Being a preacher or teacher is a dangerous business! For whatever reason standing in front of people with a microphone comes with a lot of baggage. Our culture perpetuates the idea that those who are called to lead, teach, inspire and educate us are somehow better than the rest. Unfortunately that is just as common within the church. Rather than seeing up front roles as a specific call to serve we can be lulled into thinking it is the goal we are all working towards! “When I am truly mature I will be just like my pastor/teacher/leader.” Of course there is an element of truth to this as we are called to model something, yet we must be wise.
One of the other traps of teaching in particular is the expectation that we all live out everything we teach all the time! Anyone who has ever taught in a Christian setting will be well aware of those moments when a truth shared feels like it bounces back and hits you in the face mid-preach! This is particularly fun when the contents is one of your go to, favourite topics.
I was reminded recently of a truth that I have taught to hundreds of people over several years. A truth I believe in wholeheartedly. Yet God was still gracious enough to prompt me gently to let me know that I needed realigned. Here is how I would summarise it.
Who you are is infinitely more important than what you do.
We teach our students at ESST this all the time. At its heart it is about having our foundations, our identity in the right place. Fundamentally as believers that means we get our value, our purpose and our base needs met by God. We are first and foremost sons and daughters, made alive in Christ before we move into areas of gifting or service.
Without getting this order right we find ourselves drifting into performance. That is to try to prove our identity by what we do rather than resting in our identity and overflowing in action. Experience tells me this drift happens to us all as we go through life. It was to this drift I felt God speak.
I have observed that both success and failure have a tendency to surface this issue. In success we become a little too attached to the things God has given us to do. We can start to believe our value is found in what we have achieved or built. In failure we can fall for the lie of believing our value has fallen in line with our achievement. Whenever our feeling of worth gets wrapped up with our doing we can be sure we are in for a roller coaster ride! Everyone faces success and failure – our worth, properly established remains fixed and tied directly to Jesus’s sacrificial death. Any attempt to reduce or increase this worth is foolish. Yet if we are honest, we all do this, though mostly subconsciously!
All of this talk of identity led me to thinking about purposes and plans. I have come to believe that as sons and daughters of God our purpose must be found in God. Firstly in the sense that each of us has a shared purpose as revealed in God’s word, to be children, ambassadors, co-heirs etc. Secondly, in the sense that within God’s creation each of us has a unique purpose. The combination of God’s image expressed in and through us and our gifts, talents, personality, geography and even the family he has placed us in. All of that must be unpacked and discovered in ongoing relationship with God – the creator of it all. Aside from an ongoing dialog with our creator we risk skewing the true purpose of our life.
Now to plans. I have come to believe that God has plans for your life. In recent years I have moved away from the blueprint idea of God. I no longer subscribe to the idea that God only has one plan for your life – the idea of walking a tightrope hoping not to fall off! I believe he has many, many plans for you. These are the concrete expressions of his purpose for the current time. The expression of him working all things for good in your life. In case you hadn’t noticed life changes continually and plans change accordingly. I get much peace from realising that like an expert chess player God can win from any position.
When considering our identity in God I think it is vital that we hold firmly to purpose but very lightly to plans. Plans might include your current job, where you live, how you are currently serving in your church, the opportunities you have and the opportunities you take. All of these change.
Often we don’t realise how strongly our identity has grown wrapped around these roles and actions until they are removed. Like ivy gradually growing on a building our identity gets intertwined with what we do, the longer we do it. Eventually the ivy will weaken the structure.
So this recent prompt from God was to continually live a life that holds lightly to his current plans for me. Hold lightly to the roles and opportunities I walk in at the moment. I find it helpful to periodically ask myself questions to help diagnose how I am doing. Here are a couple:
- If the role I currently have was taken away from me tomorrow how would I feel?
- If I was no longer able to do what I do would I still have peace?
An honest answer will normally require some soul-searching and a realignment of purpose. Your purpose is not tied to your job or your service. Our trust is in God not our circumstances. This is particularly challenging if you have led something for a long time or have pioneered something.
So personally I have been asking myself these questions afresh. Little by little removing the ivy that grows around the purposes of my life.
What tips do you have to keep yourself aligned with purpose?