Originally posted by Adam Ramsey on November 13, 2013
Many leaders have everything they’ve ever dreamed of—except contentment. The Apostle Paul teaches us a secret that is the antidote to our endless search for achievement.
“To have found God and still to pursue him is the soul’s paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too-easily-satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart.” –A.W. Tozer
It doesn’t matter if it’s a road trip across the country or a short drive to McDonalds, every parent has heard it and every child has said it: “Are we there yet?” To the impatient youngster, the waiting, frustration, and anguish of not being ‘there’ can be overwhelming.
These familiar words not only ring out from backseats across the world, but from the hearts of young leaders I’ve talked to in many different places who have believed the hype that they’re going to have an insta-mega-success-ministry story. Or perhaps even more startlingly, they believe they are entitled to it. And all their joy, satisfaction, and significance is dangerously riding on getting ‘there.’
And so I started to wonder. What is ‘there’ anyway?
‘There’ Is A Mirage
What is this ministry-nirvana that promises to bring calm to the raging, ambitious desires of your soul? What are you looking to that will make your heart exclaim, “Aha! Now I have arrived! Now I will matter! Now I am a somebody!”
Is ‘there’ an attendance-goal, and then you will have arrived?
Is ‘there’ a level of recognition and influence, and then you will have arrived?
Is ‘there’ a Twitter following, a net-worth, or a level of theological prowess, and then you will have arrived?
The waiting, frustration, and anguish of not being ‘there’ can be overwhelming.
Though there is nothing inherently wrong with high attendance, recognition, or a large Twitter following, when they are placed on the throne of our identity, they become pharaohs that ruthlessly rule our lives. Many leaders have everything they’ve ever dreamed of—except contentment.
On what have you set your hopes and your gaze?
The allure of being satisfied by ‘there’ is nothing more than a mirage. It shimmers on the horizons of our imagination, but only lures us deeper into a desert of discontentment. Because even when we arrive ‘there,’ we quickly discover it is just a new here. And our unsatisfied heart still rages.
Many leaders have everything they’ve ever dreamed of—except contentment.
At Mars Hill Church, we recently launched student ministry across ten of our fifteen churches, with more to come in the near future. Like all ministry pioneering, it is fast-paced, messy, and filled with both trials and joys. I began by training leaders and preaching 4–5 times a week across our locations like an old-school, caffeinated Methodist circuit rider. We are figuring it out as we go, and it often feels like we are building the plane as we fly it—30,000 feet in the air.
As a leader, I have to battle with frustration, impatience, and the pressure to impress. Delusions of my own giftedness and feelings of inadequacy both take turns competing for my heart’s attention. And that’s just Monday morning.
The more my identity is attached to my achievements or circumstances, the more my joy will be hijacked by discontentment.
Christ As Our ‘There’
But in the gospel, we have the beautiful paradox of having already arrived in the finished work of Jesus, which frees us to run with gladness and endurance. Herein lies the difference between every other belief system and the gospel. In the first we run to complete the work of our significance or acceptance. In the second we still run, but it’s from the completed work of Christ who has loved us, accepted us, and given us an eternal and undeserved significance by adopting us into his family.
As a leader, I have to battle with frustration, impatience, and the pressure to impress.
Do you remember the classic movie Chariots of Fire? Amongst other things, the movie contrasts the motives that fueled two different runners, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell. As Abrahams anticipates the upcoming race, he laments, “I will raise my eyes and look down that corridor, four feet wide, with ten lonely seconds to justify my whole existence. But will I?”
Ten seconds to achieve significance and acceptance.
Ten seconds to become a somebody.
In stark contrast, we later hear Liddell speak of his race with the oft-quoted words, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure.”
The difference? One was running to arrive. The other already had.
The Apostle Paul’s Secret
In Philippians, Paul speaks of having learned a secret. Not the self-help kind of secret that seeks to manipulate some kind of karmic law of attraction to get whatever you want. No, Paul’s secret is much better, because far more important than you and I getting whatever we want is us enduring faithfully to the end (2 Tim. 4:7–8).
We have the beautiful paradox of having already arrived in the finished work of Jesus.
Imagine sitting across a coffee table from Paul today. Here sits a father in the faith whose life and body bear the marks of Christ. He was faithful. He was fruitful. He had fought the good fight right up until the very end. You have the opportunity to ask him the question, “How did you do it? What’s your secret?” He leans in and says,
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:11–13)
Paul’s life and ministry were powered by the rocket-fuel of contentment. The secret is not that Jesus gives us the strength to achieve anything we put our mind to, but that Jesus sets us free from being defined by our achievements or our circumstances.
In Christ, the restlessness of my heart is completely and infinitely satisfied. So now it matters not whether I am in a season of abundance or a season of lack,
Whether my ministry is mega or mini,
Whether I am quoted by millions or serving in obscurity,
Whether I am eloquent or don’t-talk-very-good,
Whether I stop the mouths of lions or am thrown to the lions,
Whether I am standing atop a mountain or walking through the valley of the shadow of death,
I can be content because these were never the goal. Jesus is.
Jesus sets us free from being defined by our achievements or our circumstances.
Young leader: you will know the joy of the Lord as your strength, when Jesus—and Jesus alone—is your ‘there.’ Detach your significance from your performance, and harness yourself to Jesus’ performance on your behalf. Though it is counterintuitive, the more we are enthralled with this beautiful reality of the gospel, the more we are empowered to run with God’s pleasure. It is a gospel-identity that leads to fruitful activity (1 Cor. 15:10).
+ If you belong to Jesus, you have lots to do and nothing to prove.