What makes you feel significant? Where does your identity come from? Whose opinion do you value? When do you feel good about yourself? What gives you a sense of worth?
Maybe it’s doing well in your career, staying fit and healthy, or being in a relationship. Maybe it’s your IQ, attractiveness, or creativity. Maybe it’s ministry, being a “good” person, or belonging to a certain church or cultural group. We look to all kinds of things to make ourselves feel worthwhile.
Whatever gives you significance, Paul could probably go one better. He was a powerful and respected man. He was one of God’s people, as ethnically pure as they come. He was a Pharisee; he kept God’s law, and more besides. Here’s what he has to say about all that:
|If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, 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 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. (Phil. 3:4-10)
Paul had lots of reasons to feel good about himself. But he gave it all up for the privilege of knowing Jesus. He counted it as “loss”, as “garbage”, and threw himself on Christ’s mercy. He was willing to lose everything that seemed to give him value so he could be found in Christ.
One of my friends was ill for many months. She lay in bed, stared at the trees outside the window, and felt useless. She couldn’t work, care for others, or even carry out the basic tasks of each day. As she lay there, she learned an important truth: that God loves her just as much when she can’t do anything for him, as he does when she can do things that feel significant.
God doesn’t love us because we have value. We have value because he loves us. He doesn’t love us because we are likeable, productive, or good. He loved us when we were his enemies! Our worth doesn’t come from what we do, but from what he has done for us.
Once we understand this, the basis of our contentment shifts. We no longer need to look to ourselves – abilities, achievements, goodness – to feel worthwhile. And so we can start living for something of greater significance:
|Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
|Who, being in very nature God
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place ... (Phil. 2:3-9a)
Our model is Jesus. He gave up glory in heaven (you can’t get much more significant than that!) to become an insignificant human and die a shameful death for us. Are we willing to do the same for others? We will only be willing if we learn to find our value in God rather than ourselves.
Where does your significance come from? Maybe it’s your degree. Maybe it’s your possessions. Maybe it’s your career. Perhaps you think your devotion to it is temporary, but here’s the problem: the place we store our treasure is the place our heart learns to value (Matt. 6:19-21). If we say we love Jesus but devote all our time to our career, soon our career will be the main thing we value.
My husband’s first reaction when he found out he had cancer was this (he’s a university staffworker): “Tell the students life is short. Tell them to stop obsessing over their careers and to be willing to live and die for Christ.” There’s nothing like the threat of death to help you see what’s significant about life.
You want significance? Here it is. The goal of the whole universe is this: one day, everything and everyone in heaven and on earth will bow before Jesus (Eph. 1:9). If we really want our lives to have significance, we will seek his glory rather than our own.
The missionary Jim Elliot, who was martyred in Ecuador, said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Jesus says, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matt. 16:25). We find ourselves when we lose ourselves in him.
Look for contentment in the one place it can be found. Look for it in him.
Well, we’ve come a long way, haven’t we? We started this series by asking about the secret of contentment, and we’ve discovered that it’s not a technique, but a Person. The true source of contentment is Jesus. Satisfaction, security, significance: they are all found in him.
I don’t know about you, but as I reached this point, I found myself thinking: this all sounds very theoretical. How do I put it into practice? What steps can I take to become more content?
That’s what we’ll talk about next time.
1. Where do you get your significance? Whose opinion do you value? What are your ambitions? Where do you get your sense of worth?
2. How would your life change if you put aside selfish ambition and put others before yourself? If you stopped seeking your own glory and sought the glory of Christ? If you gave up what you can’t keep to gain what you cannot lose?
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