Monthly Archives: July 2008

What Really Matters

Blind Faith (No. 31, 2008)

“Going for the gold” will seem to be all that matters when the Olympic
Games begin in just a few days. Thousands of athletes worldwide have invested
countless hours in training and have sacrificed countless personal
relationships striving for their goal. They stand to gain wealth and adulation
for winning, or penury and anonymity for losing their games. Many stories will
be told of families, larger communities, and even nations sharing dreams of
Olympic competition, offering tangible and emotional support for the athletes’
quests. Too many stories will uncover athletes and trainers so blinded by
Olympic gold that they abuse themselves, the rules of their sports, and the
spirit of the Olympics by using steroids and other performance- enhancing drugs.
These sad tales lay bare the widespread obsessions with winning and commercial
success. For some, winning is the only thing that matters. And Olympic silver
medals are not acceptable to some people. For some athletes and nations,
Olympic gold is worth any cost. But, does it really matter?

Competition for headline space will continue to come from disasters
across the nation and around the world. People lambasted by the Sichuan
province earthquake in China, or the Big Sur and Yosemite wildfires in
California, or the landfall of Hurricane Dolly along the Rio Grande in Mexico
and Texas, or the floods in Iowa and Missouri reacted to the catastrophes with
amazing similarity. Sifting through the ruins of their homes and lives, many
pled for an opportunity to retrieve whatever personal treasures they could find
intact. Many were barred from their homes for days and weeks at a time,
sometimes finally being allowed as little as a 15 minute window in which to
snatch the few items of value they could locate. The tragedy is that the
scenes are certain to continue being repeated following other disasters. In
such a situation, what really matters? Disaster victims universally talk about
grabbing family photo albums, or Grandmother’s quilt, or sensitive papers, or
collections of love letters. Some people put themselves at grave risk in order
to salvage some representation of their identities. You don’t usually find
anyone saying that they just had to get their stereo, or some trophy or even
their golf clubs. What really matters seems to be people-to-people links,
symbols of intimate and meaningful relationships. A news crew almost always
finds someone saying, “We’ve lost everything! But we can rebuild, and we can
get new things. We’re thankful to be alive, and that’s all that matters.”

Ambitious striving to achieve worthy goals, charting a new course after
surviving a disaster, or facing temptations to find shortcuts to either pursuit
all raise the crucial question, “What really matters?” Understanding what
really matters is important for keeping everyday decisions about material
things, relationships with other people, personal integrity, and our awareness
of how our actions affect our fellowship with God in proper balance. The Hebrew
prophet, Micah, offered a concise catalog of what really matters: ” The Lord
has told you what is good. He has told you what he wants from you: Do what is
right to other people. Love being kind to others. And live humbly, trusting
your God.” (Micah 6:8 International Children’s Bible) Micah doesn’t
prescribe a sure-fire training regimen for winning Olympic goal, or for
recovering from natural disaster, but the principles will equip anyone for
taking on those challenges or any others.

Jesus thought and taught that what Micah said was on target for what
really matters. Some other rabbis were actually trying to lay a trap for
Jesus, looking for a self-justifying shortcut for religious obligations (see
Matthew 22:35-40, Luke 10:25-27), when one of them asked, “What is the greatest
commandment?” Jesus’ answer could be prefaced with “What really matters
is….” What Jesus said was: ” Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all
your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ {31} The second command is
this: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There are no commands more
important than these.” (Mark 12:30-31 NCV) The answer is simple and direct.
What really matters is to shape everything we do by demonstrating our love for
God and for other people.
Jesus also explained how we are to maintain the disciplined life that
will lead us to what really matters. It simply means following Jesus. No
exotic religious rites, no austere lifestyle, no macrobiotic diet, no “Ten Keys
to Success.” What really matters is simply – and radically – to follow Jesus.
Here is what Jesus said:

Then he said, so everybody could hear, “If anybody really wants
to share my way of life, let him have no regard for his own welfare, and let
him risk his life every day and walk the way with me. Whoever puts his own life
first shall lose it. But whoever lays his life on the line for me shall come
out on top. For what has a man gained if he gets the whole world, and his own
life is broken or destroyed?” (Luke 9:23- , Te Cotton Patch Version)
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Shortcuts, extreme training, and many other paths may lead to golden
results, but if Jesus is not at the center of life, it doesn’t really matter.
Only by following Jesus – all the way to our own cross, if necessary – will we
reach genuinely the best life we can live.

What goals are you clamoring to reach? What drives and disciplines
your life? What significance do you attach to material things, relationships,
and personal ethical values? What really matters to you? If you honestly seek
to make your answer, “Jesus,” that simple answer will lead you to the most
challenging and the most rewarding life you can possibly live. What really
matters to you?

J. Edward Culpepper, Ph.D.