A few months ago, I mentioned that I had been diagnosed with kidney cancer. The treatment involved five uncomfortable procedures, but the recovery was less painful than many suffer. A friend teased me, “You had the best cancer in the world. It was reasonably safe, you got an ‘I am a cancer survivor’ pin, and your convalescence hurt less than my tonsillectomy.”
But the diagnosis meant I needed to clear my fall schedule. I canceled four retreat-speaking engagements, a few preaching opportunities; and even though the five recoveries were relatively less severe, they still exhausted me, so during those fifteen weeks I wrote only five “weekly” articles.
For the last three months, I’ve experience more free time than I’ve had since I learned to ride a tricycle. But the free time came with restricted emotional reserves. I simply didn’t have the energy to write articles, read books, or even watch Netflix. I felt like Marie Antoinette once lamented, “Nothing tastes.”
And for those three long months, I wondered, “Of what use am I? How can I make an impact?”
The Trouble with Impact
The desire for significance is as deep-rooted as our longing for family, friendships, and hearing God. After all, it was paradise—when humanity was perfect—that God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” It was in that same paradise that God called Adam and Eve to artistically work in his Garden: they took the raw materials of sun, soil, and seed to create beauty.
Our problem surfaces when we try to produce that significance on our own, and usually for our own glory. The movie Chariots of Fire famously contrasts the two approaches when Harold Abrams moans, “I run because when that gun goes off, I have ten seconds to justify my existence,” whereas Eric Liddle declares, “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.”
The struggle we face begins with the question: “What is the stress beneath our work?” Running may be fun, but when we run (or parent, preach, study, or lead) to gain a reputation, it sours the very work we participate in. Harold Abrams anxiously labored to create a name for himself; and that is the hidden and despairing work we do beneath our work. And it exhausts us.
The Great Compliment of God
After the resurrection of Jesus, his disciples ask, “Will you restore the kingdom now?” Jesus says, “No. You will, after the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”
This is an incredible affirmation of God to us. He could have brought his kingdom by himself, but he chose to invite us up into partnership with him, to bring about his kingdom through us, in the power of his Spirit. It is not our self-naming strivings. C. S. Lewis once wrote,
You will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no one who bothers about originality will ever be original whereas if you simply try to tell the truth in your own words (without caring tuppence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed.
During my convalescence, I struggled to find some activity of significance to do. And then I read the story of the thief on the cross. He says to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus responds, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
That thief on the cross impacted more people than Billy Graham did in all his crusades combined. And all that thief really did was to say, “You are Lord, I am not, and I need you.”
It does me no good to say, “I can have impact, if only I were healthy.” If I can’t let God work through me where I am, I certainly can’t have God work through me where I am not.
P. S. We think we are made for significance, but our primary purpose in life is to have a relationship with God. Watch the video below, “What are we saved for?”
Because we are save for a conversational relationship with God, and only out of that will we impact the world with significance; it is His life in ours.
You can listen to this short video below and see if Hearing God in Conversation interests you.
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