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Basing our identity on our works

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If God can use David, a shepherd boy, He can use you.

Anyone can be used by God

You are special, and God has a plan for you.

I noticed many encouraging sermons or talks wrapped around these messages lately. That you are special and don’t give up because God can still use you.

The truth is that I also based my self-worth on what I am doing and accomplishing. So for the past few years as a stay-at-home dad (SAHD), I struggled with my identity. Am I less of a man because I stay home, do chores and look after my girls? In my head, I know it is not. But in my heart, every once in a while, I get depressed. Oh, how I long to return to working or serving in ministry again. I am not doing much as a SAHD.

When I look at the Bible, and what Scripture teaches, we shouldn’t base our identity on what we do. The Sunday School answer is that our only identity should be based on our relationship with Jesus Christ. And that has nothing to do with what we do.

So I continued to ask and challenge myself, what if I truly believed that? If I have this grumbling now and then, then clearly, in my heart, I still base my identity on my work.

I feel ashamed to call myself a SAHD. Why do I feel ashamed? Because I ain’t contributing to the Kingdom of God like other ministers. Everyone is out there doing something important, and I am stuck doing mundane and menial tasks. If I believe my identity is based on my relationship with Christ, I shouldn’t feel ashamed. Feeling ashamed points to me that I am basing my self-worth on what I do and not on my relationship with Jesus.

Before I go on, I am not saying we shouldn’t be proud of what we do. I do believe in the joy of doing good work. But you see, my problem is that I devalue the task of parenting and household chores.

God doesn’t see it that way. No matter how grand or minute, every work can be sacred if done with Him and with good intentions. Even Jesus said if you give a cup of water to someone thirsty in His name, you belong to Him (Mark 9:41).

I am not against doing big things for God. But I wonder whether we focus too much on our self-worth based on our actions.

We often encourage someone by telling them they are like David as a shepherd boy. One day, if they continue to follow God, God will elevate them to kings. What’s wrong with that? Ain’t that in the Bible?

My problem with that is two-fold. First, the focus is on you and the position God will give you. It ain’t focusing on God and following Him. We spent so much time telling you that you are special and God will give you a special assignment if you remain faithful. Invertedly, the focus is on you, not on God. It is self-center and not God-centered. David’s story is so attractive because it is the rags-to-riches story that we all desire to have. Who doesn’t like a story of a guy who is nobody and becomes somebody?

Second, what if it is God’s will for you to stay as a shepherd boy for the rest of your life?

I look at the story of Naaman getting healed from leprosy in 2 Kings 5. Who would you be if you could be any character in the story? You may want to be Elisha, the great prophet or Naaman, who turned to God. I hope no one wants to be Gehazi. But if you read the story, the key character is the servant girl. She was such a nobody that she didn’t even have a name in the story. Yet, she told Naaman’s wife that there was a prophet in Samaria who could heal Naaman (2 Kings 5:3). She could have kept her mouth shut. After all, she became a slave, and Naaman was Israel’s enemy. Why would she want to help him?

So what happened to this servant girl? We don’t know. She probably stayed as a servant for the rest of her life. There was no rag-to-riches story. But that’s not the point. The point was that God used her, or she is used by God, depending on how you look at it. Her action is forever written in the Bible. I am sure there ain’t that many sermons talking about her, but I can tell you in heaven, she received her reward because of her faith in God.

Also, look at how Paul encouraged Christian slaves.

5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.

Ephesians 6:5-7 (NIV)

22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.

Colossians 3:22-25 (NIV)

Notice Paul didn’t encourage them by telling them one day they will get a promotion from God. No, Paul told them they are already free in Christ and that whatever they do (even as a slave), they do it as if they are serving God (because they are). This is very deep. Whether CEOs or cleaners, we are all doing God’s work. There is no divide, as if one is better than the other. Every task is sacred to God when we are doing it with Him.

21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave.

1 Corinthians 7:21-22 (NIV) – highlight mine

I highlighted 1 Cor 7:22 because Paul’s motivation for the slaves is that they are free people in Christ. This is deep.

I also think about those missionaries who went to the mission field and died in unmarked graves. No one knew who they were. Their lives seemed such a waste. But if God called them to the field and died there, was that a promotion? If the motivation to keep going is because of a promotion, what if God gives you a cross instead? The irony is that the cross is the promotion in the Kingdom of God. Look at Jesus.

I was talking to a minister one day about this struggle I have. He told me if one day God told him to walk away from ministry and spend the rest of his life praying in the closet, he would gladly do so. Why? Because this minister is not basing his worth on his works. Instead, he is basing his self-worth on his relationship with God. I am stunned. Honestly, I don’t think I can do that.

So coming back to this, I still challenge myself these days. Can I find joy in God because of my relationship with Him? Whether I am a SAHD or doing ministry, it shouldn’t change my mood. My joy comes from a living relationship with a living God. Jesus died on the cross, His blood paid for my sins, and I now have access to a living God. Whatever I do or not do, it doesn’t matter. Let Him be the one who guides the rest of my life.

I can tell you, it ain’t easy. I feared we would be sent to Africa one day, and I am still a SAHD. Haha, that’s the real litmus test. This theology challenged me, and I want to continue to wrestle with it.

And I just wonder. Maybe all these talks on finding our self-worth, we are seeking in the wrong places. We assume if we achieve great things, we will feel great. Perhaps we need to feel great having a relationship with Jesus and the One who died on the cross for our sins. And I ain’t blurting out a Sunday School answer. What if we mean it? And I believe that my worth is with Him and Him alone.

I can tell you. That will be something. That will make heads turn. Or not; it doesn’t matter.

God has been chipping away at this false belief in my heart in the past few years. At times, I still compare, but I am better at it. I have to keep coming back to Jesus. I don’t feel ashamed when I focus on Him and less on myself. Maybe this is the whole point. More of Him. Less of us.

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