Is It Enough?
Who sets the standards for your life? Where does your definition of “success” come from? Is it books, podcasts, fortune 500 business owners, pastors, spiritual directors, friends, family, or neighbors? There is no shortage of outside voices and messages coming at us on a daily basis that influence our motivations and desires. It’s very easy to be affected by the lifestyles and experiences of others. Sometimes we intentionally seek out the wisdom and advice, but many times we don’t even realize we’re being influenced. This can lead to shame and guilt, a feeling sense that our desires and motivations are not enough.
The other day I was having a conversation with a counselee who was trying to figure out what motivated him in life. When I asked him what that meant, he referred to “not being a big goal setter,” not having a lot of “vision” about the future, and not feeling “driven” to succeed. He found himself wrestling with the question, “Is this ok?” Is it “required” of him to be a goal setter and then be motivated to “successfully” meet those goals.
I gently pressed in on where these thoughts were coming from. After the initial, “I’m not sure” remark, he recalled several pastors and respected leaders who he follows on social media and has read their books. We worked our way through why he believed their lifestyle, or their motivation, was so important. What was it he felt he was lacking in his own life because he was not “motivated” like them?
Through some conversational processing, we were able to identify that this man was a faithful husband, dad, and employee. He had not missed a day of work simply because he “didn’t want to go.” Several years ago he and his wife had moved to a foreign country to learn the language and serve as missionaries. Their stay was shortened due to COVID-19 as they were forced to leave the country. Since they have returned to Texas, they have become active members in their church body, serving in a number of ways including being a host home for their small group and regularly volunteering to help on Sunday mornings. On top of that, they regularly welcome people in need into their home, providing shelter, meals, and friendship.
After a brief moment, I sat back and looked at him and said, “That sounds like a pretty ‘motivated’ life to me.”
Maybe he isn’t setting goals and waking up to meet those goals every morning. Maybe he isn’t planning the next big life adventure and seeking to reach the summit. Maybe somedays he wakes up and doesn’t really want to go to work, but does anyways. He gets home exhausted, loves on his children, engages with his wife, and has dinner for the third night in a row with the displaced family in need of help who they’ve welcomed into their home.
Is that enough? Is that motivated? Is that successful?
I asked him what he desired most in life. His answer?
To grow in a deeper relationship with God, grow closer to his wife, and be a present dad with his kids as they grow. Is that enough? Should there be more to his life?
The root of his desire in all three of these endeavors is love. Love for God and love for his family. We could probably even say he has exhibited a fairly healthy desire to love others outside his family too.
Is being loved by God and compelled by His love to love others enough?
We spent the last few minutes of our session in 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12. In these few verses the apostle Paul encourages the Thessalonians to “live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands.” Side note: my counselee friend is currently working as a contract manager for a home remodeling company. Working with his hands is a regular part of his job.
Also in these verses Paul celebrates the love the church in Thessalonica is demonstrating. It’s a love they’ve been taught by God himself to live out. Love is what they know and love is what they are doing. It’s what motivated them. And it’s the very thing that Paul “urged them to do more and more.” (vs. 10)
What amazes me the most is this message is coming from one of the most “motivated” and “driven” men in the Bible.
“If only I may finish my course…”
“But one thing I do…I press on toward the goal.”
He doesn’t tell the Thessalonians to set some goals, cast the vision, get motivated to go and do great things for God. He urges them to love. Better yet, he urges them to do more and more the very thing they were already doing. Double down on a life of simple love. Then, on top of that, live quietly, mind your own affairs, and faithfully work.
To be clear, I’m not in opposition to being a goal oriented and motivated type of person. Nor do I believe the scriptures teach against this, as seen above in the life of the apostle Paul. We could also say Jesus was a very goal oriented and motivated person. One goal. One motivation. The joyful enduring contempt of the shame of the cross, reconciling all things to himself, and triumphing over all evil. But at the heart of that goal, the desire that propelled the motivation, was love.
Love frees us from guilt and shame. It’s pretty easy for things like faithfulness, consistency, and unpretentiousness to lose their appeal in a fast paced, goal oriented, summit reaching, success motivated culture. We should feel no shame or guilt in living a simple and faithful life of love for God and others.
Is that what motivates you? Is that what sets the standard and definition of success for you?
Then, in my humble opinion, that’s enough.
Keep living in that way and watch the kingdom of God, the kingdom of sacrificial love, transform the world within you and the world around you.