Reflections on spiritual themes (and a few other things).

Tag: Success

Glory in the Ordinary

They’re calling it one of the biggest Olympic snubs of all time.

An enormously popular athlete. Record-setter. Superb skills. Has altered the game forever. Draws huge crowds. Gazillion dollar endorsements. What’s not to like?

Wait a minute! You thought I was talking about WNBA superstar Caitlin Clark! No! I’m talking about ME!

I got skills. I got game. I gotta get me some Olympic bling!

You’re right. I’m delusional. But please, read on.

I thoroughly enjoy watching the Olympics. But watching these elite athletes in action always brings me back to reality. I’m once again reminded how ordinary I am. I’ll never be known for my athletic prowess, my competitive spirit, or for overcoming huge odds to beat an archrival. I’m plain old me.

The Olympics remind us that humans are capable of some amazing feats. They’re full of compelling stories. But they’re not representative of how most of us live out our day-to-day existence. Most of us are rather dull, unathletic, and uninspiring.

But that’s OK. What matters for us is that every day we dedicate ourselves to something worthwhile. For Christians, dedication to Christ is a sufficiently Olympian task. To follow the one who was first to finish the race (Hebrews 12.1-3) is challenge enough. What’s more, the crown for which you and I compete is far greater than all the medals, endorsements, and fame that our earthly Olympics could offer: “They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9.25b).

What’s left for us, then, is to do our work and do it well. “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Colossians 3.23-24). 

You don’t have to be the CEO to be successful in the workplace. You don’t need to be a Hollywood couple to have a great marriage. You don’t have to be an elite athlete to find joy in sports. You don’t need a show on Food Network to enjoy cooking and eating. You don’ t need to be a millionaire to be financially secure. You don’t have to join a monastery to be faithful to Christ.

There is glory in the ordinary.

The End of Gratitude

No, I’m not talking about the cessation of gratitude. I’m talking about the result or outcome of being grateful.

What got me thinking about this was a quotation from motivational speaker and author Brian Tracy. He said, “Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.”

Hermit that I am, I’d never heard of Brian Tracy before running across this quotation. Somewhere on Tracy’s website he’s described as a “Best Selling Author and Professional Speaker” — the words were capitalized, so apparently, he views this a title, or perhaps he’s German. His website is all about business success. 

In an article about the “Principles of Self-Management” he says, “Everything you are or ever will be is entirely up to you.” 

Now I agree that all of us need to be accountable for our decisions, actions, and lives. However, I’ve learned that many things in life are entirely beyond my control. I can’t control some aspects of my health. I can’t control some aspects of my relationships. I can’t control how other treat me. In fact, I’ve often been helped simply by the good graces of others. Obviously, Tracy is the classic “self-made man” and encourages others to take the same approach.

I see his quotation on gratitude in much the same way. He views gratitude as a tool for reaching his goals and achieving success. The idea that gratitude is all about “bigger and better” is a worldly view, not a Biblical view. Solomon said, “Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and turmoil with it” (Proverbs 15.16). The apostle Paul said, “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6.8).  Gratitude says that I’m happy AND I don’t need more! The Lord may see fit to bless me with more, but if he doesn’t, that won’t change my level of happiness and gratitude.

In other words, the end of gratitude is not having more, doing more, being more. The end of gratitude is contentment.

Can you be happy right where you are?

Pyramids & Success

One of my favorite motivational posters shows a picture of the Egyptian pyramids. The title of the poster is “Motivation”. The caption reads, “You can do anything you set your mind to when you have vision, determination, and an endless supply of expendable labor.” 

The poster is published Despair, Inc., a company that parodies the motivational products you seen at mall kiosks, in offices, and on websites. Their motto is, “Welcome to the cure for hope.” 

This poster makes a worthwhile point. Egypt was among the most powerful ancient empires. They had a stable culture, a strong military, along with resources and vision. Like most ancient empires, they also had abundant slave labor. No wonder they could build pyramids.

Pyramids are still being built in the same way. How often do you see ads by a well-known celebrity for fitness, nutrition, or beauty products ? Morning talk shows routinely feature celebrities who lost 50 pounds and tell us that if we’ll do what they did, we’ll get the same results. 

What they don’t tell us is that their contracts have incentives for losing weight and keeping in shape. They have personal trainers, dieticians, and chefs. They don’t tell us that companies approach them and offer them money to test their products. They don’t tell us about the nanny who watches their kids while they’re sweating in their Olympic-caliber home gym. They don’t tell us that they only work 4 hours a day. 

When I hear celebrities talking about their health and beauty success, I see pyramids. I suspect that their success is less a personal achievement than a corporate endorsement, built upon the backs of others. That approach isn’t helpful to any of us.

I’d rather build small mounds of dirt with my own hands than pyramids on the backs of others. I’d rather know that I did what I could with what I had, even if the results are meager. I don’t say this as an affirmation of stubborn pride. I have no desire to crash and burn while singing, “Let the record show I took the blows and did it my way!”

For Christians, there’s nothing more fundamental than a personal commitment to Jesus of Nazareth. Each of us will be judged by what we did, rather than what we did through corporate sponsors. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that EACH ONE may be recompensed for HIS DEEDS in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5.10). 

To be sure, along the way, the Lord gives strength and guidance. I’m not in this alone. But I’m responsible for my own life, and I can’t take credit for what isn’t mine.

For today, take what you have, do what you can do, and trust the Lord for the rest. It is enough.

The Fundamentals of Success

“Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.” – Jim Rohn

I’m not an expert on motivation, or success, or self-help. Although I’ve read books about success and motivation, I’ve never completely mastered any of them, and in some areas, I’m still not very good. But I’ve studied it enough to know that the principles of success aren’t mysterious, but, in fact, are reasonably obvious. My problem isn’t knowledge, it’s application. Or more accurately, lack of application.

Now, think of this in terms of your spiritual life. I’ll reword this quotation by substituting the word “spirituality” in place of the word “success.” It would then say, “Spirituality is neither magical nor mysterious. Spirituality is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.” I find it helpful to think of spiritual growth in that way: applying a set of fundamental principles to the problems we face in our spiritual lives.

By way of application, which of these two components do you struggle with the most? Is it with learning fundamental spiritual principles? Or is it with putting the principles into practice?

This is where the discipline of self-examination becomes so critically important. Every day of every week, each of us needs to take a hard and honest look at ourselves to see where we should improve. The only way we can improve is to identify the problem, find the biblical principle that addresses the problem, and then put the principle into practice to eliminate the problem. That’s spiritual success.

As we said at the beginning, there’s nothing magical or mysterious about spiritual success. It’s a matter of applying the principles to the problem.

Jesus said it best of all: “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (John 13.17).