By Josh Miller,
Campus Director of Campus Outreach at SELU, the college ministry of The Field Church:
After deciding to get out of the Navy and embark on a new business, I realized I was lacking certain skills that a successful business owner needs. There are countless books and resources that have taught well the principles of goal setting, personal development, and breaking the proverbial glass ceiling, and I have read and studied most of them. At that stage in my life I would have tried just about anything to help me in my pursuit of success.
Being a Navy SEAL for ten years exposed me to some incredible people whose exceptional mindsets brought them remarkable accomplishments. In pursuit of success, and in light of my massive shortcomings, I entered into the secular world of personal development. And I was in deep, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. That philosophy was dismantled with a seemingly offhand and casual comment by my pastor one day in the hot tub at our gym. He said, “The thing about self-help is that it focuses on the self, and that’s the problem in the first place.” This was a defining moment for me that would shift how I was to look at personal development forever. Eighteen months later I sat down for my next round of goal setting, and this time with a much better focus and a much bigger why.
Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist, in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, argued that people have either a fixed or growth mindset. In decades of research, she found that children who grow up with a growth mindset do much better at overcoming adversity and achieving success, whereas people with a fixed mindset believe their abilities to be permanently capped and don’t attempt to achieve beyond what they believe is possible based on the cards they have been dealt.
This philosophy is beautiful when interpreted through a gospel lens. We were created for a purpose, and that purpose is to glorify God. But because of sin, we can’t glorify God fully as He intended. This is where the cross comes in; because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, our sins can be forgiven and, we can now be sanctified to look and act more like Jesus, the one who lived his whole life in complete submission and obedience to his Father, thereby glorifying him in every waking moment of his beautiful life.
Before Christ, I sought personal development to become a man that would look good, be rich, be happy in marriage, be well-balanced in all areas, be highly successful, be influential, etc. All I wanted was to live a comfortable life and be recognized for all that I had done. This glorification of self is a work in futility. The writer of Ecclesiastes 1:14 says, “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun and have found everything to be futile, a pursuit of the wind.”
Let us labor to build God’s Kingdom and not our own. Let us posture ourselves to be ready for the powerful work of the Holy Spirit through the miracle of sanctification. Since we don’t want to spend our time chasing the wind, let us build ourselves as windmills, remaining in a place prepared for when the wind comes. When the wind farm creates power for a city or town it is not the mechanism that gets the credit, but rather the wind. The difference is a greater why and a greater end. The why is his Kingdom, our joy, and the end is his glory.
Here are some specific areas to investigate, while asking if we are truly allowing the areas of our life to be sanctified for his Kingdom:
Body (Health and Fitness):
“I want to look good and feel good so that I can extend my life and impress my friends.”
“I want to steward the temple of God well, to be functionally fit and full of energy so that it can be used for as many years as possible for service and labor in, and for, his Kingdom.”
Soul (Relationships and Godliness):
“I want to be likable, dependable, nice, and thoughtful, so people will treat me well and I will feel good, be fulfilled, and be happy.”
“I want to always be transforming more into the image of Christ, expressed in humility and service to everyone in my life, so that they may come to see and know God, and treasure him as the greatest thing in the universe.”
Mind (Professional and Extra Curricular):
“I want to gain life skills and excel at my job so that life will become more comfortable and I will be seen as successful and be popular.”
“I want to treat my time on this earth as a gift from God to be spent in service to him and his kingdom. I want to be a good steward of my time, and seek to always be on task toward things that:
- Reach others with the Gospel.
- Equip others with the vision and tools to be a disciple maker.
- Allow me to be more effective and free for doing 1 and 2.
A common principle of secular self help is: when changing a habit, one must replace it with something of equal or greater value. For Christians this should be easy, as we have access to the greatest treasure of all, Christ. Nothing is new under the sun, and even secular thought seems to have taken notes from the Bible as the apostle Paul said first, “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness,” (Eph. 4:22-24).
“Put on the new self.” Every area of a Christian’s life is meant to be sanctified, cultivated, and grown into something more pleasing, more honoring, and more similar to Jesus. So let’s be Christians that think through this intentionally and strategically. I’ve heard it said that people often overestimate what they can do in a year, but severely underestimate what they can do in a decade. Imagine what ten years of focused posturing for the miracle of sanctification could do. Imagine the sheer joy of being in God’s presence daily as he graciously transforms you to be more like Christ, and for more effective laboring with him. Why wouldn’t we want this to happen as much and as often as possible?
Secular philosophy is dangerous if we are not rooted in truth; it has the power to lead us astray as it connects half truths with wrong conclusions. But we can stand in confidence that any great idea is not a new thing, but something intended by God for our good if viewed through a gospel lens, guided by the truth of God’s word and the Holy Spirit. God can use it to form us more into who he created us to be. So now, with this outlook, try strategically posturing yourself for the miracle of sanctification–for his glory, and your good.