I'm Not as Special as I Used to Think
- Monday, November 12, 2012
What have you accomplished in your professional life? What’s on your resume or CV? Quite a lot’s on mine — and if you have a job to offer, I’ll be glad to show it to you! Yet a strong CV — listing all of my skills and experience, using all of the right verbs — is no guarantee against career setbacks, as I know full well.
Three and a half years ago, my employer — citing changes in the world of publishing and a rotten economy — gave me the pink slip. After experiencing shock, disbelief, and guilt — some of the classic signs of grief — I quickly was the recipient of God’s miraculous provision for me and my family, as well as new opportunities to exercise my gifts.
If only that were the end of the story! Unfortunately, my full-time freelance career has not been quite what I had expected. Despite some undeniable successes in my glamorous life as a writer, I have also faced some clear setbacks. And because our household finances depend in part on my doing well professionally, these disappointments have produced more than just emotional fallout for me. But I’m here to tell you that this difficult experience, slowly but surely, is helping me to get over myself and look to Jesus for my sustenance and significance.
After a recent, excruciating rejection by a publisher, the Lord graciously showed me Philippians 3. In it Paul listed his personal reasons for confidence in the flesh but then said,“whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” I’m going to say something radical here. What we do is rubbish compared with gaining him.
Os Guinness, in his book The Call, draws a distinction between our primary calling and our secondary callings. Our primary calling is a calling “to be”: a follower of Christ. Our secondary callings involve what we are “to do”: things like careers. The secondary callings only illustrate the primary calling; they will never replace it.
And how could they? Our secondary callings will not last. Think about the great heroes of the faith — the ones with the impressive CVs. David started out by slaying Goliath; he ended up as an old man needing a servant girl to keep him warm in his own bed. Peter had his great confession of faith; he died upside down on a Roman cross. When Eric Liddell, the “Flying Scotsman,” ran, he felt God’s pleasure. But he died in a Japanese internment camp, five days before liberation. Our callings, our resources, even our health, are only temporary. Rubbish.
I know this may sound shocking, but I’m not as special as I used to think. Whatever you think of him, when that great theologian, Rush Limbaugh, says that he has “talent on loan from God,” he’s right. Our gifts — which come from God’s gracious hand and enable us to provide for our needs, serve others, and point to the kingdom—are only loaned to us, and one day we will give them all back, along with an accounting of how we used them.
Sometimes I’m tempted to throw a tantrum when people or circumstances block me from using “my gifts.” Often I find myself with more ideas than opportunities to express them. When that happens, I ask myself, “Why isn’t God allowing me to use my gifts?” Perhaps you’ve asked yourself the very same question. It’s stressful, isn’t it?
But then I remind myself that life is not all about me and my gifts. It’s about him, the one who gives me those gifts in the first place. If I never get to write a book again and have to do something entirely different, that’s up to him — and it’s OK. He knows what he’s doing. I can trust him.
And let’s be honest: God doesn’t need me or my gifts. And heaven won’t be a better place because of them, except insofar as they point to his grace. Though I’m precious in God’s sight, which Christ proved by dying on the Cross for me, when it comes to my gifts, I’m very replaceable. Just as he could raise up children for Abraham from the stones, so he could raise up a monkey to do what I do — and at a lower hourly rate!
Peter’s business card would have said “Fisherman” below his name. Fishing was what he did; it was what he was good at. Once, however, Peter and some of the other fishermen had been out all night without catching so much as a minnow. What would they say to their wives and significant others? Then Jesus shows up and tells Peter to let down his nets again. Peter, the fishing expert, humors this amateur — and is astonished when his nets start snapping, and the boats begin sinking. Jesus is about to show Peter the meaning of the word “fishing”! No, the Lord’s not impressed by the experience and skills laid out in our resumes. As Paul said, “What do you have that you did not receive?”
The New Testament tells us that God will reward his faithful servants with crowns. I like rewards! I love crowns! But when I turn to Revelation, I see God’s servants doing something strange with those crowns. They’re not wearing them; they’re casting them at his feet!
No matter what my CV says, whatever the successes or failures in my life, ultimately it’s all going back to him. The only thing that matters, that has surpassing worth, is gaining Christ.
Stan Guthrie, a Christianity Today editor at large, is author of All That Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us and coauthor of The Sacrament of Evangelism. Stan blogs at http://stanguthrie.com/blog.
Publication date: November 12, 2012
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