We are all going to die.
I'm not trying to spread doom and gloom, but we are going to be buried and mostly forgotten. Someone will replace us.
The songs we sing so passionately today will be sung by someone else just as passionately when we are gone. The sermons we preach so zealously today will be preached by another with just as much zeal.
Eventually no one will remember or care how much time we put into serving the church, how many hours we spent writing songs or crafting sermons.
We are not as important as we think we are—as we wish we were.
Deep down we realize this fate and fight it with all we are. We constantly struggle for significance in our hearts, and every day we wield a new tool to measure our value.
“How many people are attending our church?” we ask. Not content, we dream of asking, “How many people, across how many services, across how many campuses are attending our church?” The higher the number, the more value we have.
And these systems of worth-measurement have gone global. “How many people from how many countries are listening to our podcast? How many YouTube views does our latest sermon have? What number did our latest record get to on iTunes? What conference have we preached at or led worship for lately?”
We tell ourselves it's all for the glory of God, because numbers represent people, and people matter. These statements are true, yet our true motivations are revealed by our disappointment in the measurable fruit of our labor. We inflate numbers as we talk about the size of our church. We generously estimate our audience.
In reality, most of us just aren't cutting it. Our numbers don't measure up. We can't even come close to comparing with the big-conference-preaching, best-selling-book-writing, mega-mega-mega-church pastors. We will never have that Grammy-award-winning, Billboard top 100, fill-an-arena-for-a-worship-concert kind of success. So we compare ourselves into a pit of despair and depression.
This form of ministry is meaningless. This measure of worth is worthless.
Jesus, the most faithful servant of God, seems to have spent much time trying to remain in obscurity. He was not looking for a horde of fans to tell him how great he was. He wasn't doing anything to be seen by men in order to gain some kind of reward here on earth. He had a greater reward in mind.
Jesus had no void to fill. He was the definition of filled-to-overflowing. So when he came to this earth, he wasn't looking for people to help him find his meaning and worth. He didn't use them so that he could feel good about himself. He knew who he was—the Son of God, and God himself—and that deep, intimate knowledge enabled him not to be served, but to serve with no ulterior motives.
The same cannot be said of us. We have been created by an infinite God with an infinite gap inside of our souls that only he can fill. He fully intends to give us all of himself to fill that hole.
Yet even in ministry, our wayward hearts want to use people, rather than love them, to take all these tiny little things—applause, affirmation, acceptance, affluence, authority—and keep shoveling them into the void, hoping they will eventually fill it.
All the while, there is a greater treasure than we could ever get from men here on Earth. Better than all the retweets, “likes,” book sales, record sales, and YouTube views. Better than boasting that 10,000 people attended your 28 Christmas Eve services and 4,272 people were baptized in your church last year. Better than bragging that your church's sermon podcast has been streamed more than 7 million times in 148 countries and at a space station near Jupiter. Better than packing out 52 arenas in 12 countries, after winning 4 Grammys.
I am not suggesting you shouldn't post your sermons online, write books, record albums, or host 28 Christmas Eve services. That may be what faithfulness looks like for you to bring a return on the investment that he made in you.
Don't be a “wicked and lazy servant.” Work hard. Be faithful. And then trust God with the results.
Because the void in our hearts can only be filled-to-overflowing with the joy of an unending, all-satisfying God who approves of us.
Until we find deep rootedness in Christ, we will continually use the people we are called to serve in order to find our own validation. And they will let us down. They will fail to give us the meaning our hearts long for.
All the accolades and attaboys we continue to seek could not even come close to comparing to the joy of our Master as heaven's great reward, to be told by our Maker and Savior, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
We all want to succeed. We all want our efforts to mean something in the end, to be worth it when all is said and done. But when death comes knocking, I would hate to find I received my entire reward here on earth.
True success looks like laying crowns at the feet of the only one whose name will be praised for all eternity. And here's a hint: it's not the one on my driver's license. Or yours.
It is the name above all names who will not share his glory with another.
His name is Jesus. And he is all the meaning we need.