by Alida Oegema
October 7, 2014
6 min read
After years of schooling that has pointed me in this direction and hours of studying in preparation, I wrote the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) last weekend. I’d like to say something here about how I was confident walking into the testing centre or how I walked out and felt nothing but peace, but that simply wouldn’t be true. On a scale of Mike Ross (competence and confidence) to Rachel Zane (demoralizing test anxiety), I was solidly on team Zane.
I have never been so nervous for an exam in my life.
It’s a humbling thing to admit how much work God has been doing in my heart in the process of preparing for this test and in the current space of impatiently waiting for the results. Or how He’s been exposing the inconsistencies in my own definitions of what it means to be successful and the faulty places to which I ascribe my identity. It’s been one of those refining spaces where the disconnect between what I say I believe and what my heart truly believes has been exposed.
I know that any individual dream or endeavour that we can pursue or aspire to pales in comparison to the beauty and vastness of who God is and what He is doing in our city and in the world. I know that who I am and who God has made me to be will be neither enforced nor negated by any results. I know that, when all the distracting details are peeled back, the only thing that matters is knowing Christ, loving Christ, and sharing that love.
And I know that in this adventure of following Jesus, God sometimes leads us towards risks that seem terrifying. Yet, it’s in that space when I’m exposed to possible failure or waiting in the space of the terrifying unknown, where I so often I freak out. I second-guess everything. I question my own intelligence (What if I don’t have what it takes?) and my value (What if I’m not good enough? Or don’t do enough?).
Our society tells us that our value is often commensurate with what we can do. With what we accomplish. Our ambition-driven culture has little regard for stillness and great accolades for success, so we try to do much and to do much well. This world of high standards and high pressure is so familiar to so many of us. Stillness and surrender? Choosing grace over perfection? Ain’t nobody got time for that. Surely we have places to go and good things to do and money to make and people to help and degrees to acquire and promotions to earn.
Now, ambition itself isn’t the problem. Aspiring to good things is not a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s often an honourable and admirable endeavour. The Kingdom has advanced across history in cities and nations and across the spheres of society with the efforts of brave men and women who saw potential and proactively and diligently, often against much opposition, pursued the things of God in those spaces. God is an encouraging Father who wants us to dream and take risks and pursue things that matter to us — things that matter to Him.
Jesus asks us to seek first the Kingdom of God. There’s a pesky thing about this line: There’s no space for interpreting the word “first” as anything else than what it is: The fundamental priority.
The problem often comes with the direction and intensity of our ambition. Are our dreams and ambitions and our markers of success aligned with the heart of God? Are they surrendered to Jesus and His timelines? Do we desire success more than we desire Christ
Those are hard questions. Humbling questions.
The beauty in those questions though, is that the leading and calling of God are rarely a clearly delineated roadmap, and it is never a call to perfection. God is not a taskmaster or a parent with unforgiving standards and a narrow view of who we can be or what we can do. He doesn’t give us a list the things we need to accomplish by a certain age. He doesn’t ask us to kill ourselves for the sake of good things. No amount of “success” can diminish the reality that we are always – every moment and every day – completely dependent on Him. No amount of “success” or education or creativity or goodwill can change the way He thinks of us (the most clear reflection of who we are): entirely and completely loved
Rather, what he asks of us is that we be faithful and obedient, which can look like a thousand different and beautiful things, large and small, ranging from the adventurous to the seemingly mundane. What He invites us into, is a dynamic relationship with the Living God, where we lean on Him for each step. He asks us to surrender our lives. He asks us to align our ambitions with the single aim of knowing Him and making Him known.
He asks us to seek first the Kingdom of God.
There’s a pesky thing about this line: There’s no space for interpreting the word “first” as anything else than what it is: The fundamental priority. The primary aim. There’s no space to rationalize our way into half-surrender. We can’t give Jesus our lives on a part-time basis. He must be our consuming dream. Our surpassingly great reward. No matter what.
In the midst of the stress of the past few weeks, I’ve had the simple and repetitive lyrics of an old hymn playing through my mind almost constantly: Jesus, all for Jesus: all I am and have and ever hope to be. All of my ambitions, hope, and dreams, I surrender these into your Hands. I’ve spoken those words and prayed those words and written those words on my bathroom mirror because my heart is so quick to wander from that place.
I don’t know if I’ll get into law school or ever work in the field I currently aspire to work in. I hope I do, but I’m not there yet. What I do know is this: His are the hands that hold the stars. His are the hands that hold my – and each of our – futures. He will never disappoint us when we put our hope in Him.
When we seek Him first, all the other details will fall into place, as and when they should. So, we can dream big. We can work hard. We can risk boldly. And we can leave the rest in His capable hands.