Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. (Colossians 3:23, 24 NLT)
I have spent much time previously thinking & reading about this specific topic, but recently it has been brought back to my attention that this is something worth talking about beyond my circle of friends and family. I recently had a friend from high school message me, praising me for "making something of myself" when so many others we shared class with haven't. I felt like they were missing it, overlooking the value of the work that others are doing and honestly, I felt disappointed for my own motives being wrongfully judged. The Lord knows how different I am from high school, but it's been a challenge having others understand me and how God has change me, and as a result, how and why I live my life.
A successful life. How do you define it? If you ask the world how to define it, it is often seen as a summation of all your achievements: the number of degrees you have attained, how much money you make, how prestigious your job position is compared to the average Joe, the type of car you drive, how nice of a house or property you own, how expensive your wardrobe, or even how many kids or friends you have. The list goes on... But what does God say about your life? How is success seen in His loving eyes?
After graduating high school, it seems I have spent much of my time trying to discover the CORRECT answer to that question. I grew up in a Christian home, attending church weekly, having an amazing, loving family. In saying this, I've had a great support system and a strong foundation in my faith, but I suppose there are lessons that nobody but God Himself can get through to hardheaded creatures as myself. I was missing it.
I made straight A's from kindergarten through high school, and then throughout college as well. I had an natural apt for learning in the classroom. I loved being challenged and I felt a sense self-fulfillment from receiving good grades from the hard work I put into my academic career. But, eternally, what value does all of that have in itself? My dream was to be a doctor, and while I wanted to help people, I can't help but admit that I struggled for years to please and impress people. And while I had credited my achievements to God's doing, I somehow still had a bit of this twisted misconception that God wanted my life to be about ME.
I guess you could say I hit my ultimate low after I graduated college. I had a plan, a seriously long and hard thought-out plan for how my life was to unfold after college. And guess what? None of it unfolded. It more like twisted up, had gasoline poured on it, and was set ablaze. I ended up right where every college graduate hopes to end up after years of being on their own: my parents house. I love my parents, but this was NOT in my plan. "What happened to Med School?" "You're living with your PARENTS!?" I felt humiliated and like a total failure. Yet again, caring about what others thought about me.
So I thought that things basically couldn't get any worse, but they did. I had an additional series of challenges come my way that made me feel like a kid losing a dodge ball match, curled up on the court in the fetal position, getting hit with one ball after another, and no body would blow the whistle. "God, where was my whistle? Where were you, why did you let me get here, why didn't you fulfill my dreams and fulfill my plan?" I thought. I needed someone to slap me out of Lauren's World, and this was His way doing it. It was painful, but I've known all long that He did it in love.
I spent the next year and a half meeting some very influential mentors and friends, getting involved in my parents' church, becoming a youth group leader, and becoming closer with my family. I held several different little jobs including working at a Christian book store, being a nanny, and being a math and science tutor. I read more than I ever had in my life, mostly the Bible and also writings of influential Christian writers, especially books by Elisabeth Elliot.
Now, it would be very easy for anyone to look at me at the time and think that I was one of those that never amounted to anything close to being successful. But what they didn't know, is how God changed my heart and brought me to dry season not for my glory, but for His. He finally got it through to me that this life that He has blessed me with, is to be lived for HIM. Yes, I've heard that many times before in my life, but this was the first time that I truly, completely understood what that meant. I experienced more spiritual growth during those 18 months than I had my entire life: understanding more of who God is, who I am, and what His purpose is for my life. I was baptized the following Spring in celebrating what The Lord had done in my heart, and that day I publicly proclaimed that my life is HIS.
Until we stop caring about what others think, we won't care about what God thinks... We will keep living our lives for ourselves, feeling the burden of the never ending struggle to live up to the society's expectation of a successful life. But you know what? That is a burden we don't have to carry.
The true way to living successful life is finding how to live one in JOY: 1. Jesus 2. Others 3. Yourself. Yes, yourself is put very last.
"You were made by God and for God. And until you understand that, life will never make sense." -Rick Warren
My life didn't make a whole lot of sense before I understood that. And I thank God for that dry, painful season. It allowed me to seek God with all my heart and all my strength... It seemed like He was all I had in my life at the time. And yet, He was enough. He always is, it's just the matter if we let Him. He was faithful and never left my side when I needed Him most. He has taught me to pray "Thy will be done." He has made me understand how much He loves me, and in doing so He has also taught me to trust Him.
So finally I saw that His plans are better than mine, but I was nearing a new season of my life that was still very unknown. During those 18 months, I discovered a profession that might be a better fit for me, and I prayed about it. It was different than my previous prayers of "Please Lord, I really really want this, it's part of my plan." It was one of those "Lord if it is in Your will, Your plan for my life, I would love this opportunity to use the talents You have blessed me with to love others and to bring You glory."
I was accepted into the PA Program at a Christian university in Arkansas. It was the first time that I felt that I was truly living out God's plan for my life. It was not that I was finally doing something great by getting a higher degree or going to be making a larger salary, or that I was getting out of my parents house [although I'm so thankful that I did ;) ] it was because I was doing it for HIM and Him alone. God was finally at the center of my dreams; All else was aside and He was guiding them. It didn't matter to Him if I continued to work at a book store, tutor, or nanny. Before I was accepted into the program I had to explore my options, maybe going back to school to be a high school math teacher, or a college science professor, or a children counselor. I knew that it didn't matter what I did, as long as I was using what He has given me for His glory.
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37-39 NLT)
When people look at me and my life, I don't care what people think of me. I care about what they think of my God. My goal in life is to love God and love people. My grades, my schooling, my accomplishments, contribute nothing to a truly successful life. Those are temporary things that will not have any value when my life on earth is over and I approach the Pearly Gates.
So after I read this message from my old high school classmate, I thought about several people I knew from high school who I bet have been overlooked. Those who I have noticed have found the better thing in life, which did not necessarily include a prestigious job, but rather a new love for God and others... And that is what makes me smile because I know it makes the Lord smile. It makes my heart happy to see people giving up their lives to God. No matter what society will continue to say, find something you are good at and do it to help and love others. Work as if you are working for God and share His love. Always.
I know several people who have given up more prestigious jobs because they found that they can better live for God's glory in a nonprofit organization or doing lower salary jobs. But you know what? They are some of the most joyful people I know, and everyday people judge them for having a low-paying job and not "making something better of themselves." But what those people don't know is how many hearts they are leading to the Lord and how much love they have shared. THAT is SUCCESS. That is selflessness, that is love, that is eternal work that will echo in Heaven.
We live in a broken world that needs God. People are starving for love and finding temporary fulfillment in all the wrong things that are ultimately going to bring them to their destruction and they are MISSING IT. They are missing the Greater Thing in life, and how about we do something to change that. And keep doing those "somethings" until the day we leave this world and meet our Maker who then says, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. (Romans 12:1-21 NLT)