An immediate advantage I perceive in all of us clearly seeing and understanding that the first and most important, albeit general, call is to love God and people is how that takes away the pressure (and guilt too) that many of us feel to not only find God’s specific will for us, but even to be “in the centre of God’s perfect will.” Phew! Labberton is spot on here, that “Without any special guidance from the Holy Spirit, with no anxiety or worry, and with utter confidence, we can daily pursue these first things as our primary vocation.” Amen!
We already started talking about why reversal of first things (primary, general purpose) and next things (specific, unique purpose) is suicidal. Here are the three reasons I enumerated. We:
- miss the point
- miss the priority
- miss the person
The first two were dealt with in my last blog; I saved the best for last.
MISSING THE PERSON (IDENTITY CRISIS)
When we get so focused on a specific calling to be a teacher or carpenter or whatever, we tend to lose our primary identity as beloved children of God and rather define ourselves by what we do. We are not our jobs; we are bigger than that. In other words, we set ourselves up for an identity crisis when don’t get our primary purpose going first—and going well, for that matter.
Labberton puts it this way: “This is a classic tangle and fails to give full weight to what really matters most. So we go to work and forget or neglect who we are, and what our life is really about, how we seek to love and serve. We enter the subculture of our activities, and soon that reality begins to define and shape us, rather than the other way around” (89).
THE THREAT AND STRUGGLE IS REAL
I remember both the crisis and promise of being a new immigrant in Canada and the constant temptation to prove myself, especially as a minority (black man) financial advisor in an Anglo-dominated arena and having to meet certain quotas in order to win recognition, awards and to be regarded as among the elite. One day, I was both inspired and compelled to augment my personal mission statement with the following: “I am who God says I am irrespective of what I do/don’t do; irrespective of what I have/don’t have.” I still have that as part of my personal mission statement.
Have you noticed that the first two of Jesus’ three temptations were go get him to “do something” to prove his identity? “If you are…then…” What a sharp contrast with the heavenly Father’s affirmation of him just a few verses earlier during his baptism: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Up until then Jesus had done ‘nothing’ but obeyed his Father’s will. One would even wonder if he had yet ‘found his purpose.’ This was not God’s beloved preacher or teacher or carpenter… just His beloved Son. Period!
“Our first vocation is to be the beloved. The primacy of God’s unearned love alone makes this possible. We live as the beloved, the treasured. This vocation is pure gift….” says Labberton.
Why are we so concerned about what we do when everything first flows from who we are. It’s become cliché now that “after all, we’re human beings not human doings” but we still live like the latter, don’t we?
In Called, my seminary President is emphatic: “We start recovering our call when we learn which first things are first. The love of God in Jesus Christ is the supreme first thing; no one and nothing rivals or surpasses this. If we want to know ourselves and why our life matters, the Bible’s advice is to know our Maker, who knows and loves us fully.”
And then he beautifully continues thus, “We matter, and our calling matters, not because we’re the supreme test of anything but because we exist for the joy and satisfaction of our Maker, whose love alone enables us to flourish… Our vocation will involve work and labor, and that has its meaning and value. But we are “very good” in God’s sight because of bearing God’s image—not because we are fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28) but just because we are.”
TIME TO RECALIBRATE
When helping people to find their specific, God-given purpose a very useful tool (learnt from Rick Warren) has been to help them discover their SHAPE: Spiritual gifts, Heartfelt passions, Abilities (talents), Personality and Experiences. This is wonderful! However, again, the danger of reversal of first things is this: “If we try to settle the issues of calling through the lens of our strengths and weaknesses, our preferences and dreams, we will be prone to overreach (because we make ourselves and our desires the ultimate measure) or underreach (because we’re willing to allow ourselves or someone other than God to tell us who we are). Over the course of our lives, neither works well or leads us to the truth.” (Labberton) And that, my friend, is suicidal.
In conclusion, “This is, of course, why Christians believe that coming to faith in Jesus Christ matters so much—not because it’s like handing out a “get in heaven free” card, but because it’s like offering an invitation to know yourself through the love of God in Jesus Christ, a gift that will change how you understand your identity and therefore how you live both now and in eternity. Knowing ourselves and knowing God are inseparable” (Labberton).
I love Eugene Peterson’s translation of Ephesians 1:11: “It is in Christ we find out who we are and what we’re living for.” May I dare even rephrase this as, It is in Christ we find out we we are THEN what we’re living for? Not getting this first thing first messes up everything; E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G!