God made human beings both for being and becoming, for loving and for creating, for contemplation and for action. Or, as my New Testament professor once taught, we live in the tension between the indicative and the imperative – being and doing.
But unless we first address the being question – the question of identity – we’ll always be prone to become enslaved to the doing, to the achievement, to the tyranny of the gotta-prove-myself ‘ego’.
Those who know me know that I’m prone to do and to to go. I’m convinced that we’ve been made for mission. I’ve been influenced by Lesslie Newbigin, and the missional movement that he inadvertently inspired. I’ve produced. I’ve burned the candle at both ends for the sake of the Kingdom. And I will be the first to challenge the young seminarian to sacrifice. And yet, many pastors – like me – get into their late 30’s and 40’s and realize that there must be something more.
With some honest self-assessment, we recognize the addiction to action, to achievement, to recognition. We recognize the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in ministry. Our eyes are opened to the pecking order of influence. We measure ourselves by converts, or attendees, or twitter followers, or book sales, or brand recognition, or devoted followers. But I, and many others, also recognize something else.
This, too, doesn’t satisfy.
Because our ego is incessantly demanding and needy, no measure of influence will satisfy.
What demands your allegiance? What enslaves you? What dominates your ego-attention?
There is often a great cost to abandoning your ego-needs.
People will always question your decisions. I know a pastor who recently left a large congregation to start a new one, with many who questioned why he’d leave his followers, his paycheck, his home, his comfort. The life of sacrifice, in fact, may not be the life of activistic influence with devoted followers. In fact, it may be sacrificing your ego for the sake of a new time of simply being, or a new season of re-directed action. It’s not so much what you do – it’s how you recognize the power of your ‘ego’, and seek to die to its power.
This is what St. Paul meant when he talked about “death to self” and being “united with Christ.” Sacrifice is not action for action’s sake. Death to self is death to the ego that enslaves you. It requires you to leave whatever ‘Egypt’ has gained influence and power in your life, to navigate the long and hard wilderness road of humility, maturity, and renewed purpose. This is the way of the Cross, which leads to Resurrection power…and never, ever ‘ego’ power.