Wineskins Archive

December 5, 2013

Measuring My Life (Aug 2012)

Filed under: — @ 10:10 pm and

By Phil Huber


September 23 of 1999, communication with the Mars Climate Orbiter was lost as the spacecraft approached Mars. Designed to study climate and atmosphere, the mission came to an abrupt end due to navigational error. The spacecraft attempted to enter orbit at an altitude that was too low, causing it to disintegrate. The deviation from the intended course was traced back to confusion over metric and imperial units.

While most of the world has adopted the metric system, Americans continue to rely on the imperial system of measurements. Instead of meters and grams, we are more familiar with inches and ounces. The programmers for this satellite had written the software based on metric units, while the ground crew was entering course corrections based on imperial units. That little misunderstanding resulted in a $327 million cosmic torch. An understated Dr. Edward Stone, director of Jet Propulsion Laboratory, remarked, “Our inability to recognize and correct this error has had major implications.”

A journey is a familiar biblical motif. There is the story of Abraham traveling from Ur to Canaan; and the Exodus, with the Israelites’ journey out of Egypt and into the land of promise; and the annual pilgrimages from the four corners of the nation to the city of Jerusalem. These travel narratives serve as parallels to the Christian life, as Peter suggests in calling Christians “pilgrims” (1 Peter 2:11). We are travelers on a journey, charting a course through life.

In any journey, whether a satellite through space, a patriarch through the Fertile Crescent, or me through my life, destination is determined by course. It is not enough to determine where I want to go. To get there, I must chart a course that moves me in the right direction. Decisions, large and small, are steering this satellite. My course is determined by the measurements I make.

Recently, I went on a men’s retreat with a few guys from my church. On the first night, we were sitting around a campfire getting to know some of the others. Through the conversation, I discovered that I was in the company of some very successful men – business owners with many employees and high profits. One was sharing about a particularly difficult year when he almost lost his business and his income was slashed by ninety per cent. It was humbling to discover that what he was making at a ninety per cent reduction was nearly twice what I make now, the high water mark of my economic prosperity. I felt small and insignificant. By this measuring rod, I was a failure.

Ironically, I had been invited into the same business a few months earlier. The pitch was compelling, but I declined because the work sounded boring. Now, around the campfire, the dollar signs were clouding vision. The prospect of financial relief, early retirement, and expanded leisure options were hung out like a carrot on a stick. Chase that carrot and my course would change.

The fog lifted when I remembered that I have never used money as a measurement for my life. The path I am charting is not one of dollars and cents. And if I haven’t written the program of my life to respond to financial units, then I ought not be surprised that by that standard I’m the satellite that comes in too low. Even if I don’t incinerate, I do sputter.

But my program was written for other measurements. God has designed me for a purpose; handcrafted me with intent (Ephesians 2:10). I am pursuing his will for my life. I must determine what gauges will guide my decisions to bring me safely into that orbit. I have found three that keep me on course, summarized simply by the words fit, flourish, and fade.

First, does this fit the way God has made me? God has designed me with abilities, gifts, interests, passions, and personality all suited for the role he has in mind for me. He is wise enough to insure that whatever he has in store for my life will match the way he made me.

When I work on a project around the house, I tend to take the tools I think I will need rather than hauling my whole toolbox with me. Most times I find that I need a tool I didn’t grab initially. At that point I have two options. I can get the right tool from my tool box or I can use the tools at hand in a creative, and somewhat abusive, manner. There is no reason a wrench can’t serve as a hammer. But, of course, a wrench wasn’t designed for pounding. While I may be able to force it to do the job, it won’t do it very effectively.

There are many things I can do in life that would be like a wrench being used as a hammer. I can get by doing it, but it will be forced. In the end, it won’t be very fulfilling. But if God designed me as a wrench he wants me to tighten and loosen nuts, not bang in nails. It is not selfish to seek personal fulfillment. It is a clear gauge for directing my course towards God’s will.

Second, can I flourish in this opportunity? Will this be an environment conducive for fruit to grow? The soil of my soul is designed to cultivate a crop. Plant the right seeds and the harvest will be bountiful. If I am doing what God intends with my life, there should be fruit to show.

Some plants like shade, others prefer full sun; some are suited for sandy soil, others thrive in hard clay. I love the sweet, mellow flavor of Vidalia onions. That flavor is the result of a mild climate and a unique soil found only in an area of southern Georgia. You can’t grow them in upstate New York. I know because I tried. I didn’t harvest much. My biggest onion was the size of a golf ball and it was anything but sweet. It was the wrong crop for my garden. The right crop will yield a healthy harvest.

Currently I work in retail as a manager. On one level the fruit of my vocation is a profitable business. My attention to labor costs, marketing trends, and inventory control contribute to better profits for the company. I am pleased with my fruitfulness in this regard. But the real fruit of my career does not appear on the balance sheet. It is the opportunity to influence a staff as a role model and a wise counselor. These are people who respect my integrity, trust my advice, enjoy my sense of humor, and appreciate my affirmation. I have opportunity to influence these lives in unique and profound ways. This is why God has led me to this job. He wants me to bear fruit that will last (John 15:16). If the fruit withers, then I may need to redirect my course.

Third, does this bring glory to God, allowing him to claim the spotlight while I fade into the background? I want God to be exalted through me. As he takes center stage, I join in the chorus, “Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory” (Psalm 115:1 NIV). If the direction of my life is ever first and foremost about me and God’s fame is an afterthought, then I’m steering for a different planet.

When Jesus begins to baptize people at the Jordan River, the numbers coming to be baptized by John the Baptist are dwindling. John’s disciples come to him concerned about this shift. His reply brings perspective. “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30 NIV). John was preparing the way for the Lord. As the Lord enters the spotlight, John graciously fades into the backdrop. This is God’s will for my life – to prepare the way for God’s glory. And when it arrives, even in small doses, to step back and give God credit.

Centimeters and inches are not interchangeable. Slight changes in direction at the outset can have major implications on my course over time. For me this three-fold metric of fit, flourish, fade is a way to measure my course. Using these to enter course corrections, I’ll approach at just the right altitude to enter safely into orbit around God’s will for my life. And that’s where I’ve wanted to land all along.

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