just like their heroes. But what should a Christian aspire to be in this world? A doctor, lawyer, preacher, professional athlete, president? What should Christian parents aspire for their children? How should faith shape the question of “what do you want to be when you grow up?”
How often do worldly aspirations line up with our spiritual reality as a new creation in Christ?
Can a Christian achieve prominence in their field of choice? Maybe that’s the wrong question. Can a Christian achieve prominence in their field while living their life on mission as a disciple of Christ? That’s perhaps a bit harder to answer.
Certainly, the body of Christ is full of different people from all different walks of life, skills, and talents. God works through His people in different aspects of life to be His representatives and His ambassadors.
But what if God takes a back seat as a Christian pursues their personal life goals? Even apart from a relationship with God, it’s plain to see that many families have suffered turmoil because careers, aspirations, and other commitments can lead to irreversible damage of those relationships. Isn’t it naïve to think that isn’t a risk we take in our spiritual lives? It comes down to a simple fact: we cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). If our aspirations become our master, we begin to serve a god other than the Almighty, sometimes serving only ourselves.
As someone who has spent over 9 years in higher education pursuing advanced degrees and 4 years in the military, I can attest to the stress that is put on relationships, both spiritual and physical. I believe God has been with me and helped me grow throughout my life—even on the days that I barely acknowledged His existence. I also believe He gives us the freedom to choose just how many detours we want to go down during that growth process. I have no doubt He can and will use some of the roads we choose for good, even if we sometimes choose those roads for ourselves and not for Him (Romans 8:28). He has done that for me. I’ve made lifelong friends and spiritual bonds in both school and the military. I wore a uniform alongside some of the most dedicated and selfless individuals anyone could ever meet. My earthly job as a veterinarian has given me many opportunities to serve people, which I try to do with the attitude of Colossians 3:17 in mind. (I forget that truth more than I care to admit.) I even tried to shine the light of Christ while in the military, but it’s awfully easy to make an excuse as a “secret disciple” of sorts (John 19:38) and let Army policy dictate your interactions with your Soldiers.
I could have become completely consumed with my military career. I could let myself be consumed by business ownership as a veterinarian. Admittedly, I have some obsessive-compulsive tendencies, so I know I can go overboard with the attention I give to various things (like school or work). But I recently realized that the most important aspect of my life was often not getting even close to that level of devotion. I needed to change my mindset and shift my goals. Don’t get me wrong, my current employer still gets very hard work out of me, and I do enjoy my earthly job. It’s just that I’m striving to change and improve my perspective. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24) I work for Christ. I serve Christ in all that I do. I work so I can provide for my family, but also so I can share with others (Philippians 2:4, Ephesians 4:28). I don’t work for position, promotion, or power. I’m not interested in chasing a higher salary. If I began to seek power or influence, then it’s my own power or influence that I want to spread, not God’s. I don’t want to work in any capacity that could lead me to put the spotlight on myself. I am just a struggling Christian trying to let go of me a little more every day and cling only to God.
Now, I acknowledge and appreciate that someone has to do those very consuming jobs, hold those tough positions, and wield a particular level of power in our society. I’m thankful to have those people in our society, and I believe, especially in the case of governments and authorities, that they are appointed by God for a specific and respectable role. I’m just saying that’s not for me. I can’t and won’t say that it’s not for you. I do hope to at least encourage you, fellow Christian, to prayerfully consider whether it should be. Whatever you do, don’t do it for yourself. Let go of your “self.”
The ultimate example of letting go of self to serve God is none other than Jesus himself. He was seated in Heaven with God from the very beginning—the preeminent of all—and yet he chose to empty himself, become a servant, and voluntarily die the cruelest of deaths for you and for me (John 1:1-5, Colossians 1:15-20, Philippians 2:5-8). An example such as that simply cannot be matched by any of us. But what a standard it is (Ephesians 5:1-2). Think about it for a minute. We won’t ever earn or deserve that sacrifice—the love that was poured out for us.
Another example we can look to is that of Paul. Paul was at the height of his game in the world at one point. Just check out his resume in Philippians 3:4-6. In comparison to our day, we could think Paul’s parents were so proud of the man he became. Certainly, he would have been held up as a role model for all the young Jewish boys of his day. And even after he became a follower of Christ, we might even think that his status would provide such a great platform that he could use to reach people for Jesus. But Paul wanted nothing to do with that platform. He would even go on to become a messenger to primarily Gentiles, a group of people who would care very little of his prior position as a Pharisee. He threw all of that away. It became very clear to him that all of those things—the status, the accolades, even his race and tribe—all of that was rubbish! (Philippians 4:7-9)
Paul’s goals in his life had a drastic shift. He went from pursuing life as a zealous Pharisee with all the wealth, power, and status that came with it, to humbling himself as a servant of the same Christ he persecuted. His new goals? To “know Him and the power of His resurrection,” to “share in His sufferings” and “become like Him in His death” so that “by any means possible [he could] attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11) Does that compute with us? His new goal for his life was to suffer and die just as his Savior did. He knew that it was “no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) How could he even think of boasting in his accomplishments in the flesh? No, rather he would boast in his weaknesses and his need for a savior. What a powerful truth to grasp: when we are weak, then we are strong! (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, we read an encouragement from Paul to run the race to receive the prize. But he wasn’t referring to the rat race of this world. Far from it. We shouldn’t be chasing after a perishable wreath. No, we are living for an inheritance much more valuable than that—an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in Heaven for us (1 Peter 1:3-4).
Are we holding on to or striving for something that Paul would call rubbish? Are we letting garbage get in the way of our walk with Christ? Are we running the wrong race? What are we pursuing? Are we following our hearts or following Jesus?
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?Jeremiah 17:9
Like Paul, Nicodemus climbed the ranks of the Pharisees. There may be only a few Scriptural references to Nicodemus, but I believe it’s more than fair to say he ultimately decided to surrender his status and reputation to become a disciple of Jesus (John 19:39). Similarly, Matthew achieved prominence in the Roman world as a tax collector. When Jesus called, Matthew threw that status away (Matthew 9:9). He voluntarily left a life of luxury, wealth, and security to follow Jesus.
I’ve got a long way to go to live this out. My spirit is willing, but my flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41). Thank you, God, that your power is made perfect in our weakness!
Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the persecuted (Matthew 5:3-12). Jesus came to proclaim the good news to the poor and pronounce liberty to the captives and the oppressed; give sight to the blind; and to proclaim the coming of God’s Kingdom! (Luke 4:18-19). It’s not our earthly status that Jesus came to improve. He didn’t come to help you climb the ladder to success in this world (Luke 12:15). He didn’t come to fix the world; He came to save you from it! We are not of the world any longer (John 17:16), so let’s quit looking for our identity in it. The rich young ruler that came to Jesus walked away sorrowfully when Jesus told him to separate himself from his earthly treasures (Matthew 19:16-30). The man who had a great yield of crops was more worried about his 401K of sorts rather than his eternal retirement plan (Luke 12:17-21). Even some of Jesus’ disciples came to Him celebrating that they were able to cast out demons through the Spirit, and Jesus had to redirect their focus—don’t rejoice in what you do on earth, rejoice that your name is written in Heaven! (Luke 10:17-20) Truly, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21).
The same is true for you today, Christian. We get to be citizens in God’s Kingdom. That should be the highlight of our lives! Sure, use your talents, skills, education, etc., but never let them lead your life (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). You may be following God’s will for how you can best be on mission for His Kingdom. On the other hand, you may be chasing after garbage. Let God lead you, and you will soon find out.
My aspiration for myself, my wife, and my children: to be a servant for our Lord and His people. To be a worker in His vineyard in whatever capacity He wills. What else is there for a Christian to pursue?
Give up your own ambitions. Surrender them all to Him. Give up your flesh and embrace your life as a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16-17). If you haven’t become a new creation in Him, there’s no better time than now. Let us introduce you to our Savior. Jesus came so we would have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Choose that life—it’s the only one that lasts.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”Jeremiah 17:7-8
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:1-11