We are an incurably competitive lot here in America. We constantly measure our wins and losses. Why? Partially it is because we are a nation of many different people groups. Every immigrant group in our nation has had to struggle to gain a place, to find economic stability and social acceptance. In part we compete because of our deep belief that anyone who works hard enough can find great success. We love our rags to riches stories. Woven into our national mythology is the idea that America is exceptional among the nations and therefore each of us is destined to be ‘successful.’ We strive, fight, and claw for that success, but too often our success is measured using the wrong metrics: money, fame, and/or status. I’ll leave it to you to make your own conclusions about the value of all that striving.
Of special concern to me is this: when we drag the idea of ‘wins and losses’ to our relationship with Christ Jesus, a toxic religiosity replaces a healthy spirituality in us.
Our eyes lower from Christ Jesus to Self. That which should make life more full and rich becomes another source of angst. We turn into performers instead of worshipers. We compete instead of cooperating. When things go wrong and life gets hard, those who are comparing and measuring themselves against others conclude that it must be their fault; that they must be flawed, or that they need to work harder. In our gracelessness, we find no rest in the goodness of God.
Jesus teaches us to keep our hearts open before the Father, to seek Him, and warns of turning it into a show.
He said “Take care! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired, because then you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give a gift to someone in need, don’t shout about it as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I assure you, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone, don’t tell your left hand what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in secret, and your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you.
“And now about prayer. When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I assure you, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father secretly. Then your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-6, NLT)
What matters more to you, friend, God’s acceptance or the admiration and approval of others? The question is not a simple one to answer because our hearts are complex, occupied by many mixed motives. When we desire to know and love our Heavenly Father above all else we will begin to live in the contentment promised to us.
He also teaches us that God’s measure of success is not like the common ones of human beings.
“Real life is not measured by how much we own.” . . . “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” Then turning to his disciples, Jesus said, “So I tell you, don’t worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or clothes to wear. For life consists of far more than food and clothing. Look at the ravens. They don’t need to plant or harvest or put food in barns because God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds!” (Luke 12:15-24, NLT)
Can you confess that God will supply you with all that you need?
I make no case for living as a fool and then expecting God to make up the difference! If you create a ton of debt, God is not obligated to pay off your credit cards. We will not be happier when we have a bigger house, a newer car, or the latest smartphone. Joy is found in contentment, the faith to receive His promise – “I’ll provide for your needs!” The wisdom to know the difference between ‘what I want’ and ‘what I need’ is found in consistent worship, in feeding the soul with the Word of God. Paul gets right to the heart of the matter. “After all, we didn’t bring anything with us when we came into the world, and we certainly cannot carry anything with us when we die. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction.” (1 Timothy 6:7-9, NLT)
As we close our time together today, let’s go to Jesus’ words about what it means to live a ‘blessed life.’ This passage which opens The Sermon on the Mount are words we admire for their beauty and simplicity. The true question is not whether we admire them but if we live them. Prayerfully meditate in this word from the Word. May they bring us life and peace, replacing that competitive spirit that so often makes us miserable.
“God blesses those who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.
God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are gentle and lowly, for the whole earth will belong to them.
God blesses those who are hungry and thirsty for justice, for they will receive it in full.
God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.
God blesses those who are persecuted because they live for God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” (Matthew 5:3-10, NLT)
Be Thou My Vision (Slane)
(A prayerful hymn, listen and worship!)
Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, Save that Thou art
Thou my best thought by day or by night
Waking or sleeping Thy presence my light
Be Thou my wisdom, and Thou my true Word
I ever with Thee, and Thou with me Lord
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son
Thou in me dwelling and I with Thee one
Riches I heed not, Nor man’s empty praise
Thou mine inheritance, Now and always
Thou and Thou only , first in my heart
High King of heaven, my treasure Thou art
High King of heaven, my vict’ry won
May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all
Eleanor Henrietta Hull © Words: Public Domain