Does the life you lead ever feel mundane or insignificant? Do you feel you are faithfully living the way God is asking you to live, but wish the rewards were a little more immediate or personally fulfilling?
You are not alone.
Often boldly following Jesus means being faithful in little things and surrendering personal significance. This can be equally as true on foreign fields as on the front lawn, and since each of us is hard-wired for significance, this can be a tough battle ground.
The struggle of significance has been an important piece of Mike and his family’s call to love Jesus by loving their neighbors. Mike is an ordinary guy who followed God’s call to love people in an ordinary American city. He works eight hours a day at a desk and comes home to his wife and four kids. He spends evenings on the front porch or in the front yard, hanging out and visiting with his neighbors, and the next day he does it all over again. His personal struggle for significance has resulted in wisdom for moving forward and staying on course.
If you have found yourself locked in the same struggle, here are five myths from Mike about what it takes to live a faithful and truly significant life, and how to combat them.
MYTH #1: It’s naive to think my life should be deeply significant.
In the midst of our busy lives, significance can sometimes feel so far outside our grasp that it's silly to even reach for it. We have to pay the bills, get dinner on the table, go to work... and the desire for significance becomes a "nice to have" rather than a "need to have".
But the desire to a lead significant, purposeful life is a good, healthy, and natural drive. It can spur us into the heart of God and drive us toward his purposes.
In The Divine Conspiracy, author and theologian Dallas Willard writes this:
“The drive to significance that first appears as a vital need in the tiny child, and later as its clamorous desire for attention is not egotism… It is outwardly directed to the good to be done. We were built to count, as water is made to run downhill. We are placed in a specific context to count in ways no one else does.”
This means God gives us a desire to be significant because we already are significant.
How we choose to spend our time on earth matters. Mike and Mary wanted to “be part of God’s Kingdom and be a part of his work.” Apart from their drive for significance, they never would have taken the risks to uproot their children and move into the city. That desire moved them into God’s plan for their lives.
MYTH 2: When my life is significant, I will feel significant.
Significance affects the quality of our lives, but therein lies the rub. Faithfully following Jesus and living a significant life doesn’t always translate to feeling significant. Much of life is lived on an ordinary stage and looks... well... ordinary.
Moving away from a focus on what feels or looks significant and toward what really is significant is an important discipline for staying grounded in your calling.
Mike has seen in his own life how the desire to feel significant creates temptation to move away from his calling and toward other things. He shared that it’s easy for things to become “all about me” and not about following God at all. Recognizing what motivates him and why he’s drawn to certain things has been a necessary practice.
To overcome the hurdle of sometimes feeling insignificant, Mike has had to go deeper into the question of identity and where he finds his joy in life. More on this in myth #3.
MYTH 3: Significance will come from my activities and accomplishments.
It’s hard for us as humans to separate out who we are from what we do. For Mike, looking at Jesus’ perspective has been crucial.
In one particularly relevant case, Jesus interacted with a large group of disciples who had just returned from focused ministry trips. The disciples were exuberant over their experiences of casting out demons; were living the “wow” factor of accomplishing “significant” things for the kingdom. Jesus joined in their victory cry, but then shifted the focus: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20)
Mike’s take on this story is that Jesus isn’t really into the “wow” factor. It’s like he’s saying:
“Big deal. That’s what I do every day. I’m God; I can do that. Really be amazed that you’re my son, and that I’ve called you to myself — that’ you’re going to come be with me, and I want you to come be with me.”
Despite our desire to look and feel significant, our relationship with the God who can do all things and our partnership with him is what Jesus invites us to get excited about. If we can let our significance rest in this position, believing that the God of the wow factor is partnering with us every day, we will be able to stay the course even when the fruit isn’t immediate or dramatic.
MYTH 4: I will see my significance most clearly when compared to someone else’s.
Another pitfall to a grounded significance is comparing ourselves to others. “Sometimes I feel like my life is really boring compared to the next person,” Mike admits. “Significance is more heightened in the digital age... with Facebook, Instagram, etc. And it’s usually only the cool parts [that get shared].”
Looking at others’ lives, callings, and “significance” can be the death blow to our own. Jesus’ interactions with his disciples reinforce the idea that God’s way is not the way of comparison.
After his resurrection, Jesus revealed to the disciple Peter that he would suffer and die in a certain way. Peter looked over at another disciple and asked, “Well what about him?” And Jesus refused to go there: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:22)
For Mike, who feels called to something more mundane without immediate fruit, letting go of comparison and just looking to Jesus has been essential. Asking himself, “What does God value? Are you valuing the same things?” has been really helpful. And then telling himself, “Don’t look around at others. You do what God’s called you to. And maybe that’s mundane stuff. Maybe that’s nothing. Humility says I’m not really aware of myself or my advantage.”
In Kingdom living, we don’t always get to see the results of our lives and efforts. That’s one reason comparison is such a deadly game. If you can see visible results in others’ lives and not in your own, it’s a wide open door to questioning the legitimacy of your calling. But as Mike says, “Faith is not worried about the result. It’s not worried about how long the results take. It just says, ‘I believe God can do this, so I’m going to be faithful to it.’”
So be faithful to what Jesus is asking of you.
MYTH 5: My vision for significance is the same as God’s.
What God deems significant for your life may look different from what you would have planned or chosen. Surrendering your own view of significance to God’s plan of how your life will matter is probably the deepest challenge of all.
This is seen most profoundly in the life and death of Jesus. When Jesus surrendered to the will of God and went to the cross, the most significant moment in redemptive history was the result. Relating this to his own quest for significance, Mike reflected: “Christ’s triumphant stand is death and suffering. It’s not glory.”
In the same way, Mike has realized that God’s greatest purposes in his life might not look or feel good at the time. That doesn’t change the significance of following God’s plan.
So what's the point of our search?
We all desire to have lives that matter. God made us that way. We do count, and probably in ways we don’t even realize. But living fully into our significance requires a God-centered heart: a heart focused on loving God, caring about what he cares about, and finding significance in the things he values.
The point of our search for significance is to realize, like Mike, that “God’s heart matters more than anything else.” Living in line with God’s love and vision is the bedrock for a significant life.
So center your heart in God today. He is able to lead you to the rest.
This post is based on an interview with Mike and Mary Matthias, who live with their four kids in Long Beach, California. Mike and Mary are not on staff with CRM, but they have inspired us with their commitment to live as an “ordinary” family on mission in their neighborhood.
This post was written by Megan Beehler, who recently completed an apprenticeship with :Beta: Communities also in Long Beach.