Over the past few months since my last post, I’ve attended the memorial of a beloved professor’s recent passing, and the first year of my dad’s passing has come and gone. As a result, I’ve—once again—had to ask myself what really matters in this life.
And, against the backdrop of a casket and eulogies, not much does. There are always limits to humanity’s desires. Aside from earning enough money to live relatively comfortably, the pursuit of material wealth can only go so far. Aside from the initial rush when we “win”—whether it’s through a debate or having having received a promotion—success can only go so far. Nearly everything we desire has limits, and leaves us wanting more.
So, this begs the question: what really matters?
If you’re here, you likely know that I’ll be answering this from a Christian perspective. I mean, as a Christian in ministry with a website name like Joyful For Jesus, how could I not?
I think we need to remember, first of all, that every human being is different. We each have different strengths, weaknesses, and purposes. God has created each of us in a unique way (hello, Psalm 139).
And, sure, you’ve heard this before. But before you wander off, just stay with me here.
Have you ever played an instrument at school? If you have, you’ll know that playing beautiful music out of the instrument is not straight forward. You have to know which keys to press, how to create the sound, and how to care for the instrument.
In grade 6, I played clarinet. But after changing schools for grade 7 and 8, I was given the opportunity to switch instruments. As it happens, I chose the flute. (Clarinet enthusiasts, take note: I didn’t dislike the clarinet, I just wanted something different.)
But here’s the thing—you cannot care for and play a flute in the same way would the clarinet. Clarinets have a much more earthy, deep sound than the light and airy flute, due to the clarinet’s reed. The reed is the thin piece of wood that attaches to the mouthpiece and creates that woodwind timbre we all know and love. But, since it is so thin, it is prone to breaking and cracking frequently, and needs frequent replacement. A damaged reed drastically impacts the sound of the music. Worse, it can make your clarinet squeak, which is not a pleasant sound to hear.
The flute, on the other hand, doesn’t have a reed, so it doesn’t have this problem. But you know what it does require? Strange mouth positions to get the air to flow through the instrument. And always. Raising. Your arms. There is such a sweet relief when the band director calls for a pause, to allow your screaming arms to rest for a just a moment.
Both instruments make beautiful sound. Both instruments put spit droplets on the floor after being played for a time, and have to be cleaned frequently. And, both are even the lightest band instruments (a strategic choice on my part). But they require drastically different methods of playing, to make what we would call music.
Humans, really, are not much different. Yes, we all need food, water, air, emotional and spiritual nourishment, but we go about it in different ways. Back to the question of what really matters—I’d say that what matters is what allows us to play our best music. Or, in other words, to live up to our greatest potential and God’s calling on our lives. We were created to do so by God! Some of us may have “reeds” we have to frequently change, but when we do, we cannot deny that we’re in step with our calling, just as we can’t deny that when a clarinet has its reed renewed, it is more pleasing to the ear.
Using this analogy, we can understand that if we are instruments, then the Holy Spirit is the warm air that flows through us to make the music of our lives, in the form of the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, Galatians 5:22–23). The creator of the clarinet and flute constructed these instruments with a specific construction in mind, with a specific way to use them. Likewise, God has made each of us with a specific purpose in mind.
This is what it means to live up to our potential, to be used by God. Unfortunately, the word “used” carries a negative connotation. When used here, “used” does not mean to be discarded, thrown away, and become worthless. God does not discard us when he uses us. Far from it. Instead, to be “used” by God means to be given gifts and a purpose, and in exercising these, finding our greatest fulfillment.
That’s what matters.
So, what is your purpose? What has God gifted you to do?
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