After Steve Jobs’ death, and not to trivialise the death of anyone, I was left wondering about our success obsessed culture. Or, more aptly, it augmented things that I felt I had to be dealing with and indeed am still dealing with: the fear of dying in obscurity, not having been seen as someone who really did anything for this world.
Our culture and our time seems to view obscurity as the most saddest thing ever. In fact, obscurity is so shunned upon in this celebrity, success obsessed culture that you could swear it’s a moral sin. But who is defining success anyway? And for Christians, why should we be so worried about whether or not we will be a success?
For Christians we often like to talk about how “it’s all about Jesus” and that’s great and completely right, in my opinion, but if that’s the case why is it that so many of us – and I include myself here – are so afraid of obscurity? Why is it that we are driven to doing something big, something so all-important with our lives?
The good news of Jesus Christ is that, well, Jesus gets all the glory. He is the only one glorified. Neither you nor I are the true heroes of the story – it’s Jesus who gets the attention. The good news, and our life’s goal, is to be known by God (which we are in Christ) not to be known by men. I realise for non-Christians that doesn’t sound very appealing, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any less true. It may be that everything we’ve been taught in this world, everything about happiness, is actually just not true.
Our culture would view the ordinary person who lives and dies an ordinary life as so sad, such a waste of life. Well, is it a waste? Or is it because our culture hasn’t a clue what real life is supposed to look like, anyway? I suppose if you view your 60 to 90 years as all you have, the goal of life will be to try and squeeze in as much as possible. But the problem with this driven-ness and idealism is that it results in less contentment, frustration, disappointment and ultimately no happiness at all.
The drive for happiness becomes a slog and a mission, missing the very point. What if our culture actually has it wrong? It’s not an impossibility.
Having high ambitions, lofty goals and reaching them is the pinnacle of success in this world. Yet 1 Thessalonians 4 tells us to make it our ambition to “live a quiet life.” That hardly sounds like the adventure we’re all looking for. While many of us will say we’re not so keen on world-wide fame ala Tom Cruise style, we are so often looking for fame within our own circles – praise from our work colleagues, our friends, our family, and even in church circles for those of us that are involved in that kind of community.
Of course it’s good that our friends and family build us up, but when we are seeking our own glory we are missing our own freedom. After all, he who tries to save his life will lose it. The last shall be first and the first shall be last. These are hard-hitting realities about our Kingdom. (Luke 17:33, Matt 20:16)
If anyone would go after Jesus they are to deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23). Jesus is the greatest treasure, ever. If you don’t agree that’s OK, but I haven’t found anything else to be true, to be honest, and I have tried numerous alternatives.
But to have Him we need to deny ourselves and take up our cross. Hardly an easy thing. Yet there it is. Life is not about us. When we finally give it up that’s when we find the contentment and joy we’re looking for. We may die in obscurity, nobody will ever know who we were, yet we will die far happier than many of this world’s greatest heroes who go down in the history books as men and women to be praised. When we finally give up the drive to be known by everyone we can actually focus on those people who count in our lives and finally, at last, joy can be found in the ordinariness and humdrum of our lives. Because I believe that true and eternal joy is actually only found in the person of Jesus Christ, and that’s why I call myself a Christian.