Yesterday, I was building a sand castle with my eight year old son. It was exciting to see the castle emerge: walls, towers, ramparts, all set off by the castle moat. Only one thing kept daunting our task. From time to time, a rogue wave would move up the beach, and wash our castle into a state of ruins. It was fun to watch my son frantically move about, trying to prevent the decay of his dream. He would clutch the towers in order to better support them, and try to dig out space for the water to flow past without harming the castle. In the end, we both walked away, our lofty imaginings of a beautiful castle giving way to the reality of our failed efforts.
As we left, our ruined castle forgotten, his smile radiant and his laughter contagious, I realized something:
It was never about the castle. It was about us.
If I had been consumed with the success of our efforts, if I had become obsessed with results, I would have missed everything. His smile; our teamwork; his joy at having me sit beside him in the sticky sand and while away the hours together: These were what gave value to our endeavors.
Our human existence is a bigger picture of that sunny day on the beach. We are constantly working to build something wonderful: to create, to pull our dreams from an idea to its reality. In the Christian world, the drive to build and succeed doesn’t lessen.
But, in my own life, I see moments when I am frantically trying to keep the “towers” from crumbling, while Jesus is simply trying to get me to see HIM.
Days and weeks of effort can crumble in a moment. I can work for years trying to gain influence, improve my efficiency, and try to convince others to follow me as I follow Him. In the midst of my fervor to build the castle of my ministry, I must ask myself, “Is this still about Him, or has it become more about the castle?”
The longer I am at this, the more I am realizing that it’s my tendency to focus on the castle-building and to miss the real prize. In my desire to have something to “show for,” I leave Him to the side. I feel sure He will still be there sitting beside me once my castle has been reinforced with steel and replaced with concrete. And that’s the moment I look up, sweat dripping from my brow, my cheeks flushed with pent-up frustration, and realize He is no longer there. Sometime during my obsessed efforts to create something memorable, He walked away.
My castle has now become a prison. Cold, sterile, and well-built. It is complete, but it will never be whole.
It is missing the One who gave it any purpose.
As has happened to so many Godly men who end up wrong: My ministry is empty. A ship without a sea. A poem without a lover. A mother without a son.
The more we accomplish in Christendom and the more we can show for our efforts, the easier it is to pull away from Him. Our “success” in the ministry can ultimately result in our failure in relationship. Paul wrote in Philippians 3:7-9a,
“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him….”
Paul understood the competition between accomplishment and relationship. He made it very clear that when the two clashed, he would always abandon results for Jesus. In vs. 4-6 of the same passage, Paul lists his qualifications and successes in the ministry. He wasn’t considering sin or vice as the “garbage” to be cast away. He was denouncing his ambition, efforts, even his own ministry accomplishments. These were worthless to him, in order for him to know Christ!
Paul was willing to walk away from the sand castle if it was going to keep him from Jesus.
I look to Paul’s example, and I am challenged. I can still build this castle of ministry, but I must remember two things: 1. It is only made of sand. It was never intended to last forever. 2. It’s not about the castle. It’s about US. The castle is simply a way for Jesus and I to build together.
This is life-changing for me.
As a missionary walking dusty streets in Panamanian villages, I hold His hand. I let His heart capture mine as I look into the eyes of people who have gone their entire lives without Him. It thrills my heart to realize I’m not doing this alone. I need His help; we are building something together.
As a worship leader, my voice and instrument no longer matter. Can He see my heart? Does He know I’m weeping because I’m so honored to be here with Him, because this song will never fully express how much He means to me?
As a public speaker, looking at the crowd before me, I realize I don’t need to be influential. I just want Him to be proud of me; I just want to make Him smile. This is another day with Him, building a ministry like I built a sand castle with my son. At the end of the day, I want to walk away from the castle, still holding to His hand. At the end of my life, I want to leave behind the ministry, more in love with Him than when I began.
Despite how faithfully we attend to our ministries, the waves of life will wash over us all. In the sandy ruins of my human effort and ambition, I long for this to be what remains:
Jesus, the lover of my soul