Four years ago, I was diagnosed with kidney cancer. The treatment involved five uncomfortable (and humiliating!) procedures. On the other hand, I experienced nothing like the sufferings some people feel during serious illnesses.
The cancer forced me to clear my schedule. I canceled four retreat engagements and two preaching opportunities. While my multiple recoveries were less severe than some experience, they still sidelined me. So, for those four months I only wrote five “weekly” articles.
During those months, I had more free time than I’ve had since I learned to ride a tricycle. But that free time came with limited strength reserves. I simply didn’t have the energy to write articles, read books, or even watch Netflix. I felt like Marie Antoinette who once lamented, “Nothing tastes.”
And for those interminable months, I wondered, “Of what use am I? How can I make an impact?”
The Trouble with Impact
Some argue that the two greatest longings of the human heart are for significance and friendship. After all, it was in paradise that God called Adam and Eve to make His Garden a work of art. Their work had significance.
And it was in that same paradise (when humanity was perfect) that God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.”
Our problem surfaces when we try to produce that significance on our own. 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.”
To find the root of our trouble we have to ask: “What is the hidden motivation beneath our work?”
Running may be fun, but when we run (or parent or lead) to enhance our own reputation, it contaminates the work. Harold Abrams anxiously struggled to create a name for himself. We do too, and that is the hidden and desperate work we do beneath our work. It is exhausting.
The Great Compliment of God
After the resurrection of Jesus, at the beginning of Acts, His disciples ask, “Will you finally restore the kingdom now?” Jesus says, “No, you will. After the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”
This is an incredible affirmation of God. He could have brought the Kingdom all by Himself. But He chose to partner with us. But not through our self-naming labors. Only through His life in ours. 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 it.
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, in that one simple sentence, impacted more people than Billy Graham did through his decades of crusades. The thief’s real message to Jesus was equally simple: “You are Lord. I am not. My only need is You.”
It does me no good to say, “I can have impact, if only I were healthy.” If God can’t work through me exactly where I am, He certainly can’t work through me where I am not. My single greatest need is friendship with God.
I can run with that.