The Apostle Paul asked the believers in Corinth two searching questions: “And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)
As I read these words I was arrested again by the thought that everything I have, I have received; everything I possess has been given to me. I did not earn it. I do not deserve it. Everything I have that may be considered good or valuable is a gift that has been handed to me by God.
I must walk in humbleness and meekness. I must adorn myself with the attitude of an orphaned child who has just been adopted by the king. I am blessed beyond all comprehension.
Such thoughts radically change your understanding of who you are. As I pondered these two questions several things became clear about who I am as a person.
1. I am not defined by what I don’t have, but by what I do have.
We have become a society that defines a person by what they are after, not by what they already possess. People are labeled according to their ability to acquire, not by their ability to appreciate.
How backwards! If you conclude that you don’t have anything, then I can assure you that things are not what you need most. You don’t need to fill your hands, you need to let God fill your heart.
2. I am defined not by what I have achieved, but by what I have received.
Too often people find that at the top of the ladder of success there is only an empty room. The promises of “just one more sale” or “just one more award” or “just one more degree” or “just one more victory” are empty. They cannot deliver. I discover who I am not by chasing something I must catch in order to be happy, but by being captured by the One who is pursuing me in order to bring me joy.
3. I am defined not by what I possess, but by who (or what) possesses me.
One of the most pernicious lies of our time is “He who dies with the most toys wins.” The fact is that he who dies with the most toys still dies. But it is not always things that people long to possess. Some of us lust after intangibles like increased leisure time, family harmony, or just a quiet walk in the woods. We’ve determined that our lives become successful only if we have the things we want. If I long for more time in the boat on the lake, but can’t have it, my life is miserable. If I am able to order my life so that I can fish all I want then my life is meaningful.
What we forget, however, is that more often than not we are possessed by our possessions. As P.T. Forsythe so wisely said, “The first duty of every soul is not to gain it’s freedom, but to choose its master.”
What possesses you? What dominates your thinking? To what does your mind drift in unguarded moments? To what do you sacrifice your free time?
4. I am defined not by what I hold, but by how I hold it.
How I hold on to the things God places in my life says more about who I am than how many things I hold. Is it a white-knuckle grip you have upon the things in your life? Erwin Luzter has well said that “Money is loaned, not owned”!
Do you hold the things in your life knowing they are His or as if they are yours? What would God have to do to wrench some of His things from your hands and put them into someone else’s?
5. I am defined not so much by what I ask for, but by what I give thanks for.
It is true that the Scriptures say “You have not because you ask not.” We should not be ashamed to bring our requests to God. Yet, Jesus’ identified gratitude as an attitude that marks out the true believer from the phony (Luke 17:11-19).
I urge you, make a little time to take stock of who you are and what you’ve got. Where did you get it? From whom did it come to you? How do you hold it? Or does it hold you? How could you discern the correct answer to the previous question? How does the “stuff” in your life lay bare your basic attitudes toward life?
Now, ponder again those two powerful questions: “What do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”
Such a view of yourself and the stuff entrusted to you is quite counter-cultural, isn’t it? Over the next week, see if you can identify ways the world preaches its message to the contrary. Ask God what concrete, specific steps you might take to re-think and re-arrange your life according to His value system.