There’s something deep within all of us that desires to excel at what we do, so much so, that we will often put valuable relationships aside to toil at becoming the best. Whether it’s branding our name or marketing our work, the drive to create an impressive portfolio and to awe others with our talent and skill is overwhelming. In our culture there is an almost-irresistible drive to “be” somebody.
Of course, developing a solid work ethic is a noble thing, but the potential to lose our perspective is always pending. As a follower of Christ, living a balanced life is wrapped up in keeping a pure focus while living, working and pursuing the glory of God. Sometimes, there’s only a margin of difference between working for the glory of God and working for our own glory. And, even though the difference may seem subtle, the impact is monumental.
We all have strengths—things we do naturally and often with great results. God’s desire is to take these incredible God-given abilities and use them for redemptive purposes. However, there’s also another plan. Satan desires to take those strengths and distort them—to make you use them in excess and to create something destructive. Basically, Satan wants to turn your strengths into addictions. Dangerous addictions. When your strengths turn into an excessive labor pointing back to you, instead of a labor of love that is poured out for Christ, the trap is set.
When we revel in our own beauty we take our worship, turn it inward and become idolaters. Just like our penchant for worshipping our worship music, worshipping our churches or even pop culture or technology—we become enamored with the creation and begin to see God for less than who He is. When the excess of pride creeps in, the twisted effects mar the potential for kingdom work in our lives.
The ability to shift our focus from ourselves to Christ is a daily discipline. Here are some practical tips for keeping your strengths in-check before they turn into excessive addictions.
Stop people pleasing.
We all spend way too much time thinking about what others think of us. This keeps us from doing genuine work for the glory of God. It’s not bad to do work diligently and affirmation can be rewarding, but if that’s what drives us, our motives are eschewed. Stop pleasing others and shift your heart toward pleasing God. This is one of those this-changes-everything principles. Work hard but in a different way and in a different direction—a God-ward direction. There’s an unspeakable freedom in working for God’s approval—unfettered by the power of people’s expectations.
Take regular breaks from your work.
Distance yourself from your work—for a short time—to get your head cleared of all the stuff that competes for your heart. Of course, taking a Sabbath to kick back from the week’s work is a great pattern that’s given to us from God. When God finished his majestic creation labor, He just stopped; He didn’t obsess over his work. In other words, He didn’t tweak the elephants on the seventh day. We all need to take time to stop what we’re doing and say, “This is good.” Thank God for your work and engage in the most humble activity there is—sleep. In his book Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places, Eugene Peterson writes, "Sabbath is not primarily about us or how it benefits us; it’s about God and how he forms us. It’s not, in the first place, about what we do or don’t do; it’s about God completing and resting and blessing and sanctifying. These are all things we don’t know much about; they are beyond us but not beyond our recognition and participation."
Give your time away.
When you are knee-deep in a project, and you’re tempted to retreat from every relationship you have and become a cave-dwelling hermit, remember that at the end of your life what counts will be people, not your ability to get the job done with style. When you die, you don’t want a eulogy that says, “We’ll always remember so-and-so for their commitment to the job above the ones they loved,” so make time for relationships even when there is none. Learn to give your time away.
It’s a beautiful thing when passion and discipline collide to work for the glory of God, but if we take the glory for ourselves the beauty erodes and we miss out on the heart of the kingdom. When we delve into our work with a passion for selfish glory we exchange the big picture of the kingdom for a micro-portion of reflected fame.
God calls us to live simple, balanced lives consumed with His glory. And, embracing God’s glory always begins with a stripped-down humility in the ways of Christ—nothing short of a drop-dead brokenness.
The natural talents we have are God-given for the progress of the redemptive story; for beauty, for goodness and for Christ.
Anything short of that is fallen.