Growing up, school always came fairly easy to me. I took my academic achievements for granted and didn’t get all that excited about them. I was more concerned with making a name for myself on the baseball diamond. Consequently I spent a disproportionate amount of time on the field compared to my time in books.
I busted my butt in baseball in hopes that I would get that mythical college scholarship that never came. That effort didn’t pay dividends. Because the effort I put in often didn’t translate to success, I was frustrated, bitter, and even hurt. In my messed up priorities, I neglected what was more important. I strove toward the wrong goal, chasing a dream while ignoring my academic gifts.
A piece of Scripture rocked me recently when I realized that, nine years removed from baseball, I am still toiling for something I won’t achieve as I ignore what I already have.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15
The interesting thing about being in a good season with the Lord is that you tend to realize that you’re not all that good. At least that’s my story. When I am pursuing the Lord with a fervor, He is revealing truth to me that isn’t always enjoyable to receive. As I draw near to Jesus, he illuminates my mind to the darkness that exists in my heart even when it isn’t manifested in my actions.
This is where I find myself. The Lord is showing me that I am still looking for approval in the wrong places while he is blessing me in the areas that matter.
The Lord has continued to show me how he has equipped me and enabled me to effectively handle the Word. Whether I am preaching to myself, challenging friends in hard conversations or leading a small group, I have a growing awareness that The Lord, in his grace, has gifted me to be able to exhort others and speak truth into situations.
However, at the same time, I struggle to walk as one unashamed. Though I have no need to be ashamed of the effort that I put forth for the Lord, I have seen how I enslave myself to the approval of others. I have taken up chains from which I had previously seen the Lord give me some degree of freedom. But, as I walk in intimacy with the Lord, he has revealed that the chains are still there.
I take them upon myself and bow before others, pleading with them to make me feel valuable, worthy or capable. Then my heart and mind pay the price when I am not validated. I may walk as a worker capable of handling the word but not one who is free from shame. Like in baseball, I am chasing a goal I won’t achieve when I have been gifted for nobler endeavors.
I will never fully find approval when I seek it from fallen men, but this passage tells me that I am moving in a positive direction toward being a worker approved by God. I was frustrated with myself when I realized that I have approval where it counts but look for it where it doesn’t. I have made a habit of ignoring the Lord’s grace in developing me as an effective servant.
Paul uses the same word for “approved” in 2 Corinthians 10:18.
“For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” 2 Corinthians 10:18
It doesn’t matter what the world has to say about me, or event what I have to say about myself, because the Lord says I am justified, holy and accepted as one who has placed his faith in Christ for salvation. Fully justified, yet still striving to be a capable servant. He goes a step further in his opposition of worldly approval in Galatians 1:10.
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10
Paul says he would not be a servant to Christ if he was looking for approval from man. He said that if he is indeed a bondservant to Christ, he is going to serve Christ first and foremost, disregarding the approval of others. Seeking the approval of man can only distract from seeking the approval of Christ as a worker for His kingdom.
So what? I am unconditionally approved of by God yet commanded to strive to present myself as an approved worker by walking in freedom from shame and handling the Word of God effectively. Nothing to it, right?
I acknowledge the daily battle to put to death my flesh, which cries for approval, and walk in the Spirit, enjoying my freedom and growing in how I handle Scripture. This is how I enjoy my approval as an adopted son and simultaneously seek approval as a worker for the kingdom.