Obedience to God vs. my motivation.

My mom, sisters, and I have a tendency to try to make and sell things. None of us have gotten rich, but we've sure made lots of stuff.

I'm pretty sure, after working three or so years in online marketing, that the world has some tips for us. Market more, market better, gather data, hone in on your audience, tighten up your branding, stay on message, etc. etc. etc. I have a friend who owns a business who loathes the game privately--the fakey upbeat and motivational Instagram stuff, the requirement to play nice in the local startup/young business scene and spout the same platitudes (bootstrapping! intentional! dogfooding! long-tail! venture capital! growth! community! puke!), the local speaker circuit and participation at highly branded events--but play the game the business owner does, because that's how you sell, how you succeed, how you get mentioned in magazines, how you get more business, and how you succeed some more.

It's the oldest occupation, for the digital marketing age.

Several years ago, my mom started getting rid of her various craft supplies and stopped doing all the making. She said she felt God was telling her that wasn't what he wanted her to do. So she stopped. She doesn't really have a "business" now, but she visits lots of elderly shut-ins, attends Bible studies with them, and I think that's much more eternal.

In recent years, I've felt something similar, a distinct sense that God wants me to quit doing some of the things I do (some of which I rely on for income!) and it is tough. In fact, the one thing I've had the most financial success with I keep sensing I am to stop. I'm struggling with obeying on that one, I'll admit. After all, not only do I make money off of it, but the world probably sees that as an example of classic success built with classic marketing and networking techniques.

So obedience to God sometimes looks like success, sometimes looks like failure, and sometimes looks like foolishness.

This all comes from some of the feedback from a recent blog post, by the way, in which I tried to explain the difference between seeing my success, necessary life changes, and achievements as something I do versus something God does. In an attempt to differentiate the difference in believing in God versus believing in ourselves, I wrote (responding to a comment on Facebook):

I'm going to let you in on a little secret that may or may not surprise you. Literally every blog post and book I've written, every art job, mural, painting for hire, painting for fun, project, mystery party, travels around the world alone, job (most I had not prior training or skill for, so I had no idea what to do) -- I've literally prayed "God, I can't do this. I don't know what to do. I will need you to do it." And then I step forward and trust He will. He does.

The protest book? That wasn't me. I prayed every time I sat down to write that God would show me what to say, give me the words, and help it come together. I prayed he would open doors and get me the interviews that were supposed to be in the book. I prayed that my own anger about somethings would stay out of it. None of that was me. My writing ability? Gift from God. Sure, I've written volumes over the years on blogs for myself and clients and whatever else, and that's me putting in the practice I describe in the post, but the ability and the prodding all come from God. I absolutely contribute my writing skills to my post-college blogging. I wasn't a great creative writer in school. So after college, door upon door opened up for me to learn coding and blogging and now, 25+ years later of lots of hard work and lots of failures and very little monetary success...I was in the right place to write the protest book. God has an incredibly long time-span in many cases. I've always worked hard, and have yet to see any "immediate" success, or much worldly success at all. But everything has been in place so when God said "I want you to do this" the skills were tuned up and the knowledge of how to do it was in place, and I could obey. More often than not, we can't get to the big thing because we haven't obeyed in the small things we have to have in place.

Now that might seem like splitting hairs. Outwardly, it probably looks like I just sort of jump into stuff and do it and am motivated and so on to make it happen. People seem to think that, as they often say "Julie, you can do so many things, you do X well, you seem fearless about starting stuff."

I am telling you that I cannot. I am shy, withdrawn, introverted, melancholy -- all of this and more -- and I completely rely on God to make it happen. Am I willing to try, and to obey when he opens the doors? Sometimes, which is in these cases. Sometimes I back down and I'll never know what would have happened if I'd obeyed.

So I guess the outward appearance of what I'm describing and what some of these books describe is very similar, but inwardly, at least to me, they are very different. I do not go through the day, or even start the day, thinking about what I'll do and accomplish. I literally pray constantly "God, what next? What do you want me to do? How do I do that?"

It's very important to not think we have the power within. We don't. That's the lie. We have the ability to do all things *through Christ* and when we obey, things happen. In this way, all things I accomplish are not my doing, but God's doing. So, I can't write a book and tell you how to achieve what I have achieved (which, to be honest, is very little in the world's view), because I didn't do it. God did. And any attempt to attribute my, me, mine is the start of idolatry.

This all sounds very strange in today's culture. It sounds like cultural blasphemy!

I literally said "I cannot do anything" and somewhere, in thousands of elementary and middle schools across the nation, positivity posters just ignited on the walls and went up in massive flames and little kids are questioning their self-worth.*

We don't allow ourselves, or our friends, to say such a thing!

"You can do it!"
"Just do it!"
"If you dream it, you can achieve it!"
"You can do anything you set your mind to!"

I know this is baloney, because I've had a constant dream since I was 10 that I would be able to fly. Not in an airplane. Just me.

So no. No, you can't. We do and accomplish and become what God allows and as God directs, based on obedience and His will.

This gets messy when you have a victim culture, or a blaming culture where people don't take responsibility for the decisions they've made and the impact it has had on their lives. Such folks seem to need a kick in the pants, and so we try to motivate them by giving them tips and tricks to make new habits, get moving in a better direction, and make positive changes. That seems good. It is good, as far as results are concerned.

Except...in whose power do we do it?

We are a self culture. Self-help, self-made, self-starter, self-reliant, self-motivated. Our Christian leaders today speak in some of this terminology. Our founding fathers wrote a strong sense of self into our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. In my region of the country, having a strong personal work ethic is essentially considered a religion. Combine that with a culture in which our media and leaders bombard us with the need to constantly be in motion and helpfully motivate us to make positive changes by showing us all that we aren't, and you have an idol of self.

It matters for Christians to acknowledge where it all comes from. The outward results might seem the same whether we do or not, but I don't want to stand in front of God someday and try to explain why I took the glory that should have been his.

Random Dude: "Yeah, so I achieved that. I worked hard and I did that."

God (not really, but pretend it goes like this): "I put the idea in your head, I prodded you, I opened and closed doors, I gave you the energy, I introduced you to the people you needed, I gave you the skills, I opened your eyes...you did nothing outside of the way I made for you."

If it's obedience to God, the resulting glory is His. If it's my motivation, the resulting glory is mine.

If it's obedience to God, the actions might not always make sense to me. If it's my motivation, the actions are part of my plan and goals.

If it's obedience to God, my plan and goals aren't important. If it's my motivation, my plan and goals must be made important.


*That's the trick. If our self-worth comes from what we can do in our own power, when we lose our job, lose a sale, lose a competition, miss the mark, or fail at whatever, we question our worth. When our self-worth is in what Christ has done and is doing in us, those kinds of blows don't stick. I trust God with my success and failure, and believe His plan is good. Total win.