In the summer of 1984, I accepted the idol of success into my heart. I remember clearly. I was ten years old, sitting on a ratty plaid couch, watching the LA Olympics. The gymnastic competition and the track and field events were mesmerizing. The athletes power, confidence, and dedication were contagious. I had goosebumps watching their tears flow at the medal ceremonies. In that moment, my heart divided and I invited self-made greatness to make its home in my heart right next to Jesus. Obviously, that arrangement was not going to cut it. And so a 25 year battle launched for the allegiance of my heart. Perhaps you are like me and are prone to let the idol of success rule your heart. Maybe your thoughts, like mine, war between two extremes—dreaming about your next achievement and the reality that your life is not yours to spend. It is an ongoing and confusing tug of war.
On one hand, God wants us to be good stewards of the gifts and talents he has given us. Yet, on the other hand, the temptation for self glorification is always lurking. For example, as I write this article, my desire is to write a great article to display Jesus’ glory and grace, testifying to his work in my heart. Yet, on the other hand, I'm tempted with self-affirmation and the resume booster.
So, how do we guard our hearts from dethroning Jesus as we work? How can we discern when we have turned from stewarding our gifts to feeding our idol?
Here are three questions to ask yourself as you dream, set goals, and make plans.
1. Have I switched roles with God?
As you dream, are you acting like God? Are you telling God what is best? Are you treating God as if he exists to serve you and support your dreams? If the answer is yes, or kind of, then you are feeding your idol and not stewarding your gifts.
Several years ago I dreamed about becoming a physicians assistant. I believed it would be a great use of my gifts. Having a successful career was being a good steward. Of course, I humbly told God all the reasons why and how it was going to happen. Then I was mad, when God said no. I obviously knew better. At the time, I could have sworn I was honestly seeking God’s will. Now I know. I was feeding my idol. After all, I did have two small children and we were planting a church.
2. Who's story am I the most concerned with right now?
As you set and accomplish goals, ask yourself, is this about making my story a success? Or am I being strategic with my talents to promote God’s grand redemptive story?
This can be tricky. You may start with a noble goal, honing your talents for God’s glory, but then your motivation quickly becomes self-glorification. You know you have crossed the line and started feeding your idol when insecurity and worry take over.
This last year my goal was to publish a book. My motivation was to proclaim the good news of Jesus and make his story known. Yes, that was a noble goal. But, every time I moved forward, I became anxious about rejection and failure. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit would intervene and remind me of my role in the greatest story ever told. The story where the Creator-King of the universe is ultimately glorified.
3. How is my attitude towards God in a win or a loss?
When your plans don't go your way. Do you find yourself angry and bitter or trust in a loving heavenly Father? What if your plans succeed beyond your expectations. Do you treasure the warm glow of your achievement or praise God for the opportunity to use your talents for his glory?
My husband recently chose to shut down a plan that would have been a big win for him. It was hard for me to watch him grieve the loss but, I was encouraged by his surrender and confidence in the Lord. As we talked I heard him say, "God always does what is good and right and perfect." In this case my husband was holding his talents loosely, allowing God to decide how they should be used.
To those who succeed at making something of themselves, the world promises fulfillment. This message appeals to us because it offers to fill our longing to find our purpose, significance, and self-worth. But, we must vigilantly resist this temptation by focusing on the gospel—which reminds us why we live differently.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. —Philippians 2:5-11
Friends be grateful and encouraged! God appoints us gifts and talents to be used in his grande redemptive story. It is amazing God uses flawed humans like you and me to spread his glory and fame. Please join me in persistent prayer for a pure heart. A heart that stewards talents for his glory.
Tracy Richardson (@alaskagospelgrl) serves at Radiant Church in Fairbanks, Alaska as the Church Planters Wife. She loves to study scripture, throw parties, and run trails. She has a B.S.S. in Fine Art and Literature. She is also Mamma Bear to two wild cubs.