There’s a huge difference between being a son/daughter and being an employee. A company has a transactional relationship with the employee. You produce . . . you’re in. You don’t produce . . . you’re out. Your compensation is connected to your contribution.
But it’s different being a son or daughter. You are family. Your place is not dependent on your performance. As a son, my value is intrinsic, not transactional.
For many years I did ministry as an employee rather than as a son. My value and acceptance were dependent on how well I performed. I’m not quite sure where I picked up this script, but it definitely guided my approach to ministry.
The result was the blurring of the line between my identity and my ministry. When your identity gets wrapped up in ministry, you put more weight than you should in praise and criticism from others. You can end up being driven and perfectionistic because that’s what gets applauded and affirmed. In the earlier days I didn’t realize it, but I had a belief system behind my performance mentality: Work hard, be responsible, perform well, and people will love you. Work hard, be responsible, perform well, and God will love you.
We’re often eager to listen to the voices that say, “Prove yourself, do something important, succeed, achieve” rather than God’s voice, which whispers, “Rest in me; I am your shepherd. You don’t have to prove anything. You are not an employee, you are my child.”
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But let’s be honest. With all the pressure to succeed, it’s hard to hear and really believe God’s voice. For many of us, our activity is synonymous with our identity. It’s how we convince ourselves we have value. To feel better about ourselves we work harder and longer and become prisoners of our own illusions.
Think for a moment about the times in Jesus’ life when he heard God’s audible voice. The first time God is recorded to have spoken words out of heaven in the life of Jesus was at his baptism.
A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Notice what God said and didn’t say. His words in that sacred moment “were neither directional (go here) nor instructional (do this). They were relational: This is my Son.”
This is on the very front end of Jesus’ ministry. He hadn’t preached a sermon, cast out a demon, healed a blind man, or raised somebody from the dead. These words were spoken over his obscure and hidden years. They had nothing to do with his performance. They had to do with sonship.
Based on my mental script, I might have expected God to say, “This is my employee, whom I have called. With him I am well pleased . . . if he performs well.”
Even though Jesus was fully God, in his humanity I think he needed to hear the blessing and affirmation of his Father. That blessing of sonship became an anchor in his life. He would never play to the crowd to validate his significance. He would never try to draw a crowd to boost his ego. The anchor of blessedness allowed him to withstand the criticism of the Pharisees and not be swayed by the flattery of the multitudes.
The question is, Can we learn to tune out the fickle voices that for so long have dominated our lives? Can we listen to the voice of our Father who calls us his child?
Hear the blessing and voice of God in 1 John:
See how very much our heavenly Father loves us, for he allows us to be called his children, and we really are!
There is no language of performance or achievement in that verse.
When you really get it, when you really understand how loved and blessed you are, the grip of approval addiction begins to loosen.
Hear the blessing and voice of God in Galatians:
Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, everything he has belongs to you.
Embracing our blessedness brings incredible freedom. We no longer live or die with the praise or criticism of others. We no longer have to frantically chase after significance. It takes the pressure off and delivers us from striving.
When you embrace your blessedness, you can echo these words of David:
LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup;
you have made my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
When you are a son, you can trust your good Father. In advance, he has assigned your portion and cup. When you are a son and you have a generous Father, your response is gratitude. And you can say “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” Because, no matter where they boundary lines fall, you are not an employee. You are a son.
When gratitude and sonship fills your heart, it spills over. Without competition or comparison or insecurity, we are free to bless others. We can tell them how much they matter to God. We don’t have to turn the conversation to us, and we don’t have to grab for the spotlight. We can allow others to succeed without envy because our identity isn’t wrapped up in our achieving. We are God’s children. And that is enough.