What if my calling is to be insignificant? Not in the I have self-esteem issues guest on Oprah manner. Nor in the I feel my life slipping away mid-life crisis type manner. Ok, perhaps a little bit of the latter… but that is not the point here so no need to harp on touchy subjects.
Hi my name is John and I am a significance junkie! Junkie in the sense of what Tim Keller (and others before him!) call heart idols. What is that thing or activity or person that I functionally worship. If God does not do that for me or deliver results in this area then I flip out, lose sleep, lose faith, doubt God or worse play God. That thing, says Keller, is what you actually worship.
For me that is significance – not in the sense of fame or riches or usual measures of success. It burns within me that what I do with my life must count for something! It must somehow be known or seen, at least by me, and it would be nice if others did too. Lives must be different because I was here. A communities (or communities or city or cities…) must be better because of what I did. I think it might be ok if my role was even just to influence someone who would be a somebody.
But what if all that God has for me to do on earth is to influence one other person? Would I be ok with that? I could write a theological paper on why that would be fine and how much I believe in the goodness and majesty of God’s sovereignty but in my heart, in the desires that daily capture my heart and mind – that is not ok!
But when I spout my good theology about God’s sovereignty as the Almighty King, when I tell others that I have forsaken all else to follow him, do I actually mean that I recognise Him as having the right to do whatever he deems best with my life – for his glory and his honour? Because I believe God is both sovereign and good I ought to be able to trust him to do what is most worthy with my life. Because I believe that God alone is worthy of all the glory and the honour and nothing else has the right to compete with him for that glory. It is idolatry, it’s stupidity, it’s faithless to search out my meaning in anything else.
But yet daily my heart betrays my theology. I long for significance. I struggle to conceive that perhaps my calling is insignificance. I crave recognition whilst simultaneously dreading it. I despise being a number in the system, I dread being fodder for the celebrity machine. But silently I seek it, I creep round the corners of words – hoping there to find my elusive significance. I peer into the darkness of anonymity desperate to emerge significant, worthy, alive.
The truth be told I am insignificant! I have written little of great importance. I have done little to change my city, my neighbourhood, my street. And the little I have tried has had little impact. I am fragile, weak, mortal. I will stumble along for the few years of my life, then I will grow frail in mind and body, and then I will die. Maybe I will impact a few lives for good on the way – my wife and children hopefully – but purely in a statistical sense – I will be a nobody. I will not write the great literary work of my time. I will not solve the poverty, economic injustice or racism in my beloved city. I will hope my life has brought more life, joy and hope than hurt, guilt and despair to those who walk it with me but honestly there is no guarantee.
But my soul longing for significance can never be satisfied by anything I do. The gospel is for me the beautiful story of significant insignificance. It does not offer me the junk food, fake high of self-improvement hype. No the gospel reckons truly and honestly with my insignificance. In fact it compounds my insignificance – I am not simply an insignificant speck in the cosmos – I am self-deluded, I reckon I am God, I shake my self-deluded fist in the face of the All-Powerful, Majestic God of the Universe and declare my own significance, my own right to be God! I am not only condemned by my arrogant rebellion I am humiliated. He knows every fibre of my body, every arrogant, self-centred hair on my head. The Bible tells me he knitted this grasping, malcontent together in my mother’s womb.
And yet, I am loved. I am more loved than I ever dreamed possible. I am given significance not by grasping and striving but by his mercy. I am profoundly unlovely but he has claimed me and redeemed me and made me lovely. In him and only because of Him I have worth, I have honour and I have dignity.
I am a number, a nameless face, an insignificant speck in the vast cosmos but He has breathed life into me. He knows the hairs on my head. He knows my name. He died for me. I no longer have to prove myself because through his death on my behalf he has proved me righteous and lovely already. I no longer have to search for love because he has already loved me. I no longer have to search for my purpose because my life has been caught up in his far greater, and more wonderful story.
In one sense, nothing has changed, my insignificant remains… but the wonderful truth that the High King, of all Creation would love me and lay down his life for me, shouts all the louder because of my insignificance
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