Years ago I worked for corporate America, receiving yearly reviews and salary increases…until we started having children. I have never regretted obeying God’s call to stay home with our three boys, but it was a huge adjustment. Not only did I feel inept at being a mommy, but there was no longer anyone complimenting me on my work, encouraging me in difficult times, or rewarding me with raises for a job well done. I couldn’t even look at the fruit of my labor and know what I had accomplished, for that fruit would not ripen for 20 years or more.
Along the way, God brought opportunities for me to use other skills He had given me. In this different territory, the most gratifying part was that I could quantify and qualify my performance. Approximately 10 years of that time, I participated in set design and production during Easter and Christmas when our church did major musical-dramas. While it was thrilling to do such large-scale work, I found the accolades given me were very hard to deal with. Proverbs 27:21 best explains my predicament. “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but man is tested by the praise he receives.” Two unfortunate things happened: I was either hurt for not being acknowledged, or the praise became heady and I fiercely had to battle pride. Apart from a personal creative challenge, there was no upside for the result of my work, and I began to dread these yearly commitments as much as I looked forward to them.
I used to read the account of the rich young ruler who wanted to follow Jesus and ponder the gravity of Jesus’ challenge that the man first sell all he owned. That price tag was too great and the man sadly walked away. Most of us can identify, but perhaps give ourselves a pass, thinking that we could somehow do it if Jesus Himself asked (but please don’t ask). Yet, what if Jesus was not only referring to material goods, but was classifying everything that is important to us as our riches? Oh, my…that is a HUGE category that includes all my relationships, all my gifts and talents, all my influence and accomplishments, my reputation, as well as my possessions.
Paul said, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3:8) Paul saw the proposition not so much as a detrimental loss, but as a trade, where he got the better deal. Paul had such an intimate relationship with Jesus that his very identity became redefined: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20)
I wish I could say that I have so successfully embraced my identity in Christ that these other things no longer matter. Perhaps I more accurately resemble Peter, about whom Jesus said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt 26:41) So, in the depravity of my flesh, I am very grateful Jesus sees my heart. He gives me grace with all my valuables (including praise) by using the importance I’ve placed on them to highlight where I am on the journey, without condemning me for where I am not. And, I receive the blessing of His encouragement: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut 31:6)