Extremely Driven Christians
We live in an A-plus-driven world where C-minus outcomes just don’t cut it. To do our best is the standard, to be the best is the goal, and anything less is to simply not make the grade. Just how driven is our world for superior performance? Consider this:
“An Australian professional football player said Tuesday he plans to have one of his fingers amputated in an attempt to improve his game. Brett Backwell . . . has suffered from pain and restricted movement since he broke his left ring finger three years ago. . . . “To chop a finger off, that’s a bit drastic,” Backwell told the Australian Broadcasting Commission. “But I love my footy, and love playing sport, and if that’s going to help me to succeed at this level [emphasis added], then it’s something you’ve just got to do.”1
Backwell is the first athlete known to have amputated an appendage simply to enhance his performance—to raise his grade in one area of his life. At first glance, he seems a bit eccentric. But upon closer examination, Backwell is a poster boy for our culture. He may well be a poster boy for your family and your church because, like most American evangelical Christians, you are probably driven to excel. If so, you might—like Brett Backwell—be systematically amputating some of your most important appendages in your quest.
The truth is, we are finite. Our you-can-do-it-all, extreme-everything world balks at that thought, as do many of our churches. Inevitably, however, our finiteness seeps in through the cracks of our lives, or suddenly cascades over inadequately constructed character levies. Sooner or later, we wake up to the reality that we must live with limitations, and living with limitations means a life of difficult choices. With limited time and energy, we cannot do our best in every pursuit. Almost certainly, we cannot be the best in any pursuit (the current odds against it are 6 billion to one). We cannot get an A-plus on every subject we take. Can we be content with any C-minuses?
Most sincere believers I have known do not embrace their limitations and make difficult choices very well. In fact, the lives of many devoted followers of Jesus could best be described as “neurotic”—we are stressed out and confused, imbalanced in emotion and mind, and often behave oddly as individuals and as churches. As Dr. Richard Swenson aptly writes in Margin, “You can’t follow Jesus at a sprint.”
Part of the reason is velocity—the cockpit of our lives has been stormed by the proliferation of options, the manic pace and the high expectations of our excellence-driven culture.
I refer you to a prayerful, intensive study of Matthew 11:28-30. Here, Jesus addresses the Judaism of His day, to a people pursuing righteousness under its system of suffocating legalism. His solution: “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden [that would describe you and me, wouldn’t it?] . . . take My yoke upon you and learn from Me.”
I suspect this same invitation is also the key to addressing the drivenness of our day, for sincere Christians pursuing respect here and reward hereafter under our system of suffocating busy-ism. In the yoke of intimate apprenticeship beside Jesus, He will teach us what things He has for each of us to do and how to do these things well, for He does all things well.
I know what you want to ask: “What are His things for my life? What specific courses should I take?” Ask Jesus. However, Scripture gets you started. For years, I have used my hand as a visual aid to help me daily remember five courses that Scripture appears to make part of our core curriculum. These come through the principles the Scriptures teach, the priorities Jesus modeled and the primary threads that the Spirit of God has woven into the fabric of the hearts of those who follow hard after God. Parting company with Brett Backwell, I urge you not to allow any of these five crucial appendages to be lopped off your soul:
The pinky. This represents little people—the less, the least, the lost—people who need to be introduced to Jesus and challenged to follow Him and who need their basic needs of life met. Though the less, the least and the lost may not be the consuming mission of your life, you cannot be like Jesus without laboring for an A-plus here, even if it means a C-minus on subjects esteemed by the world.
The ring finger. This represents loving relationships with those God has wrapped around you in covenant community—your spouse, your children, your family and other believers close to you in spiritual community. Jesus said that low grades here are as great a concern as lack of love for the Father, Himself.
The middle finger. This represents the significant contribution God has assigned you to make on this earth. I’m not talking about your vocation, although your significant contribution may intersect with your vocation. I’m talking about essential purpose. For Jesus, it was “to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” What’s your significant contribution? You want to get an A-plus on that one.
The index finger. This represents discipleship as we guide fellow believers to become wholly devoted followers of Jesus. This is taking the principles the Scriptures teach, the priorities Jesus modeled and the primary threads that the Spirit of God has woven into the fabric of our hearts, and passing them on faithfully to others (2 Timothy 2:2).
The thumb. This is the largest of all, gives strength to all others and separates us from all beasts. This represents spiritual intimacy with the Father. A man came to Jesus one day and asked, in essence, “In what subject of life, above all others, must I raise my grade?” Jesus answered without hesitation: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and all your strength” (Mark 12:30). We are to daily, passionately, pour ourselves into Him and He into us.
Worn down, but longing one day for a “well done”? Don’t lop off one of your soul’s appendages in the pursuit of an A-plus on the world’s report card. Instead, begin to methodically eject the driven, margin-less pace of our culture from your cockpit. Then pitch the theology of excellence out the emergency door. Strap yourself into the seat next to Jesus as His beloved apprentice and enjoy the journey of learning to do all His things well over the long haul.