Thursday, June 7, 2012

Whose Impact Do You Pursue?

For those of you who regularly read Tim Challies' eponymous blog, you'll be familiar with my essay topic today.

And if you do read Challies' blog often, as well as mine, allow me to thank you for considering my material at least as worthy of your time as you do his.  Unless, of course, you only read mine to remind yourself how good Challies' is...!

One of Challies' regular features is called "A La Carte," in which he provides links to articles, books, and products unaffiliated with his own ministry, and in today's A La Carte, Challies provides a link to a World Magazine interview of Phil Vischer.

Vischer... Vischer... Vischer... where have you heard that name?  From his wildly popular Veggie Tales videos, of course!  Or at least, they were his Veggie Tales, until they went bankrupt and he left to form a new company.  Vischer's interview is noteworthy not because he practically created the whole Christian video animation genre, but because of what he says about his life now that he's no longer part of the company that made him famous.

You'll want to read the entire interview, of course, but here are a few key segments that made me stop and think:

"Rather than seeking God and asking Him, 'How do you want me to move forward?'" Vischer says, regarding his methodology for expanding his production company and the Veggie Tales brand, "I did some spiritual math and said, 'OK, how could I have more impact? By just making my films or by building the next Disney?'"

In other words, he knew that he had a hot commodity, but at the time, he understood his purpose to be broadening the impact of his Bible-themed commodity so more people would be touched by it  Isn't that what most of us would assume his purpose to be?  After all, we're taught that our Christian "impact" is important.

"Though I couldn't have pinpointed it at the time," he explains, "it was enormously influential in my thinking of, 'OK, sure this is great, but how do I make it bigger? How can I do more faster?' Unfortunately, the question I ignored was, 'How did God wire me?' Because He didn't necessarily call me to see how big an organization I could build."

That's not the way most of us think, is it?  We assume that making our efforts for Christ bigger and better is what God wants.  But is it?

"Today when I talk to people, I spend a lot of time trying to get them to consider what is driving them. Why do you want to do what you say you want to do? Do you have peace in your life? Because if you're stressed, if you're worried, if you're anxious, something ain't right. Those aren't the fruits of the Spirit."

Wow.  The Fruit of the Spirit.  Something that God has been reminding me of lately, too.  Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, meekness, and self-control.  They're how we demonstrate the Gospel.  But if they're lacking in our life, what does that say about how we're obeying God?  Obviously, some amount of stress is going to exist in everybody's life.  But should we be anxious about the impact we're making for God's Kingdom?

"My new company is called Jellyfish Labs because jellyfish can't locomote. They can't choose their own course. They can't go from point A to point B. They can only stay in the current and trust the current to carry them where they need to be... I only get my form when I stay in the current of God's will and allow Him to carry me where He wants me to be."

Did you get that?  I had to re-read it a couple of times.

"That was such a huge shift for me from the American Christian ideal," Vischer continues.  "We're drinking a cocktail that's a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we've intertwined them so completely that we can't tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true." 

Can you see how we believers in Christ have adopted the ambition of the world and applied it to our faith?  Making an impact with our faith may now be one of those subtle fallacies many of us in our goal-oriented culture assume to be an important component of honoring God.

Then Vischer drops this bizarre insight:  "I realized I'm not supposed to be pursuing impact, I'm supposed to be pursuing God."

What?  He goes on to say, "when I pursue God, I will have exactly as much impact as He wants me to have."

I don't know about you, but I fuss all the time about whether or not I'm "impacting the Kingdom" for Christ.  Am I doing all I can?  Are you?  How much of our quest for impact depends on what we do, and how much of it depends entirely on God?

Might it be a finer line than we realize between works-based efforts, and faith-based trust?  Maybe all of the things we see God accomplish really isn't so much "through" us as it is "despite" us.

If we release our plans and aspirations to God, and we change our hope of affecting change upon our world to a single-focused commitment to Christ, shouldn't that provide us with sufficient purpose for the life we're granted on this Earth?

It may not make us rich or famous or influential.

But if we think we need to be any those things, that might be a sign that we're not trusting God to use us well.

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