I once read a quote that said, “Monday is an awful way to spend 1/7th of your life.” Would you agree? Would the average Christian say that Sunday is a great way to spend 1/7th of your life? Do we look at our lives in compartments? Are our lives different in church compared to our lives at work or with our friends? How can we build consistent Christian lives wherever we are or wherever we go? I believe the wholeness to our fragmented lives—and resulting excellence in ministry—is found in the resolution of value, identity, and worth.
All over the world people struggle with their value, identity, and worth. We can use a lot of energy and resources in our lives to build up our internal sense of worth or to form an identity for ourselves. Who we believe we are defines how we behave. If, for example, we believe ourselves to be descended from apes we would then expect ourselves to behave like an animal does. We can define ourselves by what we do (“I am a teacher,” “I am a doctor”), or what we own (“I drive a Mazda,” “I own a Mac”), or what we have achieved (“I am an Ironman”). Usually these activities are at the expense of other people. Although our need is legitimate, the way we attempt to fulfil that need is essentially self-serving.
Every day for eight months of the year, I have the privilege of meeting with university-aged students. It has been eye-opening to realize everyone struggles with their own value, worth, and identity. Some struggle with keeping a consistent Christ-centred life away from church. Others fill the gap of value and worth through consumerism. The commercial lie is, “Buy this product and you will feel more confident.” When it doesn't work, we move on to the next product.
With proper reflection, most of us can probably identify how our lives first became fragmented. For me, I grew up in a home where performance and success were critical in relation to my own value, worth, and identity. This created a constant tendency to one of two possible goals: either (1) engage wholeheartedly with whatever I set my mind to and make perfect success a measure of my own worth (achieving the highest success made me feel better) or (2) don't fully engage so if things didn't work out as a success I could have the get-out clause that it was never fully my responsibility. The problem was that even if I achieved success, it never actually freed me from the underlying worth and value problem. Furthermore, never being fully engaged in something means that you always have a feeling of being lost, baseless, a wanderer. Is this true for you? Do you feel that you are wandering through life? Let me encourage you.
Jesus had a great deal of strength in these areas of His worth and identity. This freed Him from the selfish pursuit of “fixing” any inner weakness and enabled Him to live the perfect life of a servant. Jesus had inner strength partly because He consistently drew His identity and worth through faith in what was written about Him in the Word of God. God wrote about Jesus in His Word. God has also written about us in a similar way in His Word. We therefore now have the opportunity to model ourselves on Jesus; building our own sense of worth and identity on what God has said in His Word and therefore becoming increasingly free to choose to serve God and others before ourselves.
The answer I have found in the Gospel is that my value, worth, and identity are eternally founded ALREADY in the person of God and His treatment of me through Jesus. His parenting recognizes that I have failed, and yet says “that doesn't matter!” I am still just as valued as a son now as I was before any perceived or actual failure. I'm just valued, period. That frees me from both extremes: using success as a measure of my worth on the one hand, and fear of engaging with projects because of the possibility of it reflecting on me on the other.
When my new success barometer became ministry-based I felt a real burden to show I was a great Christian worker. Through Scripture like Isaiah 43:1-7 and Jeremiah 9:23-24, I have found more of a joy and freedom in living the Gospel without the burden of “looking good.” I certainly do not crave the same amount of approval and affirmation from people today as I once did. Every day, I remind myself that my value, worth, and identity are sustained in Christ alone, and He is helping to be excellent in ministry.