The last time I did Strengths Finder, my top strength was “achiever.” Throughout most of my life, I would say that attribute has manifested itself more than any other. For a long time, I was stuck in a cycle of achievement. I’d start a project, work had to get it done, and then start another project. The mundane aspects of life seemed utterly unimportant. Achievement was not only a strength; it was also an obsession.
Tied to that strength, however, were some deeply held values that slowly began to rein in my desire for achievement. Integrity, which is my number one value, is now tattooed on the inside of my right arm. It sits as an ever-present reminder that integrity is always more important than achievement. Integrity, developing the sort of character commensurate with Christ, has been a guiding force of my life for some time now, and it has been life changing.
The longer I live with and think about what it means to have integrity, the less I concern myself with being effective. What is it that I need to do to get this or that done is simply not that compelling a question to me anymore. To be sure, I don’t intentionally seek to fail or to be ineffective. That’s not the point. Instead, I have come to realize that outcomes are not mine to control. So, while I may construct a strategy, set goals, and exert effort, I’m no longer doing it to be effective. I’m doing it to be faithful.
This is an important distinction that I didn’t make for a long time. Faithfulness is the way in which we open ourselves up to accomplishing what God wants to do through us. It’s how we avoid the trappings of James 4:13-14 where we make our plans apart from God’s will and live as if such plans will come about by our own will and effort. Faithful obedience often has a way of redirecting our paths and changing our understanding of “achievement” and “effectiveness.”
We live in a world where outcomes are crucial. Having a strategy fail or efforts come up short leaves those without God left to put forth more effort or devise a new strategy. Effort is endless. The outcome must be accomplished because there is no security without the outcome. Those of us who know God know better. Outcomes, whether positive or negative, and the situations that arise from them offer fresh opportunities for God’s people to be faithful.
We recently witnessed the results of a political season in which two individuals and their supporters sought to achieve an outcome. One individual won and the other lost. In the political realm, perhaps that is of primary importance; I would argue that the way we win matters as much as, if not more than, the win itself. For Christians, it is appropriate to celebrate or lament a particular outcome, but it essential that we reflect on our integrity in bringing about that outcome. Having the political “horse” we bet on win or lose is of little consequence when compared to the integrity we exhibited throughout the season and continue to exhibit in the aftermath of it.
Can we look back, think about our conversations and criticism, evaluate our logic and decision-making, and read our comments on social media and recognize the moments where we were less than fully faithful? Were there moments when we, even in private, diminished others created in God’s image because of a difference of opinion about a particular candidate? Have we born with the weak, or have we chosen “to destroy the one for whom Christ died” (Romans 14:15) to assert our rights or our opinions? Have we chosen not to show “integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned” (Titus 2:7-8), thus leaving our character open to critique?
As we move forward as the body of a Christ, it would seem right for us to learn what it means “outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). As a body of people placed in the world to faithfully witness to the risen Christ, we must realize that outcomes are not ours to control. We are free to walk obediently with our God even when we don’t understand where He is taking us. Yet, as the good shepherd leads us by still waters and green pastures, there is no need for us to fear even if we walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:2-4). As such, we are free to be driven by the fear of God, which leads to wisdom (Proverbs 9:10; Cf. 1:7), rather than the fear of man, which leads us into snares (Proverbs 29:25).
Yoder once wrote, “…the criterion most apt for validating a disposition, a decision, an action, is not the predictable success before it but the resurrection behind it, not manipulation but praise.” In this, Yoder is not calling for a lack of action or decision-making. He is pointing out the difference the resurrection makes for action and decision-making. We don’t stop acting. We don’t divorce ourselves from the world. We don’t give up. God does not quit on his creation, and to represent him by pulling away from a lost world would surely be less than faithful. Instead, we walk faithfully trusting, yet not always understanding how, God will use our faithfulness to accomplish his ends.
Such is the logic of faith. We set ourselves and all we hold dear aside. We live lives in which we are prepared to sacrifice what we love. We act in ways that are foolish in the eyes of the world. It is this sort of life that allows us to live victoriously even when we don’t get the outcomes we might like. It is this sort of life that showcases Christ to a world that needs to know Him.
Lord, may our actions be guided by an abiding desire to give you glory. Set aside our desire to succeed, to win, or to achieve a particular goal that we might focus on the work you have us to do. Allow us to recognize that we are free to obey regardless of our circumstances. Remind us that when we serve the God who created all things that we are woefully incomplete in our understanding. Remind us that you are a wise, benevolent, sovereign, who is at work among us and through us and granting us the opportunities to follow you wherever you may lead. Amen.
JAMES SPENCER, PHD is President the D.L. Moody Center, an independent non-profit organization based in Northfield, MA, and author of Useful to God: Eight Lessons from the Life of D. L. Moody and Thinking Christian: Essays on Testimony, Accountability, and the Christian Mind.