Last month, our youth finished a study called Identity, which discussed ways that people define and identify themselves instead of doing so through God. It was a series for teens, but it could’ve easily been taught to adults.
Truth be told, our teens are just when the defining starts. What’s your style? Who do you hang out with? What do you do? These questions pop up when we enter out teenage years, but they don’t really go away. As adults, we still get more pep in our step when people compliment us. It’s still difficult to determine who we let into our lives and who we let stay. Everyone’s curious about what you do. In college, it’s, “What’s your major?” and in the world thereafter, “Where do you work?” and “What do you do there?”
Since these are all important aspects of our lives, it’s easy to let one of them become the most important part of our lives. Instead of it being an icebreaker question or something you mull over when you log in to Facebook, it becomes how you see yourself.
As a little sibling, I’m proud of James for not defining himself by his older brother, Jesus. Neither of my siblings are the Messiah, but I’m still known to many people as Derek’s sister or Sunnie’s sister, so I can only imagine what it must have been like for James.
But James doesn’t start his letter off by saying, “Hey! This is James, Jesus’ brother,” He starts by saying that he’s a servant of God and Jesus Christ (James 1:1). He doesn’t define himself by his earthly credential but by his spiritual credential, his relationship with God. James had his own identity and didn’t need to latch onto someone else’s.
The last lesson in the Identity series I mentioned earlier was on accomplishments. I taught the lesson, which I originally thought was ironic since I haven’t accomplished that much. My life looks drastically different compared to what I’d hoped and dreamed it would be. I’m in more ruts and jams than I would like. I don’t have the job or living situation I wanted. This whole writing thing is more of a hobby right now than a career. But I realized this made me just the person to present this lesson.
I thought when I asked a group of about 12 teenagers what success means that I would get at least one typical answer, something like a salary amount or property ownership or job title. I thought I’d get a more modern version of the American dream. You know, an answer like most adults would give. But no one gave me a typical answer. Not a single teenager said what I was expecting them to say. They told me it was different for everyone because everyone’s idea of happiness is different and that success was being happy.
James says this of success and accomplishments in 1:9-11 (NLT), “Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.”
James isn’t saying anything against rich people but against rich people who define themselves by their earthly wealth instead of recognizing it as a gift from God. And he’s saying that we and all we achieve for our own glory and sake will pass like a flower in a field.
I said earlier that my life is different than I had once hoped it would be, but I do love the life I have. I’m happy, and I have accomplished some things, small as they may be. So what’s the deal? What’s the catch? How can I not meet my expectations and still be happy?
It’s because I’m less focused on me and more focused on God.
Pre-college Carrie was sort of selfish in that it didn’t occur to me until all the college applications were sent in and being looked over that I hadn’t thought about what God wanted. I’d only thought about what I wanted. Sure, my intentions were pure. All I wanted was a good education and to have fun for the next four years. I got both of those, but in a much different place than I imagined. I found them in the place God had for me.
I’m prone to letting my accomplishments define me because my accomplishments make me feel proud and happy, and by defining myself by those achievements, I get to feel that all over again whenever I achieve something.
I also get to feel depression and self-loathing whenever I fail. Plus I compare myself to whoever did succeed, which only ever makes me feel about ten times worse.
I’ve got the feeling that someone else out there, maybe even someone reading this post, knows too well what I’m talking about.
What are you defining yourself by? Is it your accomplishments? Your role at work or in your family? The way people see you? Your hobbies or the things you like?
Unless you’re defining yourself by God and what He says about you, you’re missing it (and probably shortchanging yourself too).
Be bold enough to have faith in God and Him alone (James 1:6-8). Be bold enough to believe what He says about you and to believe what He’s telling you and showing you. Be bold enough to take and love God as He is – a perfect, loving being who may challenge us but will never hurt us or lead us astray (James 1:13-18).
By Carrie Prevette