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Not All “Why’s” Are Created Equal

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The gurus all seem to agree on this…

Whether it’s financial advisors, motivational speakers, leadership experts, or marketing consultants, the mantra is the same.  The single biggest contributing factor to success or failure in anything is (drumroll please). . .

Knowing your “why”.

Some would even go as far as to say that if our “why” is big enough, we can accomplish absolutely anything. Yet, without a crystal-clear “why,” we are doomed for failure.

So what about in the Kingdom of God? Is this true of us as Christian artists? Is our “why” important in walking out our God-given destiny?

First, What Is a “why”?

Our “why” is our purpose, our goal, our dream – the thing that truly motivates us (our raison d’être, “reason for being”). It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning when our bodies protest. It’s what propels the salesman onto the next prospect after a difficult rejection. It causes the athlete to push through the physical pain to achieve what was once impossible. And it draws the artist into an endless pursuit of excellence in their craft.

When I was active in network marketing (a difficult business with a high burnout rate), we were encouraged by our coaches to keep our “why” right in front of us at all times. Build the dream. Be specific. We hung pictures of our goals and dreams around us as reminders –  in our houses, our offices, even our cars.  Our “why” was there to keep us in the game – even when the going got tough. And that is why it is so important.

Without a crystal-clear “why”, we are far more likely to quit the race and never reach our full potential.

What Is Your “why”?

For some, it is simply money. The goal is to gain wealth – enough to live a certain lifestyle. Some are motivated by a sports car, a bigger house, or that elusive dream vacation. For others, it’s freedom – the ability to live life unencumbered by whatever currently holds them down. Some seek fame, others desire power. Some folks care about nothing but an Olympic medal or making a breakthrough scientific discovery.

All these things may motivate us, and, in that sense, they are effective. But while they may get us where we want to go, they won’t bring us true joy and happiness once we get there. This is why many of the most successful people are also some of the most depressed. The same gurus who promote finding your “why” would agree – it is a crushing blow to see your dreams fulfilled and still not find real happiness – to find out the thing you have been working so hard for wasn’t really worth it. A “why” that, when accomplished, leaves you depressed and empty is ultimately not helpful. And that’s why not all “why’s” are created equal.

Truthfully, the things that matter most to many of us are much more basic: the approval of our parents or mentors, the honor of our children, the respect of our peers, discovering and fulfilling our purpose, loving and being loved unconditionally. These are the things that money, fame, and power could never buy for us, but they are the very things that can bring us true joy and happiness. They are the secret longings of the human heart.

The Artist’s “Why”

Most artists struggle to find affirmation. Our greatest desire is to be told our art is important, valuable. Many times the pursuit of money is just a means to that end. The money itself isn’t the goal, but it is a sign that someone somewhere respects and cares about our work.  Culturally, this is fed into by the distinction made between the proverbial “starving artist”, and the artist who “actually makes a living”. The obvious insinuation is that artists who get paid more, or at all, are doing more important work than the ones who don’t.

Many artists who struggle with their own value will chase after money in an indirect attempt to gain recognition and acceptance.

We sometimes think that if we could just write that hit song or get our work on display in that certain place, we would finally be taken seriously. But this is all stemming from an orphan mindset.

Jesus strongly warned against pursuing the praises of man. Even the purest of activities like prayer and fasting can be twisted into a vain attempt to garner recognition to ourselves (see Matthew 6). How much more then could this be an issue in our art?

As Christian artists, we must draw our affirmation from our Father in Heaven. It is Him who sees us, knows us, and loves us. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more – or less. We can’t earn or qualify for God’s love. It is unconditional and not up to us at all. We do, however, get to choose whether or not to walk in His will for our lives.

The Ultimate “Why”

In Matthew 25 we find the parable of the talents. To summarize the parable: a master is going away and decides to leave some money with three of his servants. He gives them five talents, two talents, and one talent, respectively. When he returns, he finds that the servants with the five and the two talents have been working hard with what they were given and doubled their portion. Meanwhile, the servant with one talent hid what he had been given out of fear of his master, and earned nothing. This servant was reprimanded by the master as wicked and lazy, and what he had been given was taken away. But the other two were commended by their master, “well done, good and faithful servant”.

Like most parables, there are layers of application here. One obvious understanding of the story is that the Lord (our Master) gives each of us gifts/talents, and while we await His return we are expected to work with what we have been given and produce fruit for His Kingdom. Consider the following:

  • Although we all have different gifts, each of us is resourced lavishly. A talent is a unit of measurement used in Biblical times and was said to be worth as much as one million dollars in today’s money. Your gifts might not look the same as your neighbor’s, but they are more than enough.
  • The master shows implicit trust in his servants with this huge responsibility. I’m continually blown away that God trusts us to operate in His name, and leaves the responsibility of advancing His Kingdom up to us.
  • If we are faithful to steward what He has given us, we gain His approval, but if we allow our gift to lie dormant or to be used for unrighteous purposes, we will be rebuked.
  • When we misunderstand the nature and character of God (as the servant with one talent did) it causes us to operate out of fear and not step into our purpose.

God’s plan for each of us is simple yet profound: take the gifts that He has given us and work with them to be fruitful and multiply. The creative abilities he has placed in each of us are the tools we have to advance the Kingdom.

Like the two faithful servants, our destiny is to reproduce in the Earth according to what we have been given. If we will fearlessly step into the fullness of what He has prepared for us, we will experience the pleasure of our Father. Hearing our Father say “well done, good and faithful servant” is the ultimate “why”.

Jesus pleased the Father in this way. That is why when He was baptized by John, a voice from Heaven said, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” It is interesting to note that, as far as we know, Jesus hadn’t preached a single sermon or performed a single miracle at this point. There was no big public ministry, just secret obedience. As Jesus faithfully stewarded his gifts, He grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52). As Jesus taught in Matthew 6, when we obey God in secret He rewards us openly.

Fulfilling our destiny and hearing our Father say “well done, good and faithful servant” ought to be the thing that motivates us. It ought to keep us going when the going gets tough. Any other dream we have that is not connected to fulfilling our God-given destiny and advancing His Kingdom will ultimately leave us disappointed.

Aligning Our Why

Living for God’s approval, as opposed to man’s, is countercultural. And while we may know that eternal rewards should be what motivate us, we are often times far more motivated by what the world has to offer (if we’re being honest). Our hearts don’t automatically change just by knowing the truth, or even making a snap decision. Aligning our will with His is both a daily struggle and lifelong pursuit. Here are a few suggestions that I have found personally helpful in working this out in my own heart:

  • Meditate and reflect on what it means to receive God’s approval in this way. If we aren’t motivated by hearing the Creator of the Universe say “well done”, it’s probably because we don’t have a clue about the gravity of that statement. There is coming a day for each of us when absolutely nothing else will matter.
  • Ask God to change your heart. As we submit ourselves to Him, He is faithful to conform us into His image.
  • Surround yourself with mentors and peers who are living for this purpose. Community is important for all of us, and we naturally begin to model those who we spend a lot of time with. If you are not part of a community that not only preaches this but actually walks it out, you may need to look for one.

“If you don’t have a transcendent perspective in your life, at the end of it, you’ll find that it was all meaningless.” – Ravi Zacharias

“Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” – Colossians 3:2

Jonathan Fitt

Jonathan Fitt is a musician, author, speaker, and founder of Christian Artists Guild. His passion is empowering artists and contending for a renaissance in the church that leads to a reformation in culture.

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  • Robert MYERS says:

    This is excellent, and yes, it’s a daily battle that we must engage to align our why to His gracious and glorious purpose for us.

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