By Dermot Cottuli
Conundrum: a confusing and difficult problem or question
Have you ever wanted to be better or in a better situation than you currently are? Faster, stronger, more successful, taller, shorter, better looking, thinner, heavier, more popular, smarter, richer, better educated, more gifted, talented or even just simply contented with what you already have? I’m sure as I went through my list some of you started to feel slightly deflated as you compared each term I just used against where you feel you sit on your own internal scale of worth and achievement.
One of the biggest problems with everything I just mentioned is the way most of us measure them? You see the standard that most of us use for working out whether we’re doing okay or not, is comparison. How do you know if you’re good at Maths when you’re in primary school? You’re better than everyone else in your class. How do you know that you’re tall? How do you know that you’re good at basketball? How do you know that you’re well off financially? What about spirituality? How do you know if you’re spiritual?
Now you could say that you don’t compare yourself with others but instead you use an internal scale against which you measure your attributes to see if you’re doing okay. But how did you come up with that scale? What went into your development of it?
For some it’s what others have said about them that determines how successful and worthy they feel, how talented or skilled they think they are. Can you see the problem there? You’re letting someone else assign to you your worth and once again the things that they’re judging you on are often determined by comparison. “Oh you’re a great little boy Johny.” (compared to the rest of the criminals in this class)
Whichever way you look at it, whenever we’re trying to determine our worth as a person far too often the measuring stick that we’re using is flawed or in some cases, completely broken.
In our world the unspoken message given to each of us from the cradle to the grave is that to get ahead we have to beat somebody – my self worth is then tied to my performance and I find myself a permanent prisoner of the old hamster wheel, because wherever I go in life, there will always be someone ahead of me. Someone better than me. Someone luckier than me.
It’s a huge issue for all of us and if we don’t sort it out it will impact on every area of our lives and every relationship that we have including our service for God which is where I want to go with this today.
What I want to give you this morning is the gift of perspective. I want to give you a few moments to step back from your life and look at it for what it really is and then make a decision to see things differently. It’s my hope that you’ll leave here today, feeling better about yourself, feeling more secure about your future and with a greater appreciation of God’s incredible wisdom and all that He’s done for each of us.
There are all sorts of things that can drive our lives. A desire to get ahead financially and to have all the things that you didn’t when you were growing up. A desire to be better than everyone else around you at your particular speciality. A desire to be in charge, to be in the top job so you can tell others what to do. A desire to be accepted and appreciated. A desire to vindicate yourself in the eyes of others for a life that you don’t think is really worth all that much. You might be driven by a hidden shameful habit that you’ve built your entire life and personality around. It could be that to feel secure you have a deep seated need to be in control. You could be driven by hidden abandonment issues where those who were close to you when you were little rejected you and now the fear of rejection is the main motivator in how you relate to others or maybe don’t relate to others at all.
The truth is, we’re all a mixture of motive and sorting out what’s driving you, whilst an interesting exercise when you’re feeling okay about yourself, can be an exercise in futility and frustration and quite often depression or worse when life is a bit grimmer, and haven’t we all experienced those days.
You can spend all your energy trying to sort out why you do what you do and at the end of the day be no better off, other than having a clearer understanding of your own personal internal mess. Is there a better way than living a life of introspection and disappointment? Absolutely!
Now my whole message today is predicated on the understanding that the God of the Bible is real. That Jesus was who he said he was. After all we’re sitting here in a church service. So what I’m about to say, whilst it may have some value to you if you don’t believe in the existence of a personal God, can only really change the lives of those who have committed themselves to the truth, that Jesus is exactly who he said he was, God’s only son, come to earth to lead us back into relationship with the Father and destroy the one thing that holds all of us captive, the consequence of our personal sin.
“The world of psychology will tell you that the only healthy way to develop a balanced stable sense of self worth is to experience unconditional love from another. Someone who by their love for you says you have worth regardless of your performance.” Where in our broken world are you going to find that kind of love, consistently? Can everyone find it or is it only for the extremely lucky ones amongst us?
On the night before his death Jesus said to his disciples…
“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Paul picks up on this thought in Romans
But God showed his great love for us by sending Jesus to die for us while we were still sinners.
Why is this particular passage of scripture so important? Because it puts a declaration of God’s love for us in the same sentence as the physical proof of that love and the condition attached if we are to experience His love.
And what was it that a morally pure and Holy God required of us before he would love us, what was the condition He put on His love?
Nothing! Zip! Nada! Full stop! End of Story!
Before we did anything to deserve His love He loved us and expressed it in the most powerful, physical way possible. He paid the price of our sin by dying in our place. So if you’re ever wondering if you have any worth or value as a human being just remember, God most certainly thinks you do. While you were still living in shame, while you were still failing miserably, while you were still thumbing your nose at God, while you were still more focused on your own story than anyone else’s, God loved you enough to die for you.
God isn’t just a loving deity who expresses His love for His creation through loving acts – it goes much deeper than that.
1 John 4:8
But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. That little statement right there is the only reason that I feel safe with God. Think about it for a moment. God could have chosen to reveal himself in so many different ways but he chose the one word that crosses every boundary for all of the human race. He’s Holy, He’s righteous, He’s all powerful, all knowing, eternal, and so far above us that we can’t even begin to comprehend his capacity to think and reason. And yet He chooses to be known as Love. That truth in and of itself could occupy all of your higher end brain power for the rest of your life if you decided to really grapple with what it means to you and the rest of the earth’s population.
If God’s love for me isn’t dependant on my performance then the value that I place on title and position needs to be reassessed. The way I feel about serving others needs to be looked at and changed, considering that in the past, one of the reasons that I had an aversion to service was tied into my own feelings of poor self worth and the comparisons I made about a person’s worth based on how high up the totem pole they were. We’ve placed a higher value on how many people are serving us rather than the number of people we’re serving. And the problem with that is . . . .
Mark 10:45 (NLT)
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Matthew 20:28 (NLT)
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
I find it interesting that the two authors of each of these gospels recorded these words of Jesus word for word and got the phrasing exactly the same. That only happens when something is a well known catch cry of an individual or organisation or so startling when first heard that it gets branded on the hearts of all those present at the time. So maybe this is a pretty important truth to pay attention to?
Matthew 20:28 (LB)
Your attitude must be like my own, for I, the Messiah, did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many.
When you’re loved unconditionally and you know your future is secure, it’s much easier to lay your life down in service of others. As sons and daughters of God that’s the highly favoured position we find ourselves in.
1 Peter 1:3-5
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.
Every one of us is on the same page, from the cleaner or the person on a disability pension to the high powered CEO or doctor. Status, position, title, worldly possessions, all the things that we’ve used in the past to peg our success and sense of worth to, mean nothing when all is said and done. There’s only one thing that really matters . . .
Which brings me to the question I want to leave us with today, “What is it that God expects of me? At the end of the day when all is said and done, what is it that I should have done with my life?”
Rick Warren has this to say about those who would follow Jesus’ example:
“For Christians, service is not something to be tacked onto our schedules if we can spare the time. It’s the heart of the Christian life. Jesus came “to serve” and “to give”—and those two verbs should define your life on earth, too. Mother Teresa once said, “Holy living consists in doing God’s work with a smile.”
In the parable of the 3 servants we read something that gives us a clue as to what Jesus considers the hallmark of a successful life in His eyes.
“The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’
By what standard does God measure our live by? Two things – have we done good and have we been faithful. No mention of position, achievements, possessions, public accolades, awards, sporting accomplishments, just those two words GOOD and FAITHFUL.
Your worth is already settled – you have immeasurable worth. You’re so valuable in fact that God Himself willingly died for you to let you know how much He loves you and He did it whilst you were still a sinner to give you an ironclad assurance that your acceptance isn’t based on your performance but rather, his unconditional love.
Now out of that place of security and self worth you can ask what is it that God is looking for from you? And when it all boils down, there are only two things . . .
That you do good and be faithful
Not that you achieve more than everyone else. Not that you become more famous than all your peers. Not that you win the father or mother of the year award. Not that you’re a master chef or a home renovation guru. Not that you’re popular or always picked first on your school’s sporting team but that you do good and are faithful. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you have, you’re starting from the exact same place as everyone else, those who are richer than you, stronger than you, luckier than you, those born with a silver spoon in their mouths, those blessed with straight teeth, everyone is judged the same way, and if that doesn’t take a load off your back I don’t know what will. Whether someone has lots of money or no money, whether someone has a high status job or cleans toilets for a living, whether someone preaches at church or cleans up after morning tea, we’re all judged by the same criteria. Did we do good and were we faithful. Burn those two words onto your heart and never forget them. Throughout this next week come back to them over and over again and let them set you free from the crippling weight of comparison and failure, of not coming up to some unrealistic mark on the worlds broken scale. Let God’s unconditional love wash over you and realise that you’re not starting behind everyone else but in truth, you’re starting from a place of incredible importance and value to the one who’s opinion matters more than any other.