Archive for June, 2013

The Search for Significance

I am currently involved in mentoring a small group of medical students. It is part of a program to help them to integrate their faith into their future medical practice. The curriculum we use for the mentoring portion is the book, The Search for Significance.

Why would we use this book? Why is it important for medical students to know where their significance comes from? Why would over two million people have read this book?

Medical students, like us all, need to feel significant. God made us this way. The problem is that most of us search in all the wrong places for significance.

We often believe that we are significant if we are strong, a high achiever, or approved of by the powerful. However, we never seem strong enough, or achieve enough, or approved of enough to be satisfied that we are significant (Proverbs 27:20).

God says, that these ways are “broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). These are false ways to becoming significant. They do not satisfy because they are not God’s way to be significant.

God’s way is for us to live in the reality that we are already significant! We do not need to search for it! “You are precious, you are honored, and I love you” God tells us in Isaiah 43:4.

But we say to ourselves, ”This is crazy! This doesn’t make sense! This is not how my life works!”

Of course our life doesn’t work this way. “For My ways are higher than your ways,” says God (Isaiah 55:9). His way is to give us significance as a gift for being his child.

However, we have been trained to earn significance. Medical students in particular have been trained to earn significance through their achievements and the approval of society. “Who needs God to be significant?” they may say to themselves.

So, how can we find significance God’s way? How can we call off the search for it? How can we learn to accept our weaknesses, the disapproval from others, and failure to achieve our goals and still regard ourselves as significant?

Keep in mind it is a journey of a thousand miles. But it does begin with one or two steps. Let me suggest a couple of them.

First, buy and read the book, The Search for Significance.

Then, ask God to help you to recall any incident during the day where you felt insignificant. Imagine yourself back in each of those scenes and thank him for his gift of significance to you.

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I am excited! God has changed me- for the good!

Let me explain.

There are so many commands in the Bible that are just impossible to obey without becoming a different person. One of these is to forgive others as God has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32).

I knew that not forgiving others would eat me alive. Not forgiving would cause me to struggle with bitterness and living close to God.

Yet, I wanted revenge for the actions committed by someone who had wronged me. Forgiving was far from what I wanted to do. As a result, I sensed I had to become a different person to forgive.

So, I began to pray daily that God would give me his love and forgiveness for this person. I also reflected on how much I needed God to relate to me in his love and forgiveness.

Then, the other day I unexpectantly met this person for the first time in several months. I was surprised to find that I had no bitterness towards him. Instead, I was glad to see him and felt God’s love and compassion for him.

This was definitely not the old me. This was a new me created by a work of God in my heart.

So, what can we learn from this example?

One teaching is that we cannot live the Christian life by staying the same and trying harder. Improved behavior without change inwardly is being a hypocrite.  “You are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside are full of dead men’s bones” (Matthew 23:27).

Another teaching is perseverance. We cannot just listen to truth and expect that God is going to do all the work to enable us to live that truth.

My growth in forgiveness was a process that required me to pray daily and to do a number of soul-searching exercises. God does the miracle of changing us but he does require us to persevere in cooperating with him.

A third teaching from this example is that God wants us to relate to others with mercy. He does not want us to demand justice for others.

I tend to want mercy for myself, but justice for others. But God says “bear with others, forgiving others who you have a complaint against, as I have forgiven you” (Colossians 3:13).

Who do you need to forgive? I encourage you to talk to God about what he wants you to do. He will give you the power to love and forgive this person as you persevere (Luke 8:15).

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Facing the truth is scary business. It often hurts. So, we often run from truth by pretending that the truth is not the truth. We also try to kill the pain of truth through food, alcohol, and entertainment; we can also suppress the truth from our awareness.

But God wants us to face the truth, down to the core of our being. “You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part, You will make me know wisdom” (Psalm 51:6).

But how?  How do we face and live painful truth about life and ourselves?

As Christians, we know that no matter how bad we have failed God still loves and accepts us (Romans 8:37-39). Many of us do not really believe this, but meditating on passages like Psalm 23, Psalm 91, Psalm 131, and Psalm 139 can help this truth percolate from our head to our heart.

This awareness that we will never be diminished in God’s eyes by facing the truth about us, gives us the power to face it.

For example, this week I faced a major shortcoming I had in my relationship with my wife. As I am seeking to deal with this shortcoming, it helps me to know that God still loves, accepts, and values me the same. I do not need to beat myself up over admitting this truth. I know I am a flawed but a loved person (Romans 5:8).

Another challenge to facing the truth is our life-long habits of repressing truth we do not like. We unconsciously do this. One thing that we can do to make conscious what is unconscious is to pay attention to our feelings.

Our feelings often are tied closely to what we really believe. By identifying how we feel about certain people, things, and events, we can begin to determine what we really believe about them. This can be shocking!

We then can take the lies that our feelings show we are depending on to God for his help. He will help us to face the truth about ourselves, so that we can live his truth. He wants us to quit hiding and running from the truth and instead, rely on it (Ephesians 4:22-24).

The hardest part of facing the truth is relying on the truth. Knowing the truth is not enough. Good news! God lavishly promises to give us the courage and wisdom to live it.

  • “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13)
  • “As your days are, so shall your strength be” (Deuteronomy 33:25)
  • “Do not fear, for I am with you… I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

So, we do not need to be terrified by the truth. We have what it takes to face it and live it.

Ask God what truth he wants you to face and his help in facing it. Ask him what he wants you to do to cooperate and then do as he leads. He will give you the power to live that truth!

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