I am re-reading a book I love by Sara Hagerty, and the author brought up a point that I wanted to try to think through. She said that many of us hold a belief that has been quite detrimental to our walk with God. That belief is as follows:
If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t matter.
That struck me, and I wanted to think through how it applies to me – and maybe also to you.
When we are children, we learn that we are prized for measurable accomplishments: learning our ABCs, counting to 10 or 20 or 100, building a tower with LEGOs, or doing a somersault. When we are adolescents, this continues as we pursue academic and extra-curricular success. We are celebrated when we make straight As (that was me), or win the Spelling Bee (also me), or earn a blue ribbon at the Science Fair (me again, although my parents definitely helped). For me, it was all about achievements in school. For others, it’s about sports or clubs – you were praised and doted upon when you scored a goal or touchdown, or win a trophy or plaque.
Related to all of this positive reinforcement is the reality of negative reinforcement. When I was not accomplishing measurable goals and attaining specific achievements, no one seemed to even notice or remember me, let alone commend or applaud me. I mean, I wasn’t really cute as a kid (and especially not as a teenager), and so I didn’t have looks going for me. I didn’t have any musical talents, either. And even though I loved sports and participating in extra-curricular activities, I wasn’t particularly good at anything. And so, I just existed. And since I was desperate to be noticed – like pretty much every adolescent – I gravitated back towards the only thing that worked: academic success. It drove me like a whip towards tangible results.
When I was not accomplishing measurable goals and attaining specific achievements, no one seemed to even notice or remember me, let alone commend or applaud me.
Because after all, if no one could measure it, it didn’t matter.
So many years of exposure to this outcome-driven belief system made it second nature in my adulthood. I mean, geez, I’m a university professor now – you could see it coming.
But it had consequences for me, and perhaps for you as well.
Now, we spend almost all of our adult lives grinding and hustling to have something to show for it. Heck, “the grind” and “the hustle” are now catchy memes we wear emblazoned across our shirts and tank-tops to proclaim the essence of the way we live. And we are proud of the big businesses and retirement accounts and vacation homes we build through such efforts.
Please don’t misunderstand me. Those are good things work worth working towards. We should have aspirations that are specific, and we should pursue them and chart our progress to make sure we are on the right track. And of course, it feels wonderful when you actually accomplish things. I get all of that. But there has to be more. The pursuit can’t just be about what is measurable. That can’t ultimately satisfy.
If you follow the teachings of Jesus, you know there is more. As a Christian, I want to pursue more than material accomplishments. But the vast, vast majority of the result-oriented messages we receive have indoctrinated us into thinking that if we can’t measure it, it doesn’t matter. As such, this has subtly contaminated the way we pursue and try to live for God:
- We do our devotionals every day, as if that’s the point.
- We go to church and bible study regularly, and check that box off.
- We serve every Sunday with set-up or tear-down or children’s ministry or worship team, because Christians are supposed to faithfully serve.
The vast, vast majority of the result-oriented messages we receive have indoctrinated us into thinking that if we can’t measure it, it doesn’t matter. As such, this has subtly contaminated the way we pursue and try to live for God.
All of this gives us the ability to track and assess our Christianity. How “good” of a Christian we are. How much we’ve accomplished in the Christian faith. It also gives us reference points of comparison as we rate ourselves against everyone else.
This goes on for years. Decades, even. And it’s easy to just get caught up in it, rarely second-guessing it. Because it’s the way we have been trained and conditioned in other areas of life. It is the way we’re seemingly supposed to operate. If you can’t quantify it, it doesn’t qualify. This is how it is with our finances, with the “ladder of success” at work, with our nest egg, our social media influence and platform, our health and fitness goals, etc. – and so it is natural to assume that this is how it must be with our spiritual goals.
If you can’t quantify it, it doesn’t qualify. This is how it is with our finances, with the “ladder of success” at work, with our nest egg, our social media influence and platform, our health and fitness goals, etc. – and so it is natural to assume that this is how it must be with our spiritual goals.
But here’s the revolutionary, mind-bending truth: the Kingdom of God is upside down. The way He works is completely turned around from the way the world works. It’s unnatural. To get back at our enemies, we’re supposed to love them. To be first, we should be last. To be exalted, we should be humble. To be powerful, we should be meek. To be rich, we should give our money away. To truly live, we need to die.
Spiritual success is not obtained by following the same practices that lead to worldly success. You understand what it takes to achieve the latter, and so I won’t go into that. When it comes to the former, I believe that you could be doing all sorts of measurable and quantifiable (and laudable) things (church, bible study, service, podcasts, missions trips, etc.) but still be missing out on what matters the most: a deep, intimate, abiding relationship with the Lord.
Spiritual success is not obtained by following the same practices that lead to worldly success.
You and I know plenty of people who do all of those things, but they don’t seem to have that peace, that stability, that confidence, that joy, and that hope that comes from a best-friendship with God.
What’s missing? Well, I’m pretty positive you can’t measure it.
My favorite part of life – even beyond sports (and if you know me, you know how much I absolutely love sports) – is when I am just able to be still with God. This could be while in my bed, or walking around the lake in my neighborhood, or drinking a cup of tea in our rocking chair. The location doesn’t matter, it’s the time I make to just hang out with Him.
Here, I can spend time talking to Him, and open up my heart to hear His heart for me.
Here, I can offer up prayers for myself and my loved ones and my friends and acquaintances and even strangers.
Here, I can just be quiet and let His unconditional love wash over me and remind me that He is all I really need.
Here, I can remember that my identity and value and worth doesn’t come from what others say about me, but what He says about me.
Here, I can try to find my delight and satisfaction in Him, instead of trying to fill the God-shaped hole in my heart with everything else.
Here, I can simply connect with Him, and ask for wisdom and direction with the big things and the small, and feel his face shine upon me as I try to make decisions which honor and please Him.
All of this is behind the scenes. No one knows, and no one cares (except Him). It’s not checking off any boxes on my to-do list. It’s not setting me up for financial success or retirement, or keeping me on top of household duties, or earning me points among my peers.
And it’s not measurable.
But the extent and quality and success of our relationship with God should be beyond counting. It should be the constant and steady rhythm of our days. No one sees it except Him. It’s not about accomplishment or performance or popularity or metrics; He doesn’t prize or love you any more because of how many devotionals you’ve done this year. It’s about genuine connection and closeness. It’s always been about that. It’s about investing in the best friendship and relationship we could ever have.
It’s not about accomplishment or performance or popularity or metrics; He doesn’t prize or love you any more because of how many devotionals you’ve done this year. It’s about genuine connection and closeness.
When it comes to the deepening, maturing, and thriving of our faith, even if you can’t measure it, it does matter. It actually matters more than anything else. Pursue Him above all else, and go deep, and don’t worry about what’s visible and quantifiable. He sees your heart, and He sees you pressing in to know Him more. That means everything to Him.
Image source: https://bit.ly/3pEbLw6 – Rob Hyrons, Adobe Stock