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The Search for Significance

I am significant! If I were to leave this world today, it would be a poorer place tomorrow. Yes, I am confident that I’m a person of significance.

Is this your conviction?

Like a bright light switched on during a peaceful slumber, I have experienced a harsh awakening over the last several months.

Were you to have asked me a year ago if I believed I was a significant person, I would not have hesitated. "Absolutely!" And following that would have been a carefully mixed potion of reality and rationalization. "I just returned from a leadership conference where I spoke to world leaders on…. I just completed the third book in a trilogy for…. I was able to take advantage of zero-percent financing and…. Over the last 14 years, the organization has averaged 19.8% growth each year and reached…. Dr. Smith, the Chairman of the department, believes the initiatives I have asserted are cutting edge…."

Do you see anything noteworthy about the above paragraph? While it is true that each of the above represents something significant, it is also true that each of the above could be gone tomorrow. And what is also sobering is that I have not yet mentioned the things many consider their real security blankets. If we should we find ourselves in full retreat in order to protect our sense of significance, our wives, children, retirement accounts, husbands, life-long friends, the church, and faith are our fallback position.

But the hard truth is these entities could be gone tomorrow as well. And yes, I intended to put "faith" in the list of things you could find yourself without tomorrow. I have consoled myself—just as Job did, and perhaps you as well—that while all else appeared to have turned to dust, I still have my faith. And while voicing self-consolation, I stare into the intoxicating fog of my own belief, my own integrity, my own determination, and my own self-assuaging comfort. Yes, this faith could be gone tomorrow, and the question of significance will still be awaiting a definitive answer.

What makes me different? What gives me importance? What makes me distinct? What is there that tells me without equivocation that God loves ME? I know He loves the world, but what assurance do I have that He loves me, not as part of a collective, but He loves me, for me, because I am me?

What gives me significance? I re-read a friend’s Christmas letter after dinner recently. I felt envy, jealousy, and bitterness. By his account, the world has opened up for him, his vision is blossoming, and his family is energized. How come him, and not me too—and perhaps you as well?

I left the house late that evening to walk and find solitude among the neighborhood streets. I took my identity in Christ, those things I know are true of me, I examined them, and then I carefully replaced them in the vault of my heart. Indeed, they are a treasure of inestimable value. But knowing that I am accepted, loved, sanctified, justified, and redeemed does not provide a complete answer to my haunting question: Am I significant?

Certainly this treasure lays the foundation, but the fact is, the entire body of Christ is accepted, loved, sanctified, justified, and redeemed. Therefore, we are significant! But that wasn’t the question. The question was, am I significant?

I also acknowledged my many accomplishments, deeds of service, talents, thousands of books sold, enough close friends to carry my coffin should I die, and a wife who loves me beyond sanity. In these ways, I am a rich and blessed man. I carefully examined them, and then replaced my accomplishments on the shelf in my heart’s vault.

But these did not provide the answer I sought either. For all of the generosity, loyalty, self-sacrifice, and admiration endued within these treasures, they could be gone before I arrived back at the house. As fine as my accomplishments are, they are insufficient to establish without equivocation that I am significant. I turned around inside my heart’s vault and noted a conspicuous absence. There was still no answer to my question: Am I significant?

But as I walked through the neighborhood, thoughts began to form. There is no one who occupies the place where I am. There is no one who has the same opportunity to trust Christ, or deny Him, as I have at this moment. There is no other me. No one can be where I am, see exactly what I see, or live the moment that is mine right now. No one else has the choice before them that I have this moment.

And I realize, that is my answer. In His infinite capacity, God is focusing the entire scope of all that is perceptible and imperceptible on the singular moment of right now. And the next moment He will do exactly the same thing. And He will do the same again in the moment after that one, and then again. And with each moment, I have the opportunity to respond.

Paul held as his highest calling to know Christ (Phil. 3:10a), and he captures the force of opportunity before us in Galatians 5:16. Literally rendered, he writes, "But I say, walk by the Spirit this moment, and in each successive moment, and you will not, by no means, carry out the desire of the flesh." My choice is clear.

I can lose my focus and stare into the incongruous space created by own efforts to obtain significance, but I have trod that path before. The dogs of envy, jealousy, bitterness, and pride chase me when I choose that course. Or, I can focus my attention on the moment I have with Father. I can listen to His thoughts, gather His perspective about the creativity He has infused into this situation, and capture enough of the genius of His ability to focus solely upon me—while juggling the same for you—that I can appreciate the significance I have with you and apart from you.

No one else has the moment that is before me. No one else has exactly the same treasure trove stored in his heart that I do. No one occupies exactly the same space I occupy. No one sees exactly what I see and interprets it exactly as I interpret it. Therefore, no one brings to this moment the potential I bring to walk with Father right now. No one else, given my uniqueness, has the same force as me to say, "My determined purpose is to know Christ, to walk with Him this moment, and resolve to do the same should He grant me another moment after this one, and capture His perspective on this situation in life" (Paraphrase of Phil. 3:10 and Gal. 5:16).

Said another way, my significance is found in being with Father God right now. I alone have this moment to be with Him and find my significance wrapped up entirely in our isolation together. And you have your moment, this very one, to do exactly the same.

I have spent much of my life measuring my significance by other’s standards and accomplishments. Attempting to be what others expect of me I have devalued my true significance. I have sacrificed the magic of being with Father in the moment for the labor of grasping at an illusive significance in the future.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Now it is your turn. What makes you significant?

Preston Gillham

About the Author

As a co-founder, Preston Gillham led Lifetime for 30 years. Preston is a writer, speaker, and leadership guide. He has authored numerous articles and several books including No Mercy and Battle for the Round Tower. He blogs on “Life and Leadership”. More about Preston, his writings, speaking, and his consulting practice can be located at PrestonGillham.com.