Who am I? What really matters to me?
Your answers to these questions become increasingly important when you’ve answered a call from the Creator of the universe to be on mission with Him at home or overseas. You’ve accepted the mission. You’ve shared your vision with others. You’ve started embarking on the journey of making disciples at home, at work, and where you play. Maybe you’ve even raised support and moved overseas. In that case, you may feel like a preschooler in your language skills, sharing what you believe to be good news with people that think they already have the answers they need.
And suddenly the reality of the challenges facing ministers of the gospel are heightened. You need a fresh dose of endurance daily and sometimes you just want to give up and go back to how life was before your call.
When ministry isn’t fun anymore, what do you do? Doesn’t God want you to be happy?
In these moments, your answers to “Who am I? What really matters to me?” are important.
If your responses depend even in part on your effectiveness, your being accepted by those around you, your comfort, your happiness, your competence, or your correctness, you may be in crisis because the Bible has different answers to these questions.
Our identity is in Christ. What matters are the things He says about us and calls us to.
But honestly, these deep truths don’t seem to matter as much as they should at times. In our walk of faith through ministry hardships, other questions often surface, like “What about being happy?”
You likely know the biblical answers to this question, but those answers don’t always pacify the questions.
Did you know that in the ESV translation of the Bible, the word “happy” only occurs eight times, and none of these instances are in the New Testament? When “happy” does occur in the Old Testament, it’s not usually in the best of circumstances.
Leah was “happy” that she gave birth to another baby boy because she thought that maybe now Jacob would love her. Jonah was “happy” that a plant grew up to shade him, until it died, and then he was resentful.
In these Biblical examples, the person’s happiness was dependent on external circumstances over which they had no control.
Interestingly, the old English root from which we derive our modern word “happy” had more to do with luck than it did to a state of contented well-being. Consider other words that share the same root, like “to happen” or “happenstance.” Happiness is about my circumstances. Even the word “circumstance” means the situation I see around me.
But doesn’t God want us to be happy?
If happy means what its dictionary definition says it means—content and satisfied with what I see around me—then probably not! We live in a dark, broken world that is full of suffering and tragedy. Should we really be “content and satisfied,” given this reality?
Jesus pointed out a starkly contrasting way. The Synoptic Gospels all record Jesus’ hard words to his disciples.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” -Luke 9:23
So, if our circumstances as followers of Jesus aren’t always going to be “happy,” then what are we to expect or hope for? It’s here that I urge you to consider Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” -Philippians 4:5
Joyfulness in scripture is found everywhere! And joy in scripture is almost always found in relationship—chiefly, relationship with the Lord and followed by relationship with each other.
Joy is not dependent on circumstance because it is rooted in identity and relationship.
The Apostles, after being flogged and threatened, “left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name (Acts 5:41)." Jesus, who “for the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2)." And you likely remember the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
So, who am I?
I hope that “joyful” captures the heart of who I am and who you are. And if we’re not joyful, Jesus has made it clear where we need to grow. It’s not my external circumstances that need my attention because we cannot control them. But we can put every ounce of effort into abiding in Jesus Christ.
And what really matters to us?
Truthfully, a lot of trivial things matter a lot more than they should. But deep down, everything I can think of that really matters goes back to relationship. Of first importance to me is my relationship with Jesus. My relationship with my wife and family follow after Him. Then come my friendships.
I truly believe that you and I can find deep, joyful satisfaction in working and investing in our relationships. They matter, so much so that they influence the answers to questions we all grapple with.
Who am I? A beloved, accepted child of God.
What really matters to me? Relationships—with God and others.