The Better Story pt 1

July 1, 2018 Justin Peter Gudel

Deep down we’re all seeking something similar.  We have a specific desire — a better story for our lives.  

If your hackles rise at the mention of the Bible, bear with me.  Stay with me for a moment if you’ve heard this story before. It’s going somewhere important.

In John’s account of the whole messy matter — that is Jesus’s ministry — the first words that Jesus says are, “What is it that you seek?”

I want to stop writing here.  I want to drop the digital microphone.  

To seek, in the Greek, is ‘zeteo.’  In the New Testament, it’s used for the following:  seeking, sought, inquiring, and desiring.

Before He starts preaching, before He starts giving answers, before even doing a miracle Jesus asks, “What do you want?”

When was the last time a TV evangelist started this way?  How about the megachurch pastor? I probably shouldn’t ask this as they all might.  For the most part, I do my best to ignore them. Even if they do share this sentiment, there is a marked difference as Jesus continues in a different direction.

THE BETTER STORY

Deep down we’re all seeking something similar.  We have a specific desire — a better story for our lives.  This is true whether you’re a Christian or an atheist, gay or straight, it’s also in the businessman or a stay at home mom.  We are seeking/desiring something more. We want our time to matter. We want an assurance that there is a purpose to our lives.  Perhaps it’s something we wish to build. It could be a longing to raise a family of good people. It could be personal or world peace.  

In some of the above examples, I’m speaking of little purposes:  such as being a better boss, being the best artist in our firm, or even being the best parent we can be.  These things are not little when seen in a larger picture. They aren’t insignificant when they are each a building block to the bigger picture of who we are.

Part of this type of living is identity.  

As the protagonist of our own stories, what is it that we want to do?  Who is it that we want to be?

This past week I had the privilege to spend an evening with two friends.  That alone is common. The kitchen in which we met was clean and had marble countertops.  It wasn’t extraordinary. The offered beverages were dark in color and luxurious, but could also be found at most high-end grocery stores. 

What was out of the ordinary, was the honesty and the purpose of the gathering.  

In a way, we gathered as a planning session.  Yet instead of having some business project that we wanted to kick off, we were there to help one man cut through his fears and hesitations.  This unnamed friend is a father, an artist, and he’s stuck in a well paying nine-to-five. And it’s killing him. When asked, “Where is this job taking you?”  He responded with, “Honestly, I’m either going to die or I’ll be fired.”

Note the order of those two options.  

Who hasn’t been there?  I’ve lived that moment too many times.  I’ve stood in that place where no matter what I’ve done, it couldn’t stack up as enough.  Among my anxious moments of crisis, I’ve felt lacking in the measurement of the success, where I wanted to be at that point in my life, how I’ve let people down, or even the lack of foresight into where this is all going.  

The mid-life crisis is a real thing, and I’ve gone through it at the ripe age of twenty, twenty-seven, and even thirty-three.  

Into those moments, I’d like to think that Jesus was speaking those words, “What is it that you seek?”  What’s that deep desire inside of you? What’s that thing that you keep chasing? What’s that thing that you can’t stop looking for?  Is there something inside of you that you’ve failed to realize, and have instead spent years trying to distract yourself from doing?

The insidious thing is that for most of us it’s an idealized version of ourselves.  It’s having enough money to feel secure. It might be the freedom that comes with a life of travel.  It could be having a voice that matters across the internet.

I posit, that all of the above measurements are of the more significant thing that we seek.  We’re looking for a better story.

Not just wealth, but value.  

The idea of the American dream and, “If I only work hard enough,” is another distraction.  It’s a lie that we tell ourselves so that we don’t have to dig deeper or change the way we see everything.  We keep saying into our personal moments of reflection; my time is coming up just around the bend.

SECULAR TO SPIRITUAL

In these dark moments of desperation, we’ve got two options for hope.  

1)  We can embrace a perspective of purpose.

2)  We can make the jump into that thing we’ve been made for.  

For those that aren’t afraid of the spiritual side of life, I’ll make the case for how both of those things stem from a right relationship with God.  But that will be in the next post. Instead, I’ll finish off today’s blog with secular examples to the two above options.

PERSPECTIVE OF PURPOSE

My friend Jennifer is a manager at a financial firm.  The business is one that puts a lot of stress on her and her team.  There are numbers to hit. There are margins to consider. What’s worse, even when the company is making money, it’s not enough for the shareholders.  

To Jeniffer, there is a quiet deadness to what she does.

But there is another side to the narrative if we tilt it just a bit.  

We were discussing her situation while drinking coffee at my HQ, Old Crown Coffee in Fort Wayne, IN.  Over their perfected house blend, I asked her to realize both what she couldn’t change and what her job was enabling.

She’s a fantastic boss, and her employees see her killing herself for them.  She’s doing all she can from inside the business. But she failed to see what all her actions were doing for the consumers of the company.  

Countless old couples can go into retirement thanks to her company.  Some individuals lost loved ones that were the providers of their families.  For them, her business produced financial products such as life insurance payouts that now keep them afloat.    

In essence, she was part of a machine, which made life better for so many people.  She was enabling her team to prolong and save lives. In one perspective, what she did matter a lot.  

I can give you an endless list of similar friends who have eventually come to realize that what they do, matters.

My friend Shaun is a butcher.  He feeds people.

My high school friend Elizabeth is a bus driver.  She’s responsible for the transportation of children to their places of education.  She’s a caretaker that keeps them safe in transit.

Some studies have illustrated that job happiness can be significantly affected by the understanding that your job matters.  My favorite case studies include the job title Heroes for the call service of Zappos and the custodial crew for a children’s hospital.  In those examples, the culture was changed to make it clear that the whole operation wouldn’t be a success without their hard work.

Your perspective of purpose is realizing that you do something that makes the world a better place.  

THE THING WE WERE MADE FOR

Another aspect to the better story is realizing that there is something that you were made for — that there is something deep inside of you that you need to invest in or do.

Mike Lewis wrote the book When To Jump.  He filled it with his story and the stories of people who went ahead and plunged into their purpose.  For Mike, that was becoming a professional squash player. That journey led him to an even higher life design, one where he inspires others also to follow their purpose.  Some built businesses. Others sought answers to fix real problems in our world.

My young friend Jared knew he had to get out of the city.  With enough savings to live for a month, he packed up and drove from Indiana to Wyoming with the hope to find work on a ranch.  Instead of that, he saw an even better calling, and now he’s part of a team that restores impacted land back into the wild. He feels his days with hard labor in clear air.  He hunts. He camps. He’s making the world a better place.

My friend Tim can’t stop doing art.  It’s what he was meant to do. But instead of just making it, he realized that his passion was in sharing the process.  He now puts his effort into making video content that walks others through the creative process. He’s helping others create.

In better story living, we don’t just shrug our shoulders when we see the world as an evil place.  We do something about it. We become heroes.

The above are beautiful reflections on this idea of life.  But they are just the tip of the better story. My next post will be the meat of what we as Christians need to understand if we ever hope to describe what it means to know God adequately.  If we are ever to take back the word evangelism, we need to start with the better story.

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