It should have been the highlight of my life. A published author! A three novel contract. A debut receiving amazing reviews.
But I was miserable.
I tried to put on a good face when people would congratulate me, complement my work and tell me how blessed I was to be one of the few people on the planet who get to have their works on the shelves of most bookstores in the nation.
And I was grateful and aware of all I had to be thankful for and my readers, editors and agent were incredibly encouraging. It was the beginning of a new and exciting career, and one I had dreamed of since I was in my teens.
But I was also counting the costs.
Writing is my ministry. My way of sharing God with others. But for me to take on this assignment of being a novelist while still carrying a full time job and without sacrificing family time required me to give up just about everything else.
No more serving as elder at my church. Or chairman of the local Salvation Army board, or men’s Bible study leader, or marriage group teacher or fervent supporter of ministries in our community and beyond. Not with having two full time jobs and needing to focus on my family as well.
Which lead me to this question: Had I disappointed God? Now that I wasn’t doing as much for Him? I had heard his clear calling for me to write for Him. But was that enough? I actually found myself calculating the difference between my service efforts before and after my writing journey. Did He love me less now?
So I was primed to read my friend Bill Giovannetti’s brilliant, newly released book, Secrets to a Happy Life. There are many rich concepts shared in this precious book, but one in particular struck home with the challenges I was facing. Here’s what Bill writes:
Listen to a hundred sermons, read a hundred books from the Christian shelves…my hunch is that the overwhelming message is we should do more for God. Radical love. Crazy commitment. Unwavering loyalty. All are good messages.
But all are futile messages unless the loyalty, love and commitment are clearly seen to emanate from God first and are only then reciprocated by us. Most of us have it backward.
“We love him because he first loved us,” (1 John 4:19) said John. We need to remember the “he first loves us” part every single day.
Now if you aren’t very careful, this point will pass by without any impact. So pause for a moment and think about it. Let it soak in.
God loves you unconditionally. He created you. Everything about you. There is NOTHING you can do for Him to love you more than He does at this moment. You, my friend, are LOVED, LOVED, LOVED.
His love is not influenced in any way shape or form by our performance.
He loves us profoundly and there is nothing we can do to change this.
Our role in this comes from deciding if we love Him and to what degree. Sort of, kind of? Only when he does good things for us? Or with full, unbridled devotion regardless of our circumstances?
Jesus said, “If you love me then you will obey my commands.” A powerful expression of our love for God comes through our obedience. Not so He’ll love us more, but so we can love Him more.
Performing for God is an act of spiritual arrogance. It’s easy to fall into wrongful thinking. If I serve as deacon of the church then God should love me more. If we feed the poor, then we are more deserving of a larger dose of grace.
Performance is “doing” with the hope to “hear” good things from God in return.
Obedience is waiting to “hear” God’s directions before “doing”.
Performance is loud, boastful, manipulative, self-serving and leads to disappointment and depression.
Obedience is patient, humble and leads to contentment and happiness.
Shifting from performance mode to obedience is a lifetime work in process for me. I was raised as a hard-driving, pull-myself-up-from-my-bootstraps individual. I have to unlearn as much as I need to learn.
For most of us, if we closely examine our Christian service commitments we’ll typically discover them to be motivated from a combination of both performance and obedience. To untangle the strings of these to discover what should stay and go requires us to lay the fleece before God and say, “Was this me getting ahead of myself, or was this from You?”
It requires time in the Word, quiet moments by the river listening to His voice, and some painful decisions. Because if our service is rooted in own will and not His, it will only grind us down and burn us out.
We may not get it perfect. We might continue to make mistakes.
But that’s all right. God loves us anyway. And as Bill reminds us, this is the true foundation of our happiness.
Find more of Michael Reynolds’ advice and teachings in his article Can this Chocolate Strategy Eliminate Your Worries?
Learn more about the author Michael K. Reynolds