Posts Tagged ‘Matthew 6:33

11
Feb
21

Successful Musings

It’s funny, the way it happens; I hear a random word on the radio and ZIP! ZAP! ZOOM! the wheels start their wild spinning, leading me off into strange and interesting (and hopefully productive) places. 

The word I heard yesterday was SUCCESS. I don’t even remember the context I heard it in. But then, off I went, wondering…

… “Am I a success?”

… “Have I succeeded?”

And finally, “Just what IS success anyway?”

Clearly the first two questions are two VERY different questions indeed, requiring two VERY different analyses.

I can tell very quickly and clearly that – though the day is yet young – I have personally succeeded at many things already; I succeeded at getting out of bed… at making coffee… at taking my car in to the shop… at working out… at cleaning up and getting dressed.

Answering the first question, however, – “Am I a success?” – is a much slipperier proposition. The question seems to be asking me to stand back and dispassionately evaluate my entire life in the light of some objective, universally understood yardstick… a yardstick I may or may not subscribe to.

I mean, are you asking if I am a financial success? Or a spiritual success? Or an emotional success? Do you mean, am I a success in maintaining the health of my family relationships? Or maybe you’re wondering if I am a success in the measure of beneficial impact I have had on the world around me?

What do you mean by SUCCESS, exactly?

Dictionary.com defines the word success as, “the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals…” a definition which I find extremely interesting! It seems to be saying that success can only be measured at the END… once you have stopped trying. 

So, yes, I have stopped trying to succeed in the NBA. HOWEVER… since it was not a FAVORABLE termination of my endeavors, I can’t really say I succeeded as a professional basketball player, can I?

Maybe a better question to ask is: WHY do we devote so much time and energy to the subject of success? What causes some of us (certainly not ALL of us) to worry so much about how our lives stack up… either against the lives of other people, or against some kind of external, artificial, culturally imposed standard?

How much misery has been caused by our striving after success? How much suffering has one person inflicted on another in the pursuit of success?

Please don’t misunderstand me: I believe goals are good… STANDARDS are laudable… Life is richer, deeper, more textured when it is ABOUT something and has PURPOSE and DIRECTION. 

Maybe the issue has more to do with WHOSE standards of success we are trying to attain? 

How about instead of allowing People magazine, HGTV, or the latest internet influencer to set our standards, we turn and ask God what GOD’S standards of success are?

Jesus helps us “get our minds right” on this question right there in the Sermon on the Mount when he says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33, NRSV). And I don’t know about you, but for me it is refreshing to be reminded that aiming for success on God’s terms doesn’t depend on my level of athletic ability, my intelligence, my innate problem-solving skills, or my boyish good looks. 

WHEW!

It only depends on my willingness to SEEK God’s kingdom… and to receive God’s forgiveness when I fall short. (Which, incidentally, I do EVERY SINGLE DAY). 

So… am I a success – in God’s eyes? 

Are you?

21
May
18

The “Never Enough Club”

productivity-01I wasn’t very productive today.

But then again, I’m on vacation. Productivity is not really expected of people on vacation… is it?

Two weeks ago, on the other hand, I was NOT on vacation. It was a Thursday as I recall… a day that started off with a cup of coffee, a walk of the dog, and a list of items I was eager to complete and cross through.

And yet, I sat back and mused at the end of that Thursday… “What the heck happened? I was a whole lot less productive than I wanted to be today.”

Looking at my sad list of uncompleted items, I was somewhat consoled by the knowledge that lives would not be lost, relationships would not be destroyed, nor would cancer remain uncured as a result of my sloth.

EXAMPLE: I didn’t stop the newspaper or mail delivery in advance of our vacation… a task that absolutely had to be done. But it could just as easily be done tomorrow.

But it made me pause and wonder how often I am guilty of labeling my days as either good or bad based on my own personal level of productivity.

Check a lot of stuff off the list = good day.

Don’t = bad day.

Isn’t that a little bit sad?

I am not saying productivity is something to be sneezed at. Not at all.

We each have a calling to produce SOMETHING in life. And ideally, it is something that utilizes our unique God-given gifts.

Painters produce paintings. Cooks produce meals. Salespersons produce sales. Writers produce strings of coherent words. Clowns produce terrified children.

We each depend on the productivity of others to navigate even the simplest passages of our day. The light bulb you just turned on, the water that just flowed through your showerhead, and the YouTube cat video you just chuckled at were all produced by productive people… folks just like YOU!

What kind of world would it be if none of us produced ANYTHING?

But I have to level with you… there are a couple of places I keep getting tripped up in this whole conversation about productivity. The first is in my tendency to draw a direct connection between my (or anyone else’s, for that matter) WORTHand my level of PRODUCTIVITY. It is hard to ignore the pulsing message in my head that says, “The more you produce, the more you are worth.” 

My second snare comes in my tendency to pass judgment about the overall SCOPE of my productivity. I’m not even sure “scope” is the right word, but here is what I mean; every week I write an approximately 2,500-word sermon and a 700-800 word blog post (or two). But because I am not currently working on either a book or a screenplay, (or both) I regularly feel like a writer wannabe… a poser.

I might visit two or three people in the hospital and pray with them as they prepare for surgery, but because I am not instigating a nationwide movement to provide spiritual care for the elderly and disabled, I feel like a slacker.

I exercise vigorously at the gym at least three times a week; not including daily walks with Rosie the dog. But because I am not regularly putting marathon notches in my belt, I feel like a slug.

It is very difficult to publicly admit these defects in my thinking. As you read them, you immediately see how overly concerned I am with the imagined assessments of OTHERS about my life and me. I am also showing you how difficult it is for me to take Jesus at his word when he says, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”(Matthew 6:26, NRSV).

Here is where you say, “How about practicing what you preach, pastor.”

Are you a member of this club, too? Do you regularly flagellate yourself with the phrase, “never enough”? Do you get twitchy when you take a vacation? Are “to do” lists your highest form of artistic expression?

Well then, come over here and sit with me a moment, my friend. Take off your shoes. Put down your iPhone (unless you are currently reading this blog on it. Then please, continue holding it). Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Feel the breeze of the moment as it caresses your face.

Be reminded – as I must continually remind myself – that God’s mercy and love are not production-based. They pour over you like a waterfall… the same as they pour over the woman who runs her own company, competes in Ironman Triathlons, raises four special needs children, grows her own arugula, and is working on a script for Fox Searchlight, all at the same time.

Take as gospel truth the statement that you earned this magnificent extravagance merely by the heroic act of being born.

Seize it.

Revel in it.

Celebrate it.

And then go out and take a slow walk in your bare feet… smiling all the way.




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