Friday, June 22, 2012

Christ and Our Callings, Part 2

Atop psychologist Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs sits "self-actualization."  This is said to be the greatest need of all humans.  Understood rightly, Maslow said self-actualization is really a person who gains increasing awareness of himself, the world, and his place in it; lives honestly and transparently; and has a sense of mission, duty, and responsibility to other humans.  Through this, a person lives beyond himself and finds a place of transcendence in the world.

I would argue that in our souls, deep within, all people know we have fallen from something great.  We suffer as much from original glory as we do from original sin.*  Not that our original, God-given glory was bad.  But sin has caused us to shrink away from God, others, nature--even our true selves--into the hollow recesses of our own deceitful self-honor and self-wisdom.  We climbed upon a tiny throne but away from everything else weighty and good.

The problem is, we often try to discover who we are or fix our resulting sense of loneliness and angst by taking on roles in life that we think will restore to us a sense of fulfillment and transcendence.  How easily I can do this with a job!  If only I got some recognition for my awesome "21st century skills"-based lessons.  If only someone thanked me for my high SOL pass rates.  If only Libbey would let me teach my new stoichiometry methods at the district inservice.  If only I could teach AP Biology and get some cred.  If only I could do more ecology field trips and get kids involved in nature's web hands-on.  If only the cross country team would win the district title.  Of course, this works the same way in "sanctified" callings within the church.  If only I could use my gifts to teach theology full-time.  If only I could read that John Stott book and learn more about the cross of Christ.  If only I could grow more competent in counseling others.  If only I could teach the church in [enter largely Muslim nation here].

But it's not a job or any supposed "calling" that is meant to fulfill our souls and give us real life; Jesus said we can find that only in knowing him.  "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).  "And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3).  What John calls "eternal life"--life without limits, in satisfying wholeness--is nothing other than coming to God through Jesus and being satisfied in him.

That's why Paul labored and strove at great cost to himself, not to discover through his jobs and callings more about himself or to "find himself," but to find and discover Jesus his Lord.

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—  though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;  as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10  that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  (Philippians 3:1-11)

Paul had all the right credentials.  In his own eyes and in the world's, he had found his niche where he could excel and prove himself competent.  Paul was, he thought, a self-actualized man.  Yet in the end he realized all this was a hollow boast if it didn't give him more of his Savior.  So he worked and toiled not to understand and bring out more of his worldly identity (vv. 3-6), but "in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him" and "that I may know him" (vv. 8-10).  Paul wanted to know Christ and share in a Christlike life, even through great cost and suffering, and "become like him" (v. 10).

Through the cross of Jesus we are children of God who are released from having to perform to be accepted and loved (v. 9), with an identity given by grace rather than earned by our accomplishments.  Only when we believe this are we set free to pursue any job, any role, any relationship as a vocation from God.  Every job becomes a holy calling in which we can truly worship God, serve our neighbors, and do lasting good.  That doesn't mean it doesn't matter at all what we do.  But it does mean that without the goal of knowing Christ and working out of rest, contentment, and security in who he is for us, even our "dream jobs" and "life's callings" will fail us.  No job, no city, no spouse is big enough to fill our souls and give us abundant life.  But Jesus is, and he loves to be so for his people.

*I think Rob Bell uses this idea somewhere in his book Velvet Elvis.

No comments: