Tag Archive: significance


The Answer to Our Question

“While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew, his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” -Matthew 4:18-20

I remember talking to my dad about my future a while back. “I’m still not sure what I want to do with my life.” I said. I was very frustrated (as most college kids are) about the fact that the choices I make now seem to pigeonhole me into one vocation or another, seemingly permanently. I didn’t feel prepared to answer the question: “What are you going to do with your life?” I was surprised by my dad’s response to my request for guidance: My dad, a successful doctor (with a Master’s Degree in Architecture on the side), who has all of the signs of cultural success, said,

“Adam, I’m 50 and I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.”

I share this moment with you all because I think that the question as to our purpose here on earth is one that is burned deep into the soul of all human beings. Most often, we seek to find our ultimate significance through what we do. Isn’t it true that one of the first questions asked of us when in college is “What’s your major?” and, once in the workplace, “What do you do for a living?” I think (and I think that you’d agree with me) that our culture places immense value upon our occupation because it has nowhere higher to look when trying to answer the question:

“Why am I here?”

Enter the Reversal. Look at Matthew 4, where Jesus begins his ministry on earth and calls his first disciples to follow him. “Follow me” he says. You see, without some source of significance, without a caller to give us a calling, we create it on our own. For Peter and Andrew, their purpose on earth was probably something along the lines of “To be an honest, hard-working fisherman, God-fearing Jew, and steady provider for my family.”

Sounds great, right? Not when compared with what Jesus had in mind. You see, he calls us to so much more than a vocation or even to his mission. Jesus’ answer to our Question isn’t even on our level. He doesn’t answer primarily with a task but with himself. He gives more than a calling. He gives the opportunity to walk with the caller. True significance in this life can’t be found in a job, but in a person.

And our task flows from Him; to be his humble disciples, spreading his word to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:12-20), in whatever vocation we find ourselves. He doesn’t just say: “Follow me” He gives a completely new level of significance to the familiar task of fishing.  You know what I love about these verses? He didn’t say : “Come with me, I’m going to make you a Rabbi” as would have been the custom for a Rabbi to do when gathering disciples. Translated into today’s terms, he didn’t call them necessarily to be “Pastors.” He called the fishermen to be… fishermen. Brilliant, right? Jesus called them to do what they were already doing, but to do it with Him and For Him and in a way that Honors Him Alone.  Not all are called to be preachers, but all are called. If I was a betting man, I’d bet on the fact that the Lord has bigger plans for your vocation than you currently imagine, be it student, businessman, engineer, janitor, whatever.

And there’s the reversal: Jesus calls us to be… us, but to do it for Him. And that is the trick to deep significance in this life. Follow the Call closer and closer to the Caller. Jesus answers our question with nothing but himself.

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Great Success?

Ambition is a sneaky thing. It’s one of those words that seems to have both a positive and negative connotation. As I think about my life, one of my greatest prayers is the request that God would simply show me the calling that he has waiting for me. What is it that he wants me to do? Where do I go next? There is a whole wealth of christian literature out there that strongly promotes a mentality of working hard and achieving great things for God’s kingdom in one’s life. Immediately what comes my mind are the books Don’t Waste Your Life and Do Hard Things by John Piper and the Harris brothers, respectively. Though these influences play somewhat of a role, I think it to be interesting that the strongest thing that screams into my ear “DO SOMETHING!” is not a christian source, but the world. Within that question, “What’s your major?” lies a whole world of meaning. “What will you do with your life?” That question scares me. One of my deepest fears is being pigeonholed into a job. On the one hand, I desire to be a provider for my family and seek stability. On the other, I can’t bear the thought of reaching the end of my life and having missed out on some grandiose calling and adventure that the Lord had for me. I want to do something big.

But where is the calling? “Just show me, Lord, and I’ll do it!” I say. quietly, the Lord responds: “If I gave you a calling, you would forget the caller.”

 

Oh.

 

You see, God isn’t in the business of giving us idols. If my future could be an idol, He will teach me to say, “All my hope is in you, not my future.” Think about Matthew 7:23, where Jesus says the the evildoer, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” At the end of time, what matters isn’t what I’ve achieved but who I know. Do I believe that God has a great, awesome calling for each one of us? Absolutely. Do I believe that he has placed some call upon my life? Certainly. I do know that he wants me to get to know him and to spend time with him.This is the most important call upon our lives; to know God.

To paraphrase Os Guiness, “As we fulfill our calling, we do not tire, for we get closer and closer to the caller.”

Knowing God comes first. If we try to find significance in what we do with our lives, we will fail. Our significance must come from an inward relationship and connection with the very person who created within us the need for significance. On our deathbeds, we will only be able to say, “My life was a success” if we have realized our true, primary calling, which is to know and to love God.

 

Giving Significance

As a grad student, I often feel like my work really has no significance.  I feel like anyone could do it, so I am not anything special.  This is an unfortunate side effect of being at the top of my class in high school and college, only to become solidly mediocre in grad school.  It’s not true, of course, but it’s too easy to listen to the little voice telling me that I am not good enough, not smart enough, not good enough at programming, etc.

Luckily for me, I have a fantastic advisor.  I think there are two types of professors that everyone likes: the easy ones, and the ones that challenge you and make you want to give up until you finish the task and realize how much you learned from it.  My advisor is, without a doubt, the latter type.  You take his classes and you stay up until 3 am doing the homework, you don’t sleep for 3 consecutive nights because you have a huge project due, you do 7-page derivations that make you want to gouge out your eyes with a rusty knife.  But after all of that, you realize you have learned more in his class than in just about any other class you have taken.  People sometimes feel sorry for me because I am his student, but I would not have it any other way.  As I’ve worked for him, I’ve wanted to quit grad school so many times – but I also want to live up to his expectations, so I keep going.  All this to say…

I was sitting in my advisor’s office on Friday afternoon and we were discussing the results of some analysis I had just completed.  As he was explaining something to me, his office phone rang.  Now, I’ve spent a lot of time in professors’ offices – when the phone rings, they stop what they are doing and take the call.  This time, though, something strange happened: he ignored the phone.  We continued to talk about my results, all while his phone was still ringing.  My mind was completely blown.  I know this seems like a really tiny thing, but it sent me a loud message:  “Your work is significant.  I care about your work.  I care so much that I’m going to ignore whomever is calling me right now, even if it’s a hotshot from NASA.”  Wow.  There are other signs of this – printouts of my results scattered all over his desk, relevant papers showing up every other day – but I think that, in this instant-gratification society in which we can’t seem to keep ourselves from being connected to as many people as possible, ignoring a phone call from who-knows-who to discuss research with a lowly grad student speaks volumes about how my advisor feels about the significance of my work.

For someone who struggles with feeling insignificant and at times incompetent, this was like ice cold water on a hot summer day.  This ten-second incident got me thinking about how we, as leaders, treat our followers.  If you’re reading this blog, odds are good you want to reach out and help people in some way.  As you do that, ponder this thought: If you want people to believe that they are significant, it is your job to show them their significance.  There are more effective, and simple, ways to do this than a simple banner in the hallway or giving everyone an award.  The key is one word: Focus.  Focus on those you are teaching, mentoring, and/or leading.  Focus on what they are doing, how they are doing it, and how they are feeling about doing it.  If you can give them your complete, undivided attention, they will take note.  And imagine what could happen if everyone in the world truly believed that their existence, their life, their work, had significance.