I don’t know what you believe about the personality tests, but according my Enneagram score, I am a 3. Among other things, this means I tend to find my worth in my accomplishments (as opposed to relationships, safety, relaxation, etc). Personality tests aren’t always the most accurate way to define someone, but this is true about me.
I don’t know what the Apostle Paul was on the enneagram chart, but I wonder if he too found his worth in what he achieved. I read through his letter to the Galatian church recently, and I noticed something interesting in the first two chapters.
Did Paul waste his time?
In chapter one, Paul shares how he visited the church leaders in Jerusalem not long after his miraculous conversion to Christ. The people were amazed, and God was praised. He picks up this narrative in chapter two but fourteen years later after this visit to Jerusalem.
“Then fourteen years later I went back to Jerusalem again, this time with Barnabas; and Titus came along, too. I went there because God revealed to me that I should go. While I was there I met privately with those considered to be leaders of the church and shared with them the message I had been preaching to the Gentiles. I wanted to make sure that we were in agreement, for fear that all my efforts had been wasted and I was running the race for nothing. And they supported me and did not even demand that my companion Titus be circumcised, though he was a Gentile.” Galatians 2:1-3 NLT
In the fourteen year span between the two visits to Jerusalem, Paul went into exile/hiding in Tarsus for almost a decade and then he was sent on his first missionary journey with Barnabas. They spread the Gospel in current day Syria, Crete and Turkey. Finally, Paul and Barnabas return to Jerusalem to answer a vital question, “What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?”
The Jewish Christians were preaching that to be a true follower of Jesus, you must adhere to all the Jewish laws (food restrictions, circumcision, religious holidays, etc) in addition to with having faith in Jesus. This was in direct opposition to what Paul preached throughout the non-Jewish regions — faith in Jesus alone that saves us. So a council was convened in Jerusalem to answer this question once and for all.
Paul states in Galatians two that the gathering of these leaders in Jerusalem made him ask his own question, “Have all my efforts been wasted?” Was it all for nothing? Fourteen years of work – 10 years of study and formation and 4 years of ministry – wasted, thrown away, worthless.
Worth + Religion
Let me share two important thoughts about Paul’s questions, my own struggle and what could be a question your are working through too.
- Worth is not found in accomplishments.
- Religion focuses on accomplishments.
Let me go into a little more detail on these two thoughts.
Paul wrestled with these thoughts of value and worth. Have I wasted my time? Was all this work for nothing? What truly matters to God? Paul had been free of the rules and control of religion in his life for fourteen years, and in with one question he’s pulled back in.
Take this in for a moment. The Apostle Paul, writer of half the New Testament, a top figure in all the Bible, struggled with knowing how to determine his worth. It was a lie from the enemy of our soul. The lie spoken to Paul is also presented to you. We all struggle with some form of this question.
Where do you find worth?
I was speaking recently with a missionary couple who build homes for the homeless in Mexico. Over the last 25 years, they’ve built over 1500 homes for families who literally have nothing. I worked with them to build a home almost twenty years ago, and I returned again this past Thanksgiving. In the course of twenty years, their work has created not only 1500 homes, but a literal city. Where once was a squatters village around a dump is now a vibrant, living city.
At the same time they created an adopt-a-child program to put hundreds of children through school over the last 15 years. Now the children of this city are receiving an education in order to legally and legitimately support their current and future families.
Most recently, they began working with the swelling migrant population at the US/Mexico border. The migrant camps are less than half a mile from where they built up a village to a city. While there is a comprehensive strategy to pay for and support the home building and education programs, the migrant ministry is a financial black hole. The need is never ending, and the migrant problem doesn’t appear to have a forthcoming political solution.
It’s so big that the missionary told me he’s wondered, after 25 years of ministry, is this all worth it?
In a moment of weakness, like Paul 2,000 year ago, they heard the voice of religion speaking. Religion tells me I must prove my worth to God. 14 years, 25 years, a lifetime is not enough to satisfy the debt of religion. Religion tells me my worth is attached to my accomplishments.
Are you wasting your time?
I started by telling you my natural bent is to find my worth in what I’ve accomplished. In other words, I feel valuable if a lot of people read this article, an Instagram post receive a lot of likes, or people tell me I preached a good sermon. Notice this too, all of those things are about Jesus. This control on my heart is religion. If I have this viewpoint on the things I do, then I can easily ask the question Paul asked or my missionary friends asked,
Am I wasting my time?
Let me share with you three things I’m doing in my life to battle the hold of religion on my life. These are three things to help you know you are not wasting your time.
1. Remember your true value (you are a child of God).
If you can get ahold of this one principle of God, your life will be transformed. Let that sink in. This is THE thing that will change you. Understanding this at the deepest level of your soul will allow you to see yourself and others around you in a completely different light. In the same letter Paul wrote about his struggles, he says this about all followers of Jesus:
“But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.” Galatians 4:4-7 NLTGalatians 4:4-7 NLT
When I see myself as a child of God, and I then wonder if I’m wasting my time, I know that’s a question a slave to religion asks. As someone who has given my life to Jesus, I’m an heir of all God has to offer me. He sees me with joy.
A few years ago, my wife was journaling through a series of questions. One of them was this: “God how do you see me?” After a time of quiet meditation and asking that question, she herself (and the work she was doing) like a child coloring a basic picture. God looked at her and her picture…and he was pleased. She was what brought him joy. The work was simply an extension of who she was in his eyes.
This is how God sees you too.
If you are struggling to find your worth in Jesus, you might do this same exercise. Take a morning or afternoon where you can uninterrupted, and ask this question of God – “God, how do you see me?”. Give yourself some time, quiet your heart and mind, and listen.
You’ll be pleasantly surprised about what you hear.
2. Focus on obedience (not the response).
Paul’s struggle wasn’t on being obedient to what he heard from God. He was clear on his vision – share the Good News with the Gentile (non-Jewish) people. What tripped him up was the response of other people.
It is hard not to get caught up with what other say (or don’t say). God is never concerned with what others say or do about YOUR obedience. God cares about you, your heart, your obedience to what he speaks. This is what this looks like for me:
God has called me to write, so I am writing. A lot of times, I hear nothing from anyone (though occasionally my mom comes through – thanks mom 🙂 Even more rare, I get pushback. Both of these are difficult. On the one hand, I ask myself if anyone is listening…anyone? On the other hand, when someone responds negatively, I ask myself if it’s worth the pain of the pushback.
However, my obedience isn’t about anyone else by myself. As I’m obedient to God, God is building something in me. As I write, God is building a message within me. It’s a message that is becoming clearer daily, and the message comes out in all areas of my life.
What has God called you to do? Choose to be obedient to that thing. It’s not about anyone else but you. See what God builds in you.
3. Choose to be consistent (consistency compounds).
Of the three suggestions, this is the most practical way of battling the pull of religion in your heart.
Put emphasis on regularly showing up.
Your value is not the results you produce but your availability to God. I find value in daily waking up, reading scripture, praying and meditating. There is value in sitting down and writing week in and week out. I find value in sharing what I am learning – no matter who does or doesn’t read.
Paul found value in going city to city sharing the Gospel to whoever would listen. Day in and day out he would show up and share Jesus’ message to whoever would listen. My missionary friends find value in going across the border multiple times each year to build homes, encourage families and support migrants. They travel the US sharing what they are doing with anyone who will listen asking them to join in the mission.
It’s the day after day, week after week, year after year that brings lasting change and transformation. I don’t know yet what this looks like in my life, but I can see it in others. Paul’s work transformed the world…forever. He spread the news of Jesus that was a radically transformative message – not just spiritually but emotionally, relationally, financially. The world is different because of Paul. My missionary friends have built a city and their work there has given them to cache to speak to massive organizations to support this work.
It’s worth it.
Keep these three things in mind:
- God values you showing up. He will figure out the rest.
- God values the transformation of your heart. Your obedience to the things he’s called you to is changing you.
- God values you. The things you make, produce, create is beautiful to him because you are his child.