A business owner I barely knew once phoned to see if we could meet. He was an aggressive entrepreneur, a roaring lion among his peers. Yet on the phone, he seemed different, hesitant, a bit humbler, perhaps broken. He certainly choked up a few times in our short conversation.
We met the following Friday, which happened to be his fortieth birthday. He appeared vulnerable and exhausted, and something in my heart went out to him.
He said he had been struggling the last few months. Nothing he did relieved him of the pain. His restless nights were endless, every discussion with his wife ended up in a fight, and he had even lost interest in helping his son play soccer. As he shared, tears silently rolled down his cheeks.
His voice finally broke and he began to sob right there in the restaurant. I was still unsure what his problem was, but I felt sympathy. It hurts to watch someone suffer.
Eventually he gathered himself and explained. Ever since he was a young boy, he had aspired to run a successful business. He set a goal of having ten million dollars in the bank by the age of forty.
“Sam,” he moaned, “Including savings in my 401k, I barely have six million dollars to my name.”
[This conversation happened. As I re-read it here, I shake my head in disbelief. But it happened.]
When I was in the business world, we evaluated employees’ progress toward corporate objectives with SMART goals (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound):
- Salespeople were gauged by their number of cold calls;
- Software support analysts were ranked by their average turn-around time on bug fixes;
- Administrative staff were rated by journal entries keyed in and letters typed;
- And owners calculated their value on the profits they made.
Even though ministries shy away from the world, the temptation of worldly measurement creeps in:
- Pastors (and church members) fixate on the size of their Sunday worship attendance;
- Campus ministries ask for monthly reports on Bible studies led and donor letters sent;
- And bloggers use Google Analytics to see how many readers they have.
We quantify our lives with numbers: diapers changed, dishes washed, and golf handicaps. (I recently got my golf score down to 74. But then I fell apart on the back nine. Thanks for asking.)
What Is the Measurement of our Lives?
Allen Gardiner was a mid-nineteenth century missionary who passionately longed to plant a mission in South America. In 1850, he and his friends landed on an island off the southern coast of Chile with enough provisions for six months.
The climate was harsh, the local people hostile, the land barren, and the resupply ship was delayed. Short of food and medical supplies, all of Gardiner’s companions suffered the painful death of starvation. Gardiner too finally succumbed, survived only by his journal.
By all modern measures of ministry success, Gardiner’s life was a failure: no sermons preached, no souls saved, not even a single group Bible study. The second to last sentence in his journal reads,
Young lions do lack and suffer hunger; yet they that seek the Lord shall lack no good thing (Psalm 34:10).
Beneath that verse he penned the last words he would ever write,
“I am overwhelmed with a sense of the goodness of God.”
Oswald Chambers claims that the “lasting value of our public service for God is measured by the depth of our intimacy with Him.”
P. S. Below is the first video in a series of short coffee house videos on the topic of Hearing God in Conversation (“short” meaning 90 seconds):
To grow in intimacy with God, we need communication. If you want to nurture that divine dialogue with God, may I suggest you buy Hearing God in Conversation.
Eugene Peterson said, “I picked it up out of curiosity, and I couldn’t put it down.”
Gary Wilkerson wrote, “This is a remarkable book that teaches both how to hear God’s voice in Scripture, and then to hear his voice in every avenue of life. It’s filled with humor, insight, practical tips, and sound theology. I can’t recommend a better guide than Hearing God in Conversation.”