In every great story, someone is fighting for what they believe in. Something dear to their heart. Something that is much bigger than their own life.
When we think about our favorite movies, we recognize that Frodo is fighting for the survival of Middle Earth. Wonder Woman is fighting to preserve human kind. James Bond and Ethan Hunt (from the Mission Impossible franchise) both fight for the lives of those they do not know and will never meet.
And apart from the big screen, we esteem and admire those who continue to fight for justice, truth, equality, and hope. Malala Yousafzai continues to speak out about the need for girls and women in the Middle East to have access to education, even after being shot by the Taliban. Emma Gonzalez (from Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida) is fighting for safer schools and gun control. Matt Damon is working hard to ensure that no one on our planet is without easy access to clean water. Tarana Burke (and so many others) fights for the voice of sexual assault victims to be heard.
What are you fighting for?
I think we all want to live a great life. But to live a great life, we must live a great story. The thing is (and as one of my favorite authors, Donald Miller, points out), a great story involves you pursuing something that has a greater good and that ideally impacts (and even saves) the lives of many. Most of us have noble aspirations like this when we are growing up, and even as young adults. But oftentimes – because of the daily grind, the monotony and burden of never-ending responsibility, and the tendency to increasingly avoid anything uncomfortable or unpleasant – many individuals just pursue a “better life” for themselves. They work to build their own kingdom, and then to make it bigger. Another house. Another car. Another boat. Another vacation. Another retirement account.
Many individuals just pursue a “better life” for themselves. They work to build their own kingdom, and then to make it bigger. Another house. Another car. Another boat. Another vacation. Another retirement account.
Those aren’t bad or evil or sinful pursuits. Feel free to go after them. But they can’t be your primary aim. They can’t be the main point of your efforts.
They can’t be what you’re fighting for.
Instead, as you get older, I hope that your goals are moving away from what benefits you and towards what benefits a critical mass of others. Towards a grander purpose. Towards something epic and legendary. And even transcendent.
We’ve heard all of the well-worn clichés which are supposed to remind us to keep our priorities straight:
“You can’t take it with you.”
“He who dies with the most toys still dies.”
“You’ve never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul.”
But even hearing those, even knowing those, even being able to quote them verbatim doesn’t mean that the choices you make reflect their main sentiment. And even if you really, really want to, it’s just not natural to be selfless and others-focused. Plus, it’s counter-cultural – it’s definitely not what the vast majority of people are doing. And most of the time, it’s much easier to just do what everyone else is doing….
Recently, I was thinking about the distinction between “patriots” and “mercenaries” and how it might relate to our Christian faith. We know that Paul exhorts us to “fight the good fight” – to me (and many others), that means not just staying true to our spiritual convictions and allegiance to God, but doing work that serves and blesses others with no gain to ourselves. And so in this context, a patriot is someone who is committed to that grand vision and mission, and who wants to contribute to a greater cause and purpose outside of themselves. On the other hand, a mercenary is someone who does it mostly for the benefits it brings to themselves. Their mentality is guided consciously or unconsciously by “what’s in it for me?” They may never admit that to you (or even to themselves), but that is what drives them.
A patriot is someone who is committed to that grand vision and mission, and who wants to contribute to a greater cause and purpose outside of themselves. A mercenary is someone who does it mostly for the benefits it brings to themselves.
I want to fight the good fight on behalf of others. And I want to be caught up God’s grand vision and mission, because I’m here for Him and His purposes (not the other way around). In my life, this looks like: helping the poor through building clean water wells across India; supporting missionaries involved in specific causes I care about; addressing the bullying and cyberbullying problem among youth; and blessing as many strangers as I possibly can. My wallet and my bank account reflect this and, I hope, increasingly do so as I get older. Their lives and dreams and hopes matter absolutely as much as mine or Rachel’s or my children’s. Absolutely as much.
And under no circumstances do I want to be a mercenary – where I’m only about myself and my own family. Where I’m just building my kingdom.
That’s not a great story.
And that’s definitely not a great life.
I encourage you to take some time to think about your pursuits, and determine exactly what you are fighting for. I hope so much that your efforts are spent on that which is noble and uniquely noteworthy – and that at least some of your ambitions are driven by a deep desire to make better the lives of others in some significant and tangible way.
This is how we fight the good fight, and reflect Christ’s love to the world.
And this is how we experience a level of true fulfillment that all of us are searching for. Because we know that whoever wants to save their life will lose it, while whoever loses their life for Him will find it.