One of the most rewarding things in life is being useful. I’ve been pondering this subject a great deal for the past few years, so I thought I would share some of my current convictions and conclusions.
My first business was back in 1970, when I was 18 years old. I grew up in San Diego and there was a building boom going on at the time, so my best friend Bert and I acquired a small, wooden toolbox, a set of interlocking metal stencils and a few cans of spray paint and we went door to door in the newly built neighborhoods and offered to paint the address number on the curb for $3. We did a better job than most because, before painting, we would actually clean off the face of the curb with a wire brush and then, for an extra fifty cents, we would sprinkle some nice reflective glitter in the wet paint to make the address number more visible at night. It was an easy and very lucrative enterprise and we usually only needed to work a few days a week in order to make ends meet. The rest of the time we spent at the beach. Life was very simple and cheap in 1970 and our little stab at self-employment made us feel quite useful, although I doubt we ever thought of our lives in those terms at that age. Then, we all got married and started families and all of those responsibilities only added to our general feeling of usefulness. In our culture, it’s much easier to feel valuable when you have a whole lot of responsibilities on your plate.
In November of 2018, Lisa and I packed up a U-Haul truck and moved from Central Oregon back to Florida. Lisa already had a job offer from her old employer and, although I was technically “retired” from my IT career, I was confident that I’d be getting some kind of a job pretty quickly. After securing a place to live and settling into our new digs, I spent two years applying for over 300 jobs before I finally acknowledged that employment just wasn’t going to happen for me. My experience was clearly telling me that I wasn’t useful as an employee anymore. My emotions were screaming that I wasn’t really useful to anyone, for any reason. My human culture heartily agreed with this judgment and that conviction was very difficult to ignore. This belief that I had become mostly useless became fairly well-established, too. Of course, there were other reasons for my struggles, including my family that has been pretty much shattered by mental illness and unforgiveness for decades, but my inability to secure appropriate employment, even part time, was very difficult to cope with. In America, and in Western culture, employment is paramount to purpose. In this very specific sense, human culture runs completely contrary to God’s designs for humans.
Most mature disciples of Jesus will intellectually acknowledge that the Bible is clear in its definition of our primary purpose in life, but quite often, their lifestyles will not reflect that value. We were created to have a relationship with God. Our fundamental purpose for existing is to love God and to worship him. Our culture tells us a different story though. In order to be responsible adults, we need to do something more useful than this. There are many ways that western culture pushes us in the opposite direction of The Kingdom of God, but this one fundamental value is one of the most difficult to manage and one of the most damaging.
As some of you already know, I have not squandered my time since moving back to Florida, in spite of not being able to find appropriate employment. I’ve kept myself very busy by writing lots of books, recording music and running a number of weekly and monthly meetings, but those activities do not automatically equate with usefulness in western culture unless they generate income. I’m happy to report that I regularly sell books and albums, but I certainly would never think of this level of income as a respectable salary. In the West, with very few exceptions, we normally measure the value of something primarily by how much it’s worth or how much it earns. Paul pretty much says the exact opposite in Philippians 3.
I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him.
Of course, in this passage Paul is talking about his training and reputation as a respected Jewish scholar, but this was one of the primary “currencies” in his culture. The principle remains the same, even though our modern cultural currencies are different. It is obvious to me that the currency of the Kingdom of God is love. We are designed, from scratch, to have a love relationship with God. This is how we are useful in our existence. Love makes us useful. Everything else needs to take a place behind the priority of that truth. For me, this ideology has been developing into my own fundamental belief and my primary motivation, but it also remains a huge struggle at times. The world I live in can be very compelling.
When I keep my eyes on Jesus, all I need is love in my life and I really feel useful. When I start to believe the values of American culture and yield to the pressures of Western logic, I begin to feel useless. The difference is, quite literally, day and night. I must admit that this feeling of uselessness is not just an occasional thing either. This is a regular struggle. My age and my broken family also add to the persistence of this conflict, but it is my daily determination to allow God to hammer away at the steel structure of my own personal culture and to continue to “daily transform me into the likeness of Christ”. Some days are really good and some days really aren’t very good at all. Our spiritual daughter is a constant reminder of my usefulness, because of love. She is consistent and persistent and she helps keep my focus on Kingdom principles instead of cultural persuasions that only bring judgment and condemnation. Of course, the human nature voice tells me that I really don’t deserve such a lovely gift, but Holy Spirit is always reminding me that He loves me, that He will take care of me and that everything I ever need is already available. He also regularly reminds me that we didn’t go out looking for a daughter, she just showed up at our house one day. The Pearl of great price appeared on my doorstep and I am very thankful.
And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19
There is only one real and eternal ruler to measure ourselves by. God created this value system when he created humans and the garden for them to live in and those values remain unchanged to this day. If you try to swim against the current of the world’s priorities all by yourself, you will most likely fail. If you read I Corinthians 12, you’ll read about how interconnected we are supposed to be. The more we can live our lives in this manner, the more we will be able to fill our daily lives with Righteousness, Peace and Joy.