Last night I met a man who told me he needed to work harder at being happier. He said he had been reared in an ultra-serious home. “We didn’t talk about our feelings…we worked. Somehow we had the idea that you could achieve whatever you wanted in life if you just worked hard enough and long enough.” And then he came to the crux of his concern: “Funny thing…in my 60+ years I have achieved about everything I dreamed of doing and I have been awarded for it. My problem is that I don’t know how to have fun and enjoy all the things hard work has brought me. I cannot remember the last time I laughed – I mean really laughed.”
As he turned to walk away, I thought this throwaway line was the most revealing thing he said:
“I suppose I now need to work harder at being happier.”
I reached over, took him by the arm, and pulled him back close enough to put my arms around him for a solid hug. “You’ve worked hard for everything else in your life,” I said quietly.” “Why not try a new approach for joy? Trust me on this one – a happy heart is not achieved by hard work and long hours. If it were, the happiest people on earth would be the workaholics … and I have never met a workaholic whose sense of humor balanced his intensity.” We talked a few more minutes, but I’m not sure I made a dent in his thinking. Most likely, at this very moment that high achiever is up and at it pursuing a game plan to “earn happiness.” It aint’ gonna happen!
The problem is that human achievement results in earthly rewards, which fuels the fire for more achievement leading to greater rewards. “Problem…what problem?” you and the man I met last night might ask. This: None of that results in deep-down satisfaction, an inner peace, a soul-level contentment, or lasting joy. In the process of achieving more and earning more, few if any learn to laugh more. (Few if any learn to enjoy, really enjoy, the people in their life as God longs for them to.) This is especially true if you’re the classic Type A. Hear me out.
Something within all of us warms up to human strokes. We are motivated to do more when our efforts are noticed or rewarded. But there is this great temptation among high achievers – among workaholics. What is it? It is the temptation to believe that earthly honors and accomplishments will automatically result in heavenly rewards. This kind of thinking is at the root of a humanistic philosophy of life that says: “By working hard and accomplishing more than most, I will earn God’s favor and receive His nod of approval.” I don’t know of a more subtle, albeit heretical, philosophy than that…yet it is universally accepted as true. And so, the tragedy, enough is really never enough. Life is reduced to work, tasks, effort, and endless lists of should and musts … minus the necessary fun and laughter that keeps everything in perspective.
Why does it happen?
What is it that drives men and women on so relentlessly? Are you ready? Take a deep breath and allow yourself to tolerate the one word answer: PRIDE
We work and push and strive so we can prove we are worthy. And the hidden message: I can gain righteousness all on my own, by my own effort, ingenuity, and energy and determination. And because I can, I must! And why is this heretical? Because ultimately this philosophy says:
1. I really don’t need divine righteous living (after all, God helps those who help themselves, right?)
2. I will find lasting joy in my own achievement. This will one day bring me ultimate satisfaction.
Pride not only expresses itself in high-achieving hard work, but also keeps us from asking for help – makes us more demanding of it! We love to leave the impression that no matter what, we can handle it (as long as everyone else gets out of our way).
What is the telltale sign when PRIDE takes charge? The fun leaves! It sucks the life out of the fun. A driven high achiever may smile on occasion, but it is a surface grin, not a strong silent smile coming from an inner strength of satisfaction. High achievers are never satisfied. Deep within, he or she is really thinking, “Life is much too busy, much too serious to waste it on silly things.” Staying wound up that tight can cause the mind to snap. G.L. Chesterton was never more correct than when he wrote: “Madmen are always serious; they go mad from lack of humor.”
If you ever wanted to read the honest testimony of a high-achieving Pharisee, read Paul’s letter in Philippians 3. Paul is about to launch into his past – those intense years of his own life when he worked so hard to impress God. But before he does that, he first wants to make sure that they hear yet again the importance of being people of outrageous joy. He calls that a “safeguard” and how true! And nothing can rob people of joy quicker than a few narrow-minded legalists. Paul’s great concern was that his Philippian friends continue their freedom in Christ and not allow anything or anyone to get the best of them. He never got tired of telling them that.
Legalists tell in word and in their actions that people are saved by works. Such folks live on to this day, spreading their message (through their own day to day life) the message that is full of exhortations to DO MORE, WORK HARDER, WITNESS LONGER, PRAY WITH GREATER INTENSITY, because here’s why…enough is never enough. Such folks, according to Scripture, are “evil workers” who will take away what little bit of joy you may be able to muster. I would also add, that when you never know how much is enough, you are left in a continual state of shame and obligation. Your mind never rests under the hand of unrealistic expectations. The message of the legalists always finds YOU lacking. We need to beware of such messengers. They are, according to Scripture, evil workers. They believe – work exceptionally harder, give up, take on, put away, put off, add to, try even harder, contribute more, give up even more… the result of all that? Confidence in the flesh!
Read Philippians 3:1-6. Study it. Ask God to help you understand to a deeper level what He is saying to you in these verses. But then when you come to verse 7 — here’s the turn.
“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” (v.7-9)
“But!” God called an abrupt and absolute halt to Saul’s maddening pace. His whole perspective changed. His way of thinking and, of course, his WAY of LIFE were radically transformed from that day forward. He saw, for the first time, how utterly and completely misguided he had been. And all those accomplishments he had worked for and relished for so long? He counted them as “loss” and “rubbish.” Having clothed himself in the pride of self-driven and self-achievement, he now stood stark naked and spiritually bankrupt. Having set goals and reached those goals, having set records that (according to the worlds eyes) were notable, he now realized what a total failure he had been when appraised by his Master and Lord.
Did all of life stop there for Paul? Hardly. THAT was when Paul really started to live! It was at that point the man began to LAUGH again! With a transformed heart he testified that his desire regarding Christ was that he might — “know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” 3:10-11
If you are among the high achievers, your world does not leave much room for personal weakness does it? For most of your life, you’ve been coming on strong, pushing and fighting for what you want, and hopefully getting your own sweet way, haven’t you? The things you are most proud of are what you have achieved and in many ways, you have arrived, at least that is the opinion of others. Yours is an enviable list of accomplishments: To name a few —
1- Your respected position with a nice-sounding title
2- Your livable income with some enviable perks
3- Your growing popularity
4- Awards you’ve hung on your walls or placed on your shelves
5- Fine automobile sitting in your parking space (and that parking space!)
6- Wardrobe full of stylish clothes
7- Nice place to go home to – maybe a summer home – a winter home
8- The probability of accomplishing and earning more
9- The sense of power in knowing you can buy whatever you want any time you want it
10- The feeling of accomplishment – YOU did it!
Granted, those are the kinds of things most folks you know spend their entire lives hoping to achieve. And now you find yourself a member of that elite club: High Achievers Anonymous (except by then they’re not usually anonymous.) But let’s take a deeper look. Let’s look at another list:
1- How is your personal life? I’m referring to the real you that’s there when nobody’s looking…like when you are all along in your car, your boat, your plane. Are you personally at peace?
2- And what about your marriage? And your relationship with your children? Everything okay there?
3- While you are allowing me to get this close, may we take a look at your inner person? Are you secure or still rather afraid? Any habits out of control? Any addictions you can’t seem to conquer?
4- Let me ask a few what ifs: What if you became seriously ill? What if you lost your earning power? What if you lost your title? What if your next physical exam led to the discovery of a lump proven to be malignant? What if you had a stroke? Are you ready to die?
5- Are there some secrets haunting you? Are there some terrorizing worries that won’t go away? That money can’t erase?
6- Finally, has life become more fun for you? Do you laugh – I mean REALLY laugh – now that you have “arrived?” Or are you still too driven to relax?
If you have read and even answered some of those questions, then you are ready for the rest.
First, spending your life trusting in your own achievements brings you the glory now, but leaves you spiritually bankrupt…forever. Read that again, please.
Second, stopping today and trusting in Christ’s accomplishment on the cross will give HIM the glory now, and provides you with perfect righteousness…forever.
You’re intelligent so let me ask you: Which option makes better sense?
*All that you just read from the top of this blog post, until the question, “Which option makes better sense?,” came directly out of Charles R. Swindoll’s book, “Laugh Again.” I highly encourage reading this book before the new year. It is packed full of wonderful insights as we enter into a new year soon!
When you look at the photo image for today’s blog, what do you see? I see a family. I blurred out as much of the background and foreground as possible because … those people, that family, that husband and that wife, their children and their time together — THAT is the focus! That is to be the focus – the relationships in that one photo. And while looking at that one image, it makes me realize that all of today’s post is meant to be lived…one day at a time.
This Christmas, please keep the accomplishment of the Cross of Christ in front of you as you work, as you enjoy this time of year, as you make memories with your friends and family. Rip and I are praying for you if you have read this far…we long to see high achievers enter into the life of having no confidence in the flesh, where pride is not driving them, and where they truly … LAUGH AGAIN!