Mankind has always sought for meaning and purpose in life. At some point or another, every person wrestles with the questions of “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” and, “Surely, there must be more to life than this.” After all, why do we put bother to go through years of education, from preschool all the way to college/university and beyond?
We seek self-improvement to make something of ourselves, do we not? In primary school, we were always asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In secondary school, we ask ourselves that question again, this time considering the viability of that option, before we make the choice between going into the arts or sciences. That decision may or may not pave our way toward our field of study in tertiary education, and then before we know it, we’re thrown out into the working world.
Everybody is trying to get to the top. Success is part of the natural progression of things, right? We talk so much about being in the rat race, and climbing up the corporate ladder—all in attempt of proving that “I can do this! I can rise above everybody else and make a difference.” But for what purpose?
Who are we trying to prove ourselves to? Why are we trying to prove ourselves? Are we trying to prove our abilities to ourselves? To the world? To our families? To God? Is it because of a deep sense of insecurity that causes us to think, “If I can just achieve ______, everything will fall into place. I will be happy. I will be content”?
I believe there have been enough articles, TV shows, movies, YouTube videos, and books out there that have shot down this notion of being swept away by success and finding satisfaction in that, right? We know that such things, appealing as they may be, will not fill the void in us. We know that they will only leave us feeling more empty and unfulfilled. Yet we continue to strive.
We are inherently wired to work toward a goal. It goes against our nature to not have a purpose—to not have something to move towards. The feeling of stagnation and purposelessness can be one of the most frustrating and depressing struggles to battle. That is why we always refer to life as a journey. We recognize that we are all moving from one point to another, and we would like that direction to be forward.
After all, who drives with their gear shift in “Reverse”? Who gets to a roundabout and keeps going in circles? Who gets into a taxi and says, “Let’s just sit here”? Nobody, right? We all want to get places. And so when it comes to our spiritual lives, and people tell us that Jesus is the answer to everything, our automatic response would be to go all out for Him. To reach “that point.”
This is where it becomes a problem. There is nothing wrong with wanting to succeed. In fact, it is entirely necessary and that’s why God made us with this instinct. We are where we are today in civilization because of people who had drive, motivation, and vision. The dangers begin to manifest only when we get so caught up in it that we lose sight of the process and enslave ourselves to the goal.
As Christians, we tend to throw in the cliché answer: Jesus can fill that void. Yes, I say cliché. Not to undermine the truth that Jesus can fill that void (because He can), but as a caution to not set ourselves up for yet another rat race. It is exhausting enough to try to chase after success in the corporate world. Trying to chase after spiritual success to no avail can be so much more disheartening.
So many Christians, myself included, become disillusioned with God because we want so much to attain a certain level of relationship with Him that we fail to see Him in the present. I look at spiritual giants, I see the wisdom they possess because of the intimacy they share with God and I think to myself, “I want that.”
And so I begin to strive towards that goal. I tell myself I need to pray more. I need to think of others more. I need to read my Bible more. I need to spend more time with God. I need to love Him more. Then when I am unable to follow through with these goals, I beat myself up. I feel like a failure. I start telling myself, I don’t do enough for Him. I don’t love Him enough.
It’s one thing to fail at work, at relationships, at hobbies and interests, but it is a whole other dimension of worthlessness to feel like you have failed even God. The despondency and meaninglessness that ensue hit pretty hard; and once you’re down, you stay down.
But God, in His mercy, sends people into our lives to speak truth to us when we are unwilling to let His own Word penetrate the wall of lies we build around ourselves when we’re hurting. One very wise person asked me, “What is enough?” and another reminded me that God does not measure our worth according to how much we do or how much we love Him.
I was once again reminded of why Christ had to die for us. It is because I will never be good enough. Our society today tends to want to rebuke that statement with “Eh, don’t say things like that lar,” or, “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” but that is the beauty of the Gospel!
It transforms a negative, self-loathing statement of “I will never be good enough (because I’m such a failure blah blah blah)” to “I will never be good enough (because nothing I do could possibly make me deserving of God’s approval, yet I have it anyways!).
By God’s standards, we are so far from redemption. And God knew that. He knew that no matter how hard we tried, no matter how much we sacrificed, no matter how much we love Him and want to serve Him, we can never love Him the way He loves us and we can never do anything in our own strength that would honor or glorify Him. But because we are covered by the blood of Christ, all of us, undeserving as we are, have become deserving in Him.
For it is by grace we have been saved, through faith—and this is not from ourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
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