It’s Who’s With Us That Makes The Difference

If you are like me, there are times when you wonder if you have ever accomplished anything of significance, if your life and work has ever been more than the fulfillment of routine and ordinary duties, if your journey has been one of real purpose or just a wandering down the usual, well-worn paths of life. I guess if you haven’t had those thoughts before, you probably are now. Sorry – I didn’t mean to set off some kind of existential crisis in your life. I tend to believe, though, that most of us have moments when we seriously doubt that we are making any genuine, lasting difference in the world.

The challenge and difficulty of the question most certainly lies in our definition of significance. Shaped by a culture in which visible, tangible success or achievement tends to be the standard by which to judge, most of us fall by default into categories other than “world-changer.” And so we are left to wonder, Has my life really counted for anything?

When I find myself haunted by the questions of significance, there is a verse in Deuteronomy (of all places) that renews my hope and assurance. In preparation for claiming the land God had given them, Moses was recounting to the people of Israel their journey in the wilderness. The natural assumption would be that wandering in the wilderness is anything but a time of significant purpose or meaning; it appears to be nothing more than time wasted, the unfortunate result of their failure and lack of faith. But surprisingly, Moses makes this observation in Deuteronomy 2:7, “The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast desert. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.” 

God is able to redeem our time, even the times of apparent wandering, those days of pushing through the wilderness. We all have our treks through the desert, moments when we feel like we are spinning our wheels in the sand, getting nowhere in life and achieving nothing of importance. Sometimes, like the people of Israel, I find myself there because of my own decisions and choices. Other times, the wilderness seems to surround me for no obvious reason. Either way, our paths through the desert do not have to translate into meaninglessness or a lack of purpose. There is One who is able to redeem all things, who delights in bringing purpose from the seemingly pointless, who creates significance in the midst of the unexceptional. What brings significance and purpose to my days is always the reality that the Lord my God has been with me, He has watched over my journey and blessed the work of my hands.

Does my life and work really count for anything? Even in the middle of the deserts that give rise to such a question, the answer can always be yes. When the visible success or achievements we hope for seem to elude us, the answer can still be yes. When we fail to create a blip on the world’s radar of importance, the answer can remain yes. There is one thing that gives us that assurance: the Lord is with us, He is watching over our journey and blessing the work of our hands.


That Whole Plank In Your Own Eye Thing

Over the last several days, Victoria Osteen has been sufficiently blasted for her misguided discourse on the life of faith. I have no intention or desire to defend her view or message in any way. Like so many, I consider her rambling thoughts to be far removed from anything that remotely resembles the path of discipleship we see in Jesus. I would echo, as well, that this should come as no surprise to anyone who has any familiarity with the message and ministry of the Osteens. Their “just be happy and follow your dreams” philosophy is nothing new for them.

What I do find to be curious, though, is how incidents like this easily prompt us to offer criticism but rarely cause us to examine ourselves. The Osteens are not the only ones to advocate the “it’s all about me being happy” perspective. Some of us who consider ourselves Bible-believing Christians, who attend Bible-teaching churches, and who know enough to spot questionable teaching, can actually be guilty of the same error. We may not recognize it, because we know the right answers and the correct things to say – it’s all about Him, it’s all about the Kingdom, deny yourself and pick up the cross, and so on. But what we really believe is deeper than the words we say and the right answers we so easily repeat. What we truly believe is revealed in the people that we are and the lives that we live.

It is possible for our lives to paint a very different picture from the message we claim to believe. Even while we criticize the Osteens for their self-absorbed, self-serving understanding, we can embody the very same belief in the way that we choose to live. I can tell you with a fair amount of certainty that this very week, some Bible-believing Christian, who would recognize and renounce the error of Victoria Osteen’s words in a heartbeat, will proclaim belief in that very same message through the testimony of their life.

Someone will walk out of a church complaining about the worship service, upset that the music, the style, the lighting, or whatever, is not to their liking. Apparently worship is all about making us happy.

Someone will get angry because they do not receive recognition or thanks for something they have done or given. So, I guess it’s really not about serving God for His glory.

Someone will not give to a true need, citing the reason that they cannot afford it right now. Of course, the reason they can’t afford it is because they are in debt for all of the stuff they have that they really don’t need. It seems that having the stuff that will make us happy and comfortable takes precedence over the “deny yourself” thing.

Someone will go through this week without spending a moment in prayer and in the Scripture, because life is just so busy that they don’t have time. Never mind the hours that will be given to our own entertainment – which obviously outweighs our need for spiritual growth.

Someone will lash out in hatred or harbor a spirit of unforgiveness, and rather than confess and repent, they will deliberately excuse and justify it. It’s clear that our perceived rights are of greater value to us than being like Jesus.

There are many ways to proclaim the “it’s all about me and my happiness” gospel, and even those of us who deny its validity in our words can end up affirming it in the witness of our lives. Beliefs matter, and it’s fine to question and challenge messages like Victoria Osteen’s, but we had better do it alongside some serious self-examination. When it comes to the real world of day-to-day life and relationships, there are many who have substituted a self-centered, self-serving religion for the life of true faith and discipleship. Some of them are just living in denial. Or, they simply know better than to say it out loud.