"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us..." - 2 Corinthians 4:7
Someone asked me what I thought his greatest accomplishment has been...He joked that it must be that he had survived this many years. But being of humble spirit, he honestly couldn't come up with an accomplishment that he considered worthy of greatness, so his question to me was serious. I had to think about it. I could make a list of many of his particular accomplishments by worldly standards--good husband, good father, amazing friend and Christian, writer and author, a truly good man, degreed and pedigreed, any number of achievements and accomplishments. But could I surely say what his greatest feat has been?
I think sometimes we toss around those words carelessly--"greatest" and "worst," "success" and "failure"--because they are not universal--at least not in God's eyes. They are relative terms measured according to personal perspective. I look at my friend and, in truth, his greatest deeds are probably those that most people never see or know about. And in him, what seems mountainous to me may not seem like much at all in his eyes... For me, my friend's greatest accomplishments are those things I struggle with most or maybe that which I'm most afraid of....Two qualities stand out: his determination to stand up for justice no matter what the cost and his willingness to forgive. He doesn't give up the fight God has called him to--he is bold and courageous in word and action. He has discovered the assurance of being forgiven and the ability to forgive those who seem most unforgivable--even those who fought hardest to destroy or take away that which he most cherishes. I don't mean that he just claims the words, "I forgive"--he doesn't take them lightly. Though not an easy process, his heart and his actions follow. He has truly forgiven and let go of bitterness and resentment. I've witnessed the changes in him. He has been able to forgive what I would conceive as unforgivable and unforgettable because he has fully received and owned Christ's forgiveness and mercy himself.
Chances are he wouldn't even see forgiveness as an accomplishment at all. In fact, he wouldn't even view it as a quality to boast about but rather a hard-fought, blood-stained, failure-scarred battle he has endured. So how DO we measure accomplishment in ourselves? I mean, think about it. Do we really only want to "BE" what we "DO"? So if I were president--I could say that ruling the nation was a great accomplishment even though I may completely fail at being a good wife and mother or all-around good person...But what if I were a garbage collector or a toilet scrubber? My accomplishment couldn't even compare to being president so would my life be of less worth? Would my greatest deed be that I pick up trash or wield a toilet brush? Would it be noticed that in spite of what I "do," my worth should be measured by purity of heart, faith in action, and devotion to do my best in any task God calla me to? Would they realize that though I may stink of garbage and toilet cleanser, I still carry the aroma of Christ?
The world measures success by titles and degrees and dollars and deeds--name, fame, and acclaim. But you know, I'm not so sure success or accomplishment should be measured in any human terms or that it really matters in the end. In God's perspective, would He define our successes in the same way the world does or would His list be different? Something to ponder, isn't it?...
I began to wonder what my greatest accomplishment might be. It's a short list by any standard--not my greatest but rather any accomplishments at all. I think if I were to ask Christ what my greatest accomplishment was, he'd throw back questions as He was so prone to do, "Do you not remember what I've taught you? What are My greatest commandments? Are you doing what I asked you to do? The first shall be last..."
I can't help but think about James and John as they fought over who would sit on the right side of Jesus. They wanted that place of honor. We work so hard to gain recognition or accomplishment yet it's so contrary with Jesus' paradoxical teaching. I get hung up on those haunting words from yesterday's sermon and I wonder what we really are striving for:
"If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" - Matthew 16:24-26
When it comes right down to it, the world's measure of success doesn't really matter in light of eternity. The old adage, "you can't take it with you" seems all too appropriate here. I may be "good" at certain things or have a list of deeds or accomplishments, but what does it really mean? When I stand face to face with Jesus, will all those things matter?
When I think about my friend, what is most meaningful? What stands out? And I realize that anything I would list would probably not be on his own personal list... And I have to consider why...He remembers His own journey as a battle won in spite of anger, fear, pain, failure, pride, and only he and God knows what else. Sheer survival was wrought with tears, anguish, frustration, sweat, sacrifice, and finally surrender. I see his ability to stand up against all odds, to live forgiven and to forgive the worst of enemies as a great accomplishment because it is a mountain I have yet to climb. I'm in awe that he has fought and won that battle and, in that regard, I want to be where he is--on the other side of that particular battle.
Suddenly, it all clicks in place. That which I admire most in the people I respect--my own "cloud of witnesses"--is not what each individual has done in his/her own strength but rather what God has done in them and that which I still strive for. My friend could not have possibly forgiven wrongs done to him if he depended only on his will or strength. It was Christ in him that enabled him to reach that mark...but not until the moment he gave up his fight and surrendered the battle to Christ.
And I suddenly realize that the things in my life which matter most are not the feats I have achieved--not the certificates on a wall or trophies or claim to fame or letters of recognition. Instead, the victories I treasure most are His alone--what Christ has done in me...And those life changes that have been etched by heartbreak, struggle, open wounds, rugged scars, and perseverance. Those "achievements" are certainly not things I've done well but rather the things that--after having tried and failed time and again in my own strength, I finally said, "I can't do this anymore" and I gave up...then gave the battle over to the One and Only who can do ALL things. And even at that, I'm still a work in progress. I haven't "arrived" or accomplished anything on my own though Christ continues to work in me and through me to accomplish HIS will, HIS work--not mine. So maybe our greatest accomplishment is better defined by what we have surrendered to Christ and what He has accomplished in us...I haven't really "achieved" anything but Christ has accomplished so much in me. If I were to list His greatest accomplishment, it would be that I am not the same person I used to be. Oh, if there is any accomplishment I would strive for, I think it would be to surrender those struggles in my life that I hold on to so tightly...like forgiveness. My greatest desire would be that I be totally surrendered to Christ lock, stock, and barrel--all that I've been, all that I am, and all that I will ever be. And then to receive and fully accept His grace and His victory in me.
"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that His life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.... Therefore WE DO NOT LOSE heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." - 2 Corinthians 4:8-12, 16-18