Sunday, November 8, 2015

Running on Empty: The Fear of Insignificance

This is the third week in our Sunday series, "Running on Empty," by Fil Anderson. If you missed the first two, catch up here:
  1. The Condition of Your Soul
  2. Hearing the Voice of God
Part 3: The Fear of Insignificance

I heard about a highly effective evangelical leader who said to his friends, as they observed a rock climber ascending a cliff in the Swiss Alp, “Now there’s a 1st rate commitment to a 2nd rate mission!”

I remember smugly expressing similar sentiments to fellow staff and volunteer leaders when I was on the Young Life staff. After all, I had more important things to do than climbing rocks, building a business, making money and accumulating a bunch of stuff; I was building God’s kingdom.

But apparently the ministry leader had done some soul-searching. “I’ve given myself to a 2nd-rate mission as well.” No doubt his friends had not seen that coming. “Don’t get me wrong…Building the Kingdom of God is important. But someday that mission will end. From now on, my #1 mission’s going to be nurturing my relationship with God.”

I don’t know his name, but his story and mine are much the same.  During my early years in Young Life, I feared insignificance and fixated on “making a difference.” Thus, any measure of apparent success was like pouring gasoline on my already raging fear. Consequentially, my zeal appeared to be Godliness. However, it was really driven-ness.

Eventually my driven-ness controlled almost everything: my time, relationships, health, spiritual depth, ethics, and convictions. I lost the ability to distinguish the difference between my work and myself. How others appraised my work became the most important value in my life. My mission had become an idol.

Meanwhile, I was on the first assigned team at Lake Champion. That summer our son Will was three years old. Knowing the days would be jam-packed, we took a week to drive the trip, allowing us some quality time together as a family.

As expected, when we arrived, I hit the deck running. I spent the first three days in meetings. When camp began, I remember sitting in a meeting, aware of someone pacing back and forth at the end of a long hallway to my left. At first, I gave no thought to the person’s presence. But as the march continued, I turned and discovered that it was Will. Now distracted, I began wondering what was going on. The next time he passed I motioned for him to come to me. I pray that I’ll never forget the look of sheer joy, relief and delight on his face. First walking and then running toward me, he shouted, “Him wants me! Yes! Him wants me!”

My first years with Young Life were needlessly spent, frantically pacing back and forth, driven by the fear of insignificance. Today, I’m convinced that the thing Jesus wants from us, more than any other thing, is for us to live confidently in the blessed assurance that the basis for our worth can be summed up in just a few words, “I am my beloved’s and his desire is for me” (Song of Songs 7:10).

  1. What do you value most?
  2. What do you believe God values most?


Fil Anderson is a spiritual director, conference speaker, writer and retreat leader. He served on the Young Life staff for 25 years. Fil and his wife Lucie live in Greensboro, NC and are parents of 3 adult children. He is the author of Running on Empty: Contemplative Spirituality for Overachievers and Breaking the Rules: Trading Performance for Intimacy with God. 

"Running on Empty: Part 4" will be posted next Sunday. 

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