What really matters to you? And is your life aligned around it?
Two crucial questions that have the power to re-shape our lives.
For many of us, our life is cluttered with things that are not really that important.
Living a fulfilled life is about learning to clean out the clutter and focus on what really matters.
There are two types of things that really matter to us. The first category consists of things that make us personally feel good and whole. These include economic security, intellectual stimulation, rewarding work, mutually beneficial relationships, and physical health.
But there is another category. You find this category by asking the following question (read it slowly):
What is the thing that could cause you to have joy, even if things don’t go well for you personally?
When you answer this question, you will probably discover your deepest passion.
This is what the Apostle Paul had found as he wrote from prison: “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Phil. 1:18).
For Paul, it was Christ and His kingdom. That was the thing in which he could rejoice, even if things didn’t go well for him personally.
What is that thing for you? There’s a lot of things that I would like to say are the thing, but life is pretty good for me. What would I really rejoice in if my life started to unravel?
I don’t think that we can answer that question easily.
That’s what Søren Kierkegaard found when he said: “The [goal] is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to do . . . to find the idea for which I can live and die.”
How do we develop a passion so deep that we can rejoice in it, even if things don’t go well for us personally? Through long, hard meditation.
When I think of people who can rejoice in other people, even when things don’t go well for them personally, I think of mothers. Not all mothers are this way, but mothers do provide some of the best examples of selfless devotion to a cause bigger than themselves, namely, their family and children.
But how does this come about? It’s not by merely having a child. It’s not merely chemical bonding. It is a long communion in their hearts and minds with the idea of having a child and what that means to them.
It often starts long before the child is born, maybe in their childhood, as they think about what it means to be a mother. Then, when they are pregnant, the meditation and thinking about a child becomes much more intensive. After she is born, they watch the child growing and dream and think of what this means to them and what she will be.
People from a surprising number of perspectives agree that it is thinking on something for a long time that will change the way we feel and thus the way we act (see footnote below).**
If we desire Christ and His kingdom to be the thing that drives us, we will have to meditate on it. I will not come easily. The Spirit of God will have to overcome a lot of resistance and bad habits, and faith will have to fire our imagination. That’s why the Apostle Paul began his discussion of how we change in his letter to the Colossians with the commendation to “set our hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (3:1).
The Apostle Paul himself is a good example. He had an amazing personal encounter with the living Christ on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9). But by the time he wrote from prison to the church in Philippi, he had been meditating on what Christ meant to him for a very long time (see Galatians 1:17–24).
To really think through what our passion is and what is driving us, we need something that is in short supply in our society: quiet, distraction-less meditation. It won’t happen easily, but as we meditate by faith in the Word of God, the Spirit will re-shape our thoughts and hearts to be ready to live and die for what really matters.
Once we know what this, we should do our best to align everything we do around what really matters.
** All change begins with the way we view things. It is surprising the uniformity on this point in a variety of theologians and scholars from a variety of backgrounds. Dabney writes: “Man feels as he sees, and acts as he feels. A great purpose is only formed when a great idea is kept in contact with the soul, by prolonged communion with it in the depths of its own conception” (Discussions, Vol. 1 [Reprint, Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1982] p. 650). Covey’s second habit is “Begin with the end in mind” (7 Habits, 95–144). Tim Chester says: “The root of all our behavior is the heart—what it trusts and what it treasures” (You Can Change, [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010] p. 73, see also pp. 73 – 93). See also Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2012), pp. 95–139. See also Daniel Coleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee, Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002), pp. 102–112.