I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.
May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation – the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ – for this will bring much glory and praise to God.
And I trust that my life will bring honour to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living, means living for Christ, and dying is even better. (Philippians 1, 9-12 & 20-21)
There is an insidious habit of thought which can take me down unhelpful paths if I am not careful, a clever synthesis of Christian teaching with cultural assumptions, that will lead me to deep unhappiness. We live in an age, here in the UK in the 21st century, where the cult of self-fulfillment is at unprecedented heights, and the urge to ‘be all you can be’ is constantly sounded in our ears.
Our children are encouraged to dream of doing great things with their lives, and to believe that putting themselves first in terms of their money and activities is right because they are ‘worth it’. And of course, in one sense as a Christian, I understand the priceless worth of every individual under the sun – each unique, and fashioned to reveal God’s glory in a particular way in the world.
But in another sense, I am deeply troubled by this emphasis, failing completely as it does, to recognise the flawed realities of our world, and in particular the sin which skews all our thinking and feeling. The root of human sin is the denial of God as rightful sovereign of our lives, and our determination to put ourselves in God’s place – to trust no one else with our lives, and to believe that we alone know what is best for us.
If I think that God’s plan for my life as a christian is my complete self-fulfillment (in so far as I define it) , then I am going to be deeply frustrated with the world, my fellow-believers, and with God! This was certainly not the apostle Paul’s understanding of his purpose in living. Yes, we can argue that God is glorified when his creatures are most fully being what he made them to be, and we know that in the new earth and heaven, this will be our destiny – and what a glorious one too! But… we are not there yet, we are not in our perfected, resurrected bodies yet, and our world is still broken.
If I demand that all the gifts and talents which I think I possess be given ample opportunity to flourish and be exercised, before I can accept that I am in the place where God wants me to be, then I will never be satisfied, but always seeking to change my circumstances. In effect, I am dictating to God about the ways in which he may work in and through me. When I put it into words like that, I can see clearly why this is wrong!
If, as I believe, I am surrendered to God in loving submission, in response to his overwhelming love for me, then I must also resign any right to dictate how and where I am to be used by God. The bible narratives demonstrate over and over that it is in allowing God to work according to his plans which sees blessing and glory coming to his name, and that when human beings demand their own ways, the results are painful and sometimes disastrous – look at Abraham and Sarah’s misguided efforts to get an heir, and the suffering which came about as a result.
All that I have – health, wealth, family, intelligence, talents and experience – is a gift of grace from God. I must hold them on open hands, and continually offer them to God to be used – or not to be used at any given time in my life – as He sees fit. So often we are reminded that it is in our weaknesses that God displays his strength – how could that be if we decline ever to act unless we feel strong and gifted in a particular area of service? And will I not trust my heavenly Father to keep safe, for my resurrected future delight, all the things which he doesn’t need me to use just now?
There is an old hymn ( of course, I find some of my strongest theology there!!) which beautifully expresses this complete offering up of myself into God’s hands for his glory:
Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee. Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my will, and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine. Take my heart – it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne.
Take my love; my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure-store. Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee.
Frances Ridley Havergal, 1836-79
May God grant us humility to serve him, and be spent by him, wherever he has placed us just now, especially if – in the world’s opinion – it makes no sense!!