It’s Time for an Execution

When I was a teenager, family and friends used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. (Now they just ask me when I will grow up). I always wanted to be a missionary.

Arrogant Executive r1

Immediately after college I began mission work in Europe. But one day, during a “normal” (that is, non-exciting) prayer time, I heard God speak two words: “Not now.” I sensed him say that if I did mission work “now” I would be creating an Ishmael not an Isaac; I would be birthing mission service out of my natural flesh and not out of God’s spiritual promise.

The sense was puzzling (I was serving God in the mission, wasn’t I?), but it was also compelling; so I left the mission field and entered the business world at the ripe old age of twenty-five. I eventually became an executive and owner of a software company.

Twenty-five years later, in another non-exciting prayer time, I sensed God say, “Now is the time.” I asked friends for discernment, and together we agreed that God was calling me away from my job. But none of us knew what God was calling me to.

That was why eight years ago, January 1st, 2008, I woke up  with no job, no client calls, no meetings, no paycheck, and no clue about what I should do with my life. When people asked me what I do, I always answered,

“Well I used to be a software exec….”

I missed the applause

After many clueless months passed, I read a quote by former tennis champion Chris Evert, perhaps the single greatest tennis player of all time. (She reached more Grand Slam finals than any male or female tennis player. Ever.) When she finally hung up her racquet, she said,

I had no idea of who I was or what I could be away from tennis. I was depressed and afraid because so much of my life had been defined by being a tennis champion. I was completely lost. Winning made me feel like I was somebody. It made me feel pretty.

It was like being hooked on drug. I needed the wins. I needed the applause in order to have an identity.”

I knew exactly how she felt (except for feeling pretty). I knew who I was but not who I am. I missed the applause.

The name trap

I’ve recently been reading Jeremiah, and last week I found a really odd plea:

“Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches. (Jer. 9:23)

His plea is odd because the word he uses for “boast” is “hallel” from which we get “hallelu-jah” (praise the Lord). But the prophet uses the form, “yit-hallel,” which means to praise oneself.

In other words, he pleads, “Let not the wise man applaud himself for his wisdom;” nor wise parents for their parenting; nor smart people for their brains; nor good people for their morals.

Nor a former executive for his formerness.

Functional saviors

We live in an odd moment of Christian history. Up until the recent past, humility was valued and pride was disdained. We may have been arrogant, but we were too proud to show it.

Nowadays a self-applause disease plagues us. Look at the self-descriptions on websites, Facebook, and Twitter pages of believers who long for more followers. Self-praise (yit-hallelu’s) is an epidemic:

Bestselling author, loving husband, pastor to pastors, leader of leaders, visionary, entrepreneur, explorer,  sage. And the world’s most humble blogger.

Why do we insist on self-praise? To save ourselves. We boost our self-image through our self-boasting. To find significance in life, we applaud ourselves in the hope that others will join.

We name ourselves through self-admiration. Our self-applause becomes our functional saviors.

What can we do?

Our naming is an illusion. Or delusion. My old title beat me up; it whipped me with the scourge, “Used to be.” Everything we have will soon be a used-to-be.

We need a name that will never let us down—which really means we need a different savior.

The Apostle Paul surely had the Jeremiah passage in mind when he offered a similarly odd plea: “God forbid that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).

The impact of my life would be magnified beyond measure if my single boast in the world was: “I’ve got the applause of the only person whose opinion counts—though I don’t deserve it!”

It’s finally time to execute my old title of Executive.

Sam

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7 thoughts on “It’s Time for an Execution

  1. God loves you Sam. Not because you execute yourself, that’s the result …
    As the song sings: “And I’m loved by You – It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am” (“Good Good Father”)

    • Hi Seem,

      Thanks! Yes, it’s hard to get our identity from the cross; we so desperately want to create our own. But resting in the cross is the only identity that will satisfy and survive.

      Thanks for commenting.

  2. I retired three years ago and am still searching for what God wants me to do. A desert experience so to speak. I have tried various venues with little success. It can be quite frustrating. Thanks for your post Sam

  3. Thank you for sharing this Sam.
    As a child growing up in a Christian community on the prairies in Canada, I was surrounded by comfort and safety. I had a child-like faith in God and thought that meant; becoming a missionary in Africa, but not just Africa – the native tribe in the jungles – Africa. My life took a different turn after our family moved to the “wilds” of Los Angeles.

    It became a tangle of trauma and suffering. I finally shook my hand at God and asked, “Why, did you make me this way?” I never got an answer. Instead God just waited as I turned to Him and the astounding grace that began to change me from the inside out. The years of abuse and suffering took its toll. But slowly as I learned to lean on what He did for me and how He views me – as pure and complete in Him – I began to heal.
    People that knew me and saw me began to see the transformation. I began to allow the Spirit of God to lead me. I thought God saw me as marred and broken which made it hard for me to think I had a “face,” but now I know I have a face to see face-to-face with God.
    I don’t need to perform to make myself better or be accepted. This takes my eyes off me and helps me rest in who I am. A vessel that WAS broken. but now is being mended. All those cracks are being filled and sealed with gold, They point to the glory and praise for the Savior who set me free. AHHH, what a relief. I kick up my heels in joy as I cavort in His pasture.
    A child with a face,
    Annie

    • Hi Annie,

      Your story is moving; and (as you hint) the wilds of LA might be more dangerous than the wilds of inner-Africa. There are many kinds of dangers.

      But you are being healed. I love how past friends can see the transformation in you. That’s the way it should be.

      Thanks once again for your honest and vulnerable sharing.

      Sam

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