We live in times that promote efficiency and pleasure. For some, their only purpose in life seems to be finding the most efficient entertainment possible. An entire industry has even grown from this philosophy. Netflix has understood. When listening to your favourite show in continuous playback, have you noticed that the theme song disappears between shows? We don’t have a second to lose. We must keep looking at a screen, and not miss one second. Efficiency requires it.

Although our entertainment habits can be problematic with regards to our emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical health, that issue is not what concerns me in writing this article. I believe that the efficiency pandemic has infected much more than our entertainment habits. Its effect is visible even in the way we practice our spirituality, both individually and collectively.

When our value is based on our achievements, there is only one option: perform better. Failing is not an acceptable alternative.

We often talk about wanting to have an impact on society. We want to change the world, and although we have changed our priorities in recent years to reflect a more local perspective, we still want to be catalysts for change. Our objectives are defined mainly by what we succeed in doing. Because of this vision, it is not surprising that Christians are faced with the same difficulties as those around us: anxiety, isolation, relational difficulties, depression… When our value stems from our achievements, there is only one option: perform better. Failing (in our own eyes or in the eyes of others) is not an acceptable alternative.

I am before I do

I want to have an impact. I want my life to be used to accomplish beautiful and good things that will last in the long run. The vast number of ministries whose names include the word “impact” show how widespread this value is in today’s Christian culture. Most Christians feel that this is a positive and desirable thing, something at the heart of what God wants for us. I am not contradicting this, since it is a solid biblical concept (John 14:12; 15:16). But we should be warned: if our primary objective is to have an impact, it will be very difficult for us not to seek to achieve this objective in the most effective way. However, our lives cannot be based on this.

Efficiency has its place in the technological sphere. For several centuries, humans have been inventing increasingly powerful machines and perfecting existing ones. Machine evolution is continuously reaching ever higher limits. But human beings are not machines and it is a serious mistake to try to live as if that were the case.

...human beings are not machines and it is a serious mistake to try to live as if that were the case.

Human needs are not the same as those of the technological universe we have built. Objects are used for a purpose. Achieving their desired goal more effectively is therefore a good thing. But human beings exist in order to reflect the image of their creator in the world in which they have been placed. It may be tempting to want to “effectively image” the God of the universe, but it is actually impossible when we understand the nature of such an undertaking.

First and foremost, God is. Then God does. To use just one biblical example, when God revealed Himself to Moses from the burning bush, He declared that His name is “I am he who is”. God’s characteristics can be perceived from various angles. This is why God has multiple names throughout the Bible that reveal important aspect of his character: El Shaddai, Jehovah Jireh, etc. But when it comes to his fundamental identity, God is, period. To add anything to this revelation is to limit our understanding of him.

It was only after revealing himself to Moses as “he who is” that God sent him to Egypt to deliver his people. “He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel.” (Psalm 103:7) Moses maintained a unique and unparalleled relationship with God during his lifetime. He performed miracles in the name of God, but nevertheless was written in the history of the people of Israel as “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” (Numbers 12:3). Moses received this praise because he did not seek first to make an impact, but instead to know God and his ways (how he acts). It should be the same for us. If we want to make a lasting impact, our first concern should be to know God and to listen to his voice.

Transformed from within

With this in mind, should we seek to isolate ourselves far out in a desert like Moses or the fathers and mothers of the early Church? The Sinai desert is, after all, a rather well known place for divine encounters. Or perhaps, without going to such extremes, should we only be concerned about our personal spiritual life without being concerned about those around us? I don’t think so. What we need is to seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, after which, according to Jesus’ promise, all our other needs will be met above. The kingdom of God is not an exclusive club including only ourselves and God. Our well-being is intimately linked to that of those around us.

If we want to make a lasting impact, our first concern should be to know God and to listen to his voice.

We all know people who are attractive because of their tenderness and welcome. These people unable to hate anyone, even though they suffer the same frustrations and injustices as everyone else. These people radiate a comforting peace, an inspiring joy, and a constancy that feeds hope. We seek to be in their presence, because we see in them what we want to become.

Their existence is a mystery. It is rare for these people to be leaders in any field. If they are, you could know them for years and not know that about them. They do not raise their voices, rarely show up at happenings, and are not always dressed in fashionable clothes. But they entirely present with you when you are with them and they listen with their entire being. They know how to ask the questions that go to the heart of our suffering and how to create a safe place for our confidences. They know God intimately and when they talk about it, it frees us. How are they like this?

These people are no different from you or me by nature. They simply answered the call to follow Jesus. Over time, and through challenges and trials, they grew towards “the perfect stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). The empathy and grace that these people show corresponds directly to the way in which they have responded, with God’s help, to the difficult situations and people they have encountered along the way. The people they have become are the result of intentional decisions made over many years.

Their present state is apparent through their actions. They people often have an inordinate influence even though they spend their entire lives in the shadows. They are not perfect and have not waited to reach a “high level of spirituality” in order to have an impact on people’s lives. They simply prioritized the transformation of their inner life before the development of their impact on the outside world. It is counter-intuitive and counter-cultural, but this how God has always changed the world.

Although we live in a society where efficiency and impact are fundamental values, God has not changed his priorities for humanity or his plan to transform us. God wants you to have an impact. Even today, he invites you to walk the path he created in order do so.

Jeremy Favreau