I think the majority of our (my) vices, sins, and depths of depression come from the search for significance. We are continually looking for things that will make us feel important and valuable. My wife and I went to see a musical on Sunday at the Wharton Center and even though I don’t have a shred of musical ability in me, as I applauded the performers, a sense of jealousy came over me. Why am I in the crowd clapping, rather than being on stage, being applauded? I think the same types of thoughts when I watch baseball games. Here I am sitting with tens of thousands of people in the stands, cheering like a child for players who are mostly younger than me now. Wouldn’t it be something to be on the field, having all of those people cheer for me? To have people approach me for my autograph and a photo? I walk out of the Wharton Center with thousands of other people, jostling for position in the crowd as we head toward our cars, feeling a bit like a lemming…another insignificant person in the crowd…a stat…a consumer…no one seeking my autograph or excited to see me.
I think most of us want to be famous to some degree. Want people to see us as something special. I think that’s why Facebook appeals to us. We can write things and immediately have other people “like” us and “like” the things we say. We long to be liked and we seek it out, often in unhealthy ways.
We fear insignificance, so we seek to fill this void. Usually it’s in relationships…if I can get this girl to like me, it’ll prove that I’m not insignificant. It phases from here to significance financially and in our careers…if I have a certain financial status, or status in my company, it will prove that I’m not insignificant. Or we appeal to whatever subculture we are in. I see this in the teens in my inner-city neighborhood…if they are seen as cool by their peers in their 4-block radius, they are secure. I see this in the semi-pro football league I play in with some of the guys. The guys who weren’t able to secure their superior status from high school or college football, so now seek it in semi-pro, seeking proof of their superiority. And if that superiority is challenged, they will downright fight you to prove to everyone that they are valuable. And as pastors, we have our own subculture we use to prove our value, typically wrapped up in our Sunday morning statistics (or how many people read our blog).
As a Christian, I try to remind myself “I am valuable in Jesus, I don’t need these other things to make me valuable.” While the substance of this thought is on the mark, I’m just now realizing I’ve missed a crucial step. My value in Jesus always has to compete with the potential value I think I can get out of whatever is in front of me.
The step that I’ve been missing is to simply embrace my insignificance. Rather than stand up and say to insignificance, “You are wrong! I am significant! Look how I can prove it to you…” I’m learning to say, “You are right… I am insignificant. No matter how much money I make, how many girls I’d get, how high up in football or baseball I could go, how many movies I could star in, how much political power I could have, ALL of these things are insignificant in the cosmic scheme of things. In comparison to how BIG God is and how LONG eternity is, all of these things are insignificant. James 4:14 hits it on the head, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” The fact is, my insignificance draws me to God. As long as I’m thinking that I make a pretty good god, the less I am in need of one.
I am insignificant. God is significant. On top of this, I am a sinner, separated from God. And nothing I can do can make this right. But God made it right.
I can embrace my insignificance as a broken sinner, one of many of billions and billions of broken sinners who have come before me and will come after me. That nothing the world offers actually amounts to true significance in the long run. I can embrace this, and once I have fully realized the depth and truth of this, that NOTHING I do can make this any different, I am free to stop trying. To stop trying to fill up a cup that is cracked beyond repair. Once I let go of this cup, I can trade it in for the cup that Jesus offers. Jesus thought I was significant enough for him to die on the cross for. And he offers me significance of his love and of being adopted into God’s family as his son! If I continually fear being insignificant (and seeking to remedy this), I will never be free to fully receive the gift of true significance found in being loved by Jesus.
This is a significance that frees me from selfishness and allows me to pursue the things in life that really matter and that have eternal impact.