The new year has only just begun, and with it a new semester of graduate school. As it always seems to go with new beginnings, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking and planning and processing what I want my life to look like, both in the long-term and the short-term.
My problem has never been a shortage of ideas – I have enough dreams to fill up a couple of lifetimes. I want to be a wife and mom one day, and I feel like that’s something God is calling me towards. I want to be a good friend, a hardworking student, a global citizen, and stable presence in the lives of the people around me.
And so few years ago, when a friend asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I responded: “I want to love people well.” It wasn’t the career goal he was expecting, but it’s the one thing that’s been consistent through my life plans.
All of that is fine and dandy, but as I went about setting my long- and short-term goals, I realized I was asking myself the wrong question. I’d been trying to figure out how I wanted other people to view and understand me over the course of my life, but I needed to be asking something far bigger.
The real question is this: when I come to the end of my life, what will people understand about God because of how I’ve lived? How will the Gospel be proclaimed because of the choices I’ve made?
1 Peter 2:9 says this of us: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
God did not set us apart just to be good people, or to leave a lasting personal legacy, but to proclaim His grace and goodness and holiness.
When I say I want to love people, I could go on to say, “I want to love people so that they’ll think of me as good and caring and dependable,” or “I want to love people so that I’ll feel like I’m deserving of love, and so I’ll never be the one owing someone something,” or even “I want to love people because it makes me feel good.”
My aims haven’t been intentionally selfish, and I’ve tried to live a life that is sacrificial, but in the end, I have lived and still am living for my own legacy.
Instead, the calling on my life is this – to love people well so that the excellencies of Him who called me out of darkness will be seen and known by everyone I interact with.
It’s a big perspective shift. When I host people, do I host because I want them to see me as welcoming, or because I want to put on display the hospitality of a God who welcomes sinners in with open arms? When I tell friends I’ll pray for them, do I do it because it makes me appear pious and loving, or do I do it because I know a God who listens and responds when His children call upon His name?
John the Baptist, in describing his relationship to the ministry of Jesus, says this: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) John was called to spend His life proclaiming the coming Lord, as are we, but he understood where he stood in the equation. I so very often don’t.
And in a culture that says we must fight to be remembered, noticed, loved, and appreciated, it’s hard to muster up the desire to decrease, even for the sake of the increase of the name of our God.
But that’s the call, isn’t it? I certainly don’t think we’re asked to disappear or lose who we are – God created us with gifts, talents, and personalities for a reason. I simply think we’re supposed to shift the question.
As you look to the coming year, how can you shift the focus to the God who has so sweetly called you out of pain and darkness into His marvelous light?