Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Motivating Factor

One of the politicians running for local office near me has built his campaign on securing "happiness, success, and fulfillment" for his kids and mine. A fine goal - one likely to appeal to everyone. It's the sort of thing we just take for granted - everyone wants happiness, fulfillment, and success.

We see the same in education. When I was growing up and now when my wife talks to er students, there's just a general understanding that basic education is the key to all the good things we want out of life. Why do we send our kids to school? Why do we pay for them to go to college? Why do I have to learn geometry or the capitals of African countries? The answer has always been the same - to put you in the best position to succeed, find happiness, or be fulfilled.

As a Christian, however, none of those things are a motivating factor for me.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that happiness, success, and fulfillment are bad things or dangerous things or things to be avoided. I'd rather be happy, successful, and fulfilled than not be - I'm just saying they can't be the goals or the motivation behind our actions.

The more I think about it, even that idea of success, for ourselves or our loved ones, is a bit too self centered to make much sense in the Kingdom of God. Perhaps our better motivating factor is the Kingdom itself. We are to live with the goal of making the Kingdom more evident in the world.

My dreams for my daughter are not that she'd be happy, successful, or fulfilled (although those things would be nice), but simply that her life would point towards Christ - that the things she does would benefit God's redemptive mission in the world.

What does that mean, exactly?

Well it means we're not our own. Christian freedom is entirely different than the civic definition that gets tossed around so cavalierly these days. We're not individuals. When we step into our role as followers of Christ, we step into a larger people - we assume our intended place in a created order that was meant to function as one.

We're not in it for ourselves anymore.

Scott Daniels talked about marriage in a sermon once - he said his advice for those young couples who come doe-eyed to his office to announce their engagements is something like: you don't get married because you love each other, you get married because the Kingdom will be better off if you do.

It's a challenging remark for marriage, but it applies equally in other areas of life. Are we doing what we do because it will make us happy or because it will make the Kingdom more evident?

It's not an easy answer. I mean, has your reading of this post made you happier? Has it made the Kingdom any more evident in the world? Can the same questions be asked of the time it took me to write it?

Last summer, my wife and I spent ten days in California. It was our first real vacation together in our seven years of marriage. (Real vacation meaning that we were not on our way to some place else and visits to family were not involved.) I was called out, point blank, by someone asking - "you're always talking about sacrifice and humility and caring for the poor - how can you justify the expense of a vacation like that?"

It was a good question. It still is.

My response that day (and I can only chalk my presence on mind up to divine intervention - more evidence that the vacation was appropriate!) was that we're not here to run ourselves ragged making things right. Justice is God's business. We are supposed to be living into the Kingdom - and celebration, relaxation, rest, is a part of that.

Our vacation transportation was provided by frequent flyer miles, we rented the smallest, most fuel efficient car possible, stayed half an hour from the beach, made our own meals half the time, skipped almost everything with an admission cost, and stayed the second half of the trip at the home of friends. I feel like we did our best to avoid self-indulgence (although beachside mahi-mahi tacos was walking a fine line) and to focus on rest.

Is that the right answer? I don't know.

Is the Kingdom more evident in the world because we took that trip? I don't know.

I hope so. Education isn't wrong. Success isn't wrong. Happiness isn't wrong - we just need to keep the proper goals in mind. Whether it's a mathematics degree, advanced training in spiritual direction, or a lifetime of hours on the serving line at the soup kitchen - we need to be shaped and formed and prepared to participate in the Kingdom in the ways God created us to participate. We might not all need Calculus to do it - but occasionally we need blog posts and vacations.

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