“Today, a teacher is no longer just a teacher,” I remember my instructor saying in a class on The Principles of Teaching. “A teacher is also a coach, a mentor and a guide,“ she added emphatically. “Interesting,” I thought to myself, and my mind began to wander as I reflected on that statement. After all, if a teacher is not just a teacher, than why do we still call him a teacher? Why don’t we call him coach? Similarly, is a father still a father, or a husband still a husband?
Bringing this closer to home, how does this affect me personally as a father, a son, a husband, a friend, a teacher, a mentor, a counselor, a guide, a disciple, a leader and a servant? When am I one and not the other? Which hat do I put on and which do I take off? Without doubt, I want to excel in each of these roles. So I place expectations upon myself to function as adequately as I can and be the best that I can be. Add to these, the expectations that others have of me and you can understand how that presents new and fresh challenges (and pressures) from all points. As if not enough, we are further defined by society’s performance indicators of income, position, status and achievement. Then we come to church and are further challenged to a life of denial, of discipleship and of service. At the end of it all, who am I and what am I to be or do? When did life become so complicated? Why can’t a teacher remain a teacher?! Who changed the rules along the way?
I assure you that I have no intention to split hairs or to make a mountain out of a molehill. But if I am accurate, what I have just described is a phenomenon (and a dilemma) that many of us face in today’s varied and demanding society. Unfortunately, it is not much different in the church as Christians struggle “to be all things to all men”, possibly making 1 Cor 9:22 one of the most misapplied verse of our time.
“In being defined, and constantly re-defined, by the world, we have lost our understanding of who we really are and what we were created for.”
Back to Original Intent and Design When I was first introduced to the word “etymology”, I had no idea what it meant at all. All I knew was that it had something to do with words. In the course of my study, I discovered that the full meaning of a word is to be found in the origin of that word. This is needful because over time, words are used, abused and misused, resulting in its present meaning often quite different from when it was first used. Etymology then is simply the study of the history and evolution of words, the process by which we understand the original definition of the word by the person who first coined the use of that word.
Similarly, we are products of society and the changes that have taken place over time. Over time, we have lost the original intent and meaning for which we were created. And yet, our present understanding of ourselves must not be limited to what the world tells us. If so, we merely take on and act out the roles expected of us. Is it any wonder then that so many are aimless and without purpose in life?
From a young age, I was told that I must study hard so I can do well in society. As I interacted with others, I become a part of the socialisation process that makes society. Then came my army and university years and I was raised to contribute to society. When I went out to work, the norms and pressures of society impacted me even more. I quickly learned that money was important, that position brought prestige, that material accumulation was desirable. If society told me anything, I accepted it without question. If there was a new buzzword in town, I had to learn it or else I’d fall out of sync with society. Without realizing it, I had been shaped and defined by society.
Like the words which we use, and those we employ to label ourselves, we have been swept along by the tides of change. In being defined, and constantly re-defined, by the world, we have lost our understanding of who we really are and what we were created for. As in the etymology of words, we need to return to original intent, design and definition. In this regard, although society may influence me, it is not society that gets to define me. God remains the One who defines me, for it is He who made me and only He knows what is best for me.
“In our culture of integrated systems, we have also tried to integrate varied concepts into our roles and relationships, resulting in much confusion and distress.”
More recently, I have been considering a mobile device that would help me be more efficient and productive in the recording of my thoughts and ideas. You would think that it is a simple process until you begin the research for such a product! Should it be a PocketPC, a SmartPhone or a PDA? With or without phone, camera or video? However versatile these devices promise to be, I would still use it for its primary purpose to serve my primary need. This is because it was designed with that primary purpose in mind with the necessary operating system to support it. If this is not clear in my purchase decision, I will be influenced by what it offers rather than by what it does well. And when I can’t get it to do something I expect it to do, the result is frustration.
In our culture of integrated systems, we have also tried to integrate varied concepts into our roles and relationships, resulting in much confusion and distress. Teachers are expected to mentor. Parents are expected to counsel. Husbands are expected to help. Wives are expected to lead. Not that there is nothing positive to be derived from these but we have sadly missed the big picture and the primary purpose for which each of us has been created.
As we can see from our example above, every device is designed with a purpose in mind, equipped with a platform to achieve that purpose so that it will deliver a performance with more than satisfactory results!
“We are called to a purpose; not of ourselves but of the One who designed and made us for that very purpose!”
The Bible tells us that Man was made in the image and in the likeness of God. In other words, the design of man was modeled after the very Person of God! That is not just a good design; it is an awesome design! As we have noted earlier, every design fulfils a purpose. A watch is designed to tell time, a vehicle for transportation, a hammer to hammer, and a nail to be hammered! Similarly, we have been designed for a specific purpose. Although all of us bear the image of God, each is unique in personality, talents and gifting. These variations show us that each has been called to a specific task. We are not called to mere existence. We are called to a purpose; not of ourselves but of the One who designed and made us for that very purpose!
When my eyes were opened to this fundamental truth, everything looked different. For the very first time, my life had clear definition; not by how others wanted to see me, but by God who knew me even before I was formed in my mother’s womb. Today, I make every effort to align my desires with God’s purpose. After all, it is He who defines me and gives me purpose. Without the Vine, what use is the branch? Without the Potter, what use is the clay? If there is no Master, there is no servant.
Once my relationship with God is settled, my relationship with myself is also settled. I have a healthy self-image as a redeemed child of God and a new creation in Jesus Christ. This in turn helps me in my relationship with my wife, my children and with others. I don’t have to be who I am not supposed to be, or what others want me to be. I know who I am, and I know what I am to do!
It doesn’t matter where you work or what you do. Everything flows from this understanding and conviction. You could be a big-time businessman, a district judge, a preschool teacher, or a whatever. If God doesn’t define you, you will not walk in the purposes He has for you.
“A godly purpose requires a godly platform”
When Windows VISTA was first launched, the entire market welcomed it with great expectation. That quickly turned to disappointment when this new platform showed itself incompatible with how devices were originally designed to run. In much the same way, God’s original operating system (OS) was to serve His original design and purpose. However, sin came into the picture and corrupted that OS. At the same time, the influences of the world promised an alternative OS that appeared better and more attractive, but totally incompatible with God’s purpose and call for us.
Thank God for the redemption we have in Jesus Christ! Where I was once conformed to the patterns of this world, I can now be transformed by the renewing of my mind. My OS can be fully restored! My core values, my principles and my thinking can all be realigned to God’s original purpose for me.
When I allowed full access to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, He effected a thorough clean-up in every area that was laid open and yielded to Him. With the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, my selfish and worldly desires and ambitions were promptly cut away. It was certainly no walk in the park for it required the surrendering of many things I held dear in my heart. But it was totally necessary as I had already determined to be defined by God and no one else. This ongoing renewal of my mind radically changed the way I viewed my business, my goals, my desires and my relationships. For sure, a godly purpose requires a godly platform.
“To maintain peak performance for God, I must be very mindful of the things that pull me away from God’s call and purpose.”
If there is one thing Christians know to do, it is to serve. Whilst that appears noble and in line with biblical teaching, we have to discern if it is truly service or mere activity? Are we performing to design and purpose, or merely performing for outward display? Just as society can define us, so can the church with her demands and expectations. This too is erroneous for performance is not determined by church norms, but by platform, and platform by purpose. Like many, I used to serve because I thought that was what Christians did. After all, faith without works is dead, they tell me. It didn’t take me long to discover that the works for the sake of works is also dead. No wonder so many Christians suffer burn out after dutifully serving in ministries.
The performance of a computer is compromised when it is bogged down by unnecessary programmes. Likewise, we can’t be effective in what God wants us to do when we are tied down and distracted by other things. Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:4 that “no one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” Hebrews 12:1 reminds us to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us” so that we can run the race set before us. To maintain peak performance for God, I must be very mindful of the things that pull me away from God’s call and purpose.
The trappings of this world are plenty. Just how much is enough? One of the best decisions I took was the giving up of business pursuits when the Lord called me into ministry. In saying ‘yes’ to God, I consciously said ‘no’ to worldly treasures. It has been liberating to say the least. Day by day, I live the truth found in Matt 6:33. True to God’s Word, when I seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, God has been more than faithful to meet my every need (and that includes one wife and seven children).
Material things are not the only distractions I face. Ministry is extremely demanding, yet not every opportunity to minister is necessarily in God’s plan for me. I am reminded that it didn’t matter how sought after Jesus was. He always stayed true to His call and fulfilled what He was sent to do. Jesus didn’t just perform miracles; He performed the Father’s will.
The expectations of others also add loads that we unconsciously bear. In our bid to please people, we end up performing for them. This is unwise. Instead, seek to please God and in that serve others. Be ready that some may take offence. But it is far better to be in step with God than to dance to the tune of the world.
That said, it remains a daily challenge for me to stay lean and de-cluttered in my possessions and priorities. Yet I must, that my eyes are fixed only on Jesus the Author and Perfecter of my faith and that my heart belongs to no other than the Lover of my soul. My performance is premised on the partnership I have with Him and Him alone. For apart from Him I can do nothing (John 15:5).
“The world may present new concepts as it evolves and shifts, but I stand unfazed by passing fads and trends.”
What do all these mean if I was that teacher mentioned at the start of this discourse? Simple. My concern is not to be every description or expectation thrown at me. To be sure, I will learn what it means to coach, to guide and to mentor in today’s terms and situations. But I will not conform to any image other than that of the Son of God, my Lord and Master Jesus Christ. He alone is my model and my example. Was He not a teacher? Did He not coach? He did! In fact, Jesus did all that and more! The religious system of His day, the crowds, and even His disciples had great expectations of Him and for Him but Jesus stayed true to His call and His mission. He knew who He was and what He was sent to do. In the same way, I would strive to teach as Jesus did; to impact and to touch lives. Not just for the economy but for eternity.
So then, what or who defines you? For sure, the permutations and possibilities are many. As for me, I choose to identify myself with the One who made me. God alone holds the master plan to my life and to who I am to be. I stand secure and confident in the person I am in Christ and in the grace found in Him. The world may present new concepts as it evolves and shifts, but I stand unfazed by passing fads and trends. God has designed me for a purpose. He has equipped me with the appropriate platform to accomplish that purpose. When these are in correct alignment, my performance for the glory of His kingdom is a natural outcome.
The world says many things. Be that as it may. What does God say?