Life-Ecstatic (Faith)

I’m Not Interested in Counting for God Anymore

On a throne but discontent

I am not interested in counting for God anymore.

Most of my life I’ve been consumed, driven, encapsulated by the idea of making my mark in this world. With practically everything I’ve ever done – music, writing, journalism, even my Christian life – I’ve dreamed of making my mark in my profession, making a mark in this world, making a difference, and going down in the history books in some way.

No more.

I don’t know if I’ve inherited this drive from our culture, or if I’m just a naturally ambitious person. But I’ve spent a number of months wrestling through this thing, trying to understand exactly where it comes from, why I’m driven in such a way, why I think like this, and where such thinking is going to take me.

Having the kind of drive I have is supposed to take me to “success”. He who runs hardest wins the race, right? Except when you look back and realise that you’ve achieved none of what you set out to do, it can get pretty depressing. And then all you’ve ever done becomes clouded in a false sense of failure, because the idealistic goals were never realistic anyway.

And you also discover that when you reach the goals that you wanted to reach, you’re still not happy. How many famous people have everything we’re supposed to live our lives for yet are clearly unhappy?

Lest some of my Christian friends think this is all about worldly success, think again. Consider how much we actually promote and live the idea of “making our mark” in the church. We love to hear teaching that’s focused on how we can “make a difference”, how we can be “God’s generals” in this world, how our lives can have purpose and meaning and how we can and should do “great things” for God.

I can produce a number of cliché’s that you hear in church circles and a lot of preaching to this effect. While it all sounds great on the surface, it’s not helping to get to the heart of what is a big secret sin even in the church – the sin of unhealthy, self-focused ambition.

We taint a lot of what we do with this kind of ambition. Think about how we often think – maybe we look at William Wilberforce and his work in abolishing the slave trade and we think to ourselves, “I also want to do something great like that.” Sounds fair, doesn’t it? But actually the focus is wrong. We don’t look to free slaves so that we can do “something great”. We look to free slaves so that slaves may be free. Anything else is a self-focused ambition laced in good-sounding intentions.

So long as our focus is to use that kind of thing to find purpose, we will never actually be content and we probably won’t even achieve the goal. The way I see it now, this thing is driven by the need to find purpose. We feel that if we’re ‘making a difference’ then our lives have meaning and purpose. But is it right that we find purpose in what our hands find to do? Even if we don’t have any intention of “being great”, should we find any meaning in our work at all?

I’ve examined the life of Jesus and noticed that he’s not interested at all in finding purpose in his work. I can’t see anywhere where he exhorts us to either. Why would Jesus need to get meaning and purpose out of his work? Does God find meaning in His work? Surely not. He might find enjoyment, but meaning?

Rather, Jesus finds meaning and purpose in who He is. God finds meaning in who He is. While He creates, he creates out of enjoyment and overflow, not out of finding meaning and purpose or even doing “something great”.

Likewise, I’m not ever meant to find meaning in my work, but rather in who I am, and even more who I am in God – in Jesus. Because ultimately my identity can’t really exist outside of this.

It can, but then I wouldn’t be a Christian, because fundamentally a Christian is one who follows Christ – for the purpose of both knowing Him and becoming like Him. When I became a Christian I laid aside all my own ambitions and plans and my need for purpose in what I do, and I entered into a new life and identity that is in fact based on a life in Jesus.

So, in the church, we can’t have this mix of ambition – where we will ‘make our mark’, be ‘someone who counts for God’  do ‘great things for God’ (insert other such phrases here). All that talk leads to division and nonsense within the church. How many pastors have divided churches out of their own ambitions?

That talk is soul destroying. It puts false ambition into our minds and hearts and has us strive to achieve ‘great things’ that God never even asked us to achieve. It feeds our need to also be great.

It makes loving a labourious task, because we no longer love to love but love ‘to count’ for God. In fact, our relationships start to mean far less because we’re too busy doing other things which we think God views as more important, so we can make our mark and ‘count’ for God. We’re completely sidetracked on some or other mission and those who hold us the most dear suffer for it.

Think about what ‘counting for God’ is actually saying about the Gospel – did Jesus die on the cross so we could strive to ‘count’ for God? Of course not.

While God has prepared good works for us to do, that doesn’t mean He wants us to find meaning and purpose in those good works. Those are natural outflowings of who we actually are, not the other way around. We’re not defined by those good works, be it our job, our profession, or our passions, but are defined by who God is and then who we are in Him.

That means that I’m free to no longer care about whether or not anyone is going to remember me when I pass away. I’m free from this idea of leaving a legacy. I free from having to make a mark.

God never asked me to “count” for Him or “count” for His Kingdom. Why would He need me to count for Him? What for? I can now live free and love free; free from constantly worrying if I’m doing everything right, if I’m counting enough, if I’m doing enough for the Kingdom.

Is that apathetic? Do I lack ambition? Yes, I do. The drive is gone. And so I’m free to love my family and friends and work colleagues and anyone who I’m in contact with. I’m free to go to the nations or help poor people because I’m not longer tied to caring about doing great things. My head space is no longer consumed with how I’m going to get there, to that illusive place, where finally I count. My past now is no longer a list of failures but a life lived. I can be content with it.

And I can be content with who I am. Contentment is worth much, much more than anything my ambitions could ever have given me. Because ultimately everything I thought I wanted would disappoint, and what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but to lose his soul? (Matt 16:26.)

I’m still trying to free myself from the need to count, but I’m getting there. And the process is liberating.

In retrospect, isn’t this the Gospel? The one that says I’m free from law and now living under grace? The one that says God already loved me even before I came to Him? The one that says I no longer need to labour and strive for significance and meaning and purpose and acceptance? Yes, that’s the one. That’s the one I believed from the start.

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13 thoughts on “I’m Not Interested in Counting for God Anymore

  1. He who runs hardest wins the race, right? – actually, the race is NOT to the swift 😛

    Good read, I mostly agree with you. I have such a lack of ambition, its actually worrisome 🙂
    It is very important though, that a person has fullfillment and meaning in his/her work. My opinion is that those elements follow naturally if WHAT you do flow from WHO you are. Jesus helped peoplpe caus that is who He is and doing those deeds surely brought him joy.

  2. Pingback: I’m Not Interested in Counting for God Anymore « Timothy West

  3. JM says:

    Gee Ryan, such an interesting point of view.

    We’re so busy trying to ‘arrive’ at this legendary destination, which is a legend in our own making, and its taking up all our vision and energy…. and all along its as if God is saying “Open your eyes! You’re in the middle of a greatest dance”.

  4. Whilst I agree nearly 100% I think there is definitely a place for wanting to live a life full of Godly purpose. Ambition for God and his Name and Fame is not a bad thing. It’s destroying if our identity is found in that but surely a passionate love for Him will lead us to love and seek to bring him maximum glory with our one and only life?

  5. Sorry guys, just had a hectic few days!

    @Han, great perspective, I think that’s right on.

    @JM, thanks man, yeah we’re in a dance, aren’t we? Nice imagery.

    @Drew, I’m sure a passionate love for Him would outflow into looking to bring him maximum glory. I think the problem is when we start doing that so we can also do ‘great things’, which inadvertently means we’re still quite interested in our own glory.

    Also, when we define what we mean by bringing God glory it can sometimes get a bit messy (we think God is glorified when government’s change, that kind of thing). I guess as we begin to become more passionate for Him, so he shows us just where and how we’re not living for His glory but actually our own. Much of this post is my own journey in discovering that.

    Stoked to see you at my blog dude 🙂 Appreciate the visit!

  6. Good stuff. Constant striving in a sea of comparisons is not only misguided, it’s also really tiring…
    “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (1 Timothy 6:6-8 ESV)
    Actually, the whole of 1 Tim 6…

  7. Anonymous says:

    Quote from Terry Pratchett: “The look of virtue triumphant is almost as horrible as the face of evil revealed, Almost as horrible but not quite.”
    The look of virtue triumphant = “Look what I have done for God” (except this is ‘god’).
    Keep on this track Ryan, there are a few more like you – Richard Rohr, Jeff Bethke being 2.

  8. So its a sin is it for a person who has a GOD given creative talent (e.g music) yet when that person TRIES to either make a career or further the progression, no doors open!! WTF?

    If we’re given a talent and never use then we”re cursed? or if we use the talent we have yet no oppurtunities come, then what?? Nothing but rejection, pain and misery whilst the heathens get those oppurtunities!!

    SO wrong!! And what exactly IS eternal life? Its said as a SLOGAN in churches yet very few KNOW what it is!! Pray tell??

    • Sorry Lee, I’m not sure where you’re coming from with your reply 🙂 But I do appreciate it nonetheless.

      Don’t recall saying in my post that it’s a sin to make a career out of something. The post is specifically about ambition – wanting to always be amazing and be seen as amazing, really.

      There’s a difference between taking your call seriously and taking yourself seriously. The former, healthy; the latter, not so healthy. Saying that if we never use our talent makes us cursed seems a little bit out of context. Besides, using your talent is one thing, being paid for it or even being seen for it another. Service is a broad topic, but service means we serve, not that we are served.

      The ‘heathen’ (a phrase I personally would never use) can have the opportunities and find that those opportunities themselves do not bring eternal life, because once again it is better to give than to receive. It is better to serve than be served. These are things Jesus said. Eternal life is a combination of things, certainly, but it certainly revolves around a life lived unto God where we experience Jesus personally.

      Ambition drives our service into a place where what we were given to serve (talents etc.) become something that must serve us (make us famous, etc.). It’s ok that what we do makes us happy, but if we think that it’s all that’ll make us happy we’ll never be happy, because ambition is never happy – it’s idealistic and perfectionistic and will dwell on the negative all the time.

      That’s been my experience 🙂

  9. Pingback: It’s EQUIP SA time! Friends, Faith and Feast! « Ryan Peter. Writer.

  10. Katlego says:

    Liberating…but i still think Godly ambition is a good thing, we have too many Christ followers that lack ambition and that also is not very helpful. The idea to do great things for God is biblical and a good thing but it must never take the place of relationship with Him, it must never be the thing of what I can do for God, but what He wants me to do,because He has prepared good works in advance for us to do, and He said to His early disciples “you will do greater things”… and of course all that we can do with Him and for Him is great anyway. The essence of the Gospel is a call to Holy ambition for every Christ follower.”just thinking”.

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