Welcome to The Kingdom Art Life, episode 11.
I was having fellowship with a group of dancers and the conversation turned to financial success and influence. As we were talking about how these live in the Christian life, one dancer shared the analogy of holding such success with an open hand. This led me to think about an important question that each of us have to answer as Christians, who are pursuing careers that, we pray, will include financial success.
Why do we want what we want?
Why are we driving so hard to get the career, and achieve the level of success we’re pursuing?
This is a question that we each have to answer with the utmost honesty because, regardless of what comes out of our mouths, at some point, the actual truth will manifest itself in our choices and in our actions.
So, why do you want what you want?
This question is all the more important, I believe, as people of God.
In Mark 10, we see Jesus have an encounter with a man who wants to inherit eternal life. The man asks Jesus what he needs to do. Jesus tells him to follow the Commandments. The man says I’ve done that, been doing that since my youth.
In the Matthew account, the man then asks Jesus what he’s missing? And in verse 21 of Mark 10, the Bible says,
“Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.’ But he [the man] was very sad at this word and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!’ And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, ‘Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!’ It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’”
Now, when we first look at this it almost seems like Jesus is saying you can’t have both; like you can’t have riches and enter the kingdom of God, as if having riches is a bad thing. But we know that’s not true.
Throughout the Bible, God talks about blessing His children with wealth and lands, giving them the power to get wealth, teaching their hands to prosper, filling their barns with plenty, lands of milk and honey.
So, we know that God is not against His children having wealth.
What this account in Mark 10, and the question I’ve posed, are about is where your treasure lies and where your identity is rooted. Notice the way Jesus describes the man who will find difficulty entering the kingdom. He doesn’t say a man who is rich will have difficulty. He says a rich man will struggle to enter the kingdom.
The difference between these two is huge.
The rich man identifies himself by his riches. This is where his confidence comes from, his sense of place, his sense of relevance, his sense of security and safety. He is wrapped up in all that being rich gives him emotionally, socially, in terms of access, etc. To this man, his riches are the source and the reason for all the good that he experiences in his life, and without them, there is no him and there really is no point to him continuing to live.
On the other hand, the man who is rich has riches but to him, his riches are not the source of his identity. They are not the source of all the good that happens to him in his life. To this man, life had meaning before the riches came, and life will continue to have meaning should that ever change.
He holds his riches with an open hand, while the rich man holds on to his riches for dear life.
Ps 139:23-24 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And Lead Me in the way Everlasting.”
In verse 24, this word wicked is more nuanced than just meaning evil. The root of wicked is where we get the same word wicker, which means twisted. You make wicker baskets by twisting the material.
David is saying, Lord, check me and see if I have twisted your intention for me in any area of my life. For us, this is about allowing the Lord to hold us accountable for any area we have twisted His intentions in the life of our art career.
Where have we taken things in a different direction than what He was intending?
There is nothing wrong with wanting financial success and influence.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be at the top of your game.
There is nothing wrong with working hard, going for what you know with all your might.
Nothing wrong with that.
But it is absolutely critical for you to stay mindful of why you’re doing it
1 Timothy 6:6-10 says, “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich (The amplified version says those who have a compulsive, greedy longing for wealth) fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
The willingness to do anything to get and keep money gets you into a whole heap of trouble. We see it in the movies (and the news) all the time. But we have to look deeper at what drives this willingness to do anything in the first place.
It comes from what we believe the money, or the success, or the influence, or the access will provide for us; and what we believe we’ll be missing without having them. Some trust so much in money’s ability to fill that hole (whatever that is for them) that they stake their life on getting and keeping it.
Luke 12:34 says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Like in the movies: you always see the bad guys get the protagonist to do what they want by finding out where their treasure is. They kidnap their wife or children or their lover. Then protagonist is willing to do whatever the bad guys need to keep what they treasure, which is their loved ones, alive.
Mt 22:37 says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
Your heart should belong to the Lord, which means that the Lord should be where your treasure is. In Him should be where all the things you hold most dear are held. Not in money, success, influence, or access. Again, nothing wrong at all with having these, or even wanting them. It’s the needing them, where that need leads you to do things contrary to where God is leading you.
It’s the hoping in them for fulfillment in answering the needs of your life, when that place is reserved for God.
And here is where the danger comes in:
In John 14:23, Jesus says He who loves Me keeps my word.
If your heart is with me, you will do what I say because you will find value in doing what I say.
In 24, He says the opposite. If you don’t love Me, if your heart is not with Me, you won’t do what I say because you find no value in doing it.
Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, (which by John 14, we know Jesus defined as following their word and being influenced by them) or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon.”
So, for the sake of our conversation, in terms of building harmony between faith, art, and career, you can have no harmony until you settle where your treasure lies, which is found in understanding why you want what you want in your career journey in the first place.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with wanting it. Nothing wrong with going after it. In fact, God will empower you in that pursuit.
But you have to make sure you keep your heart in the right place, or else you might find yourself making compromises and small choices that lead you further and further away, because you’re increasingly willing to do more and more of anything to hold onto the things you hold dear.
But that place is God’s. He is the one who fulfills all your needs and desires. He fills the holes. He grants the peace, He gives the sense of importance. He opens the doors no man can shut. He brings your gift in front of great men. He causes people to favor you.
So, pursue God.
Find contentment in Him, and establish that what makes you enough is Him.
Do that, and you’ll have the desires of your heart.
What does this bring to mind for you, in terms of what you’re going after in your career?