If you have ever read a self-help book, been on a personal development programme or been to California, you will have heard a prevalent idea expressed about human potential. The idea is related to a view of limitless power residing within the individual. Examples of phrases used to describe it are: “you can be whatever you want to be”; “there is nothing that can stop you if you follow your path with all your heart”; “if you put your mind to it, the sky’s the limit”. Behind this thinking is a belief in the all-conquering nature of the indomitable human spirit.
There are some very expensive training courses out there which peddle this view and there are a number of high profile speakers who’ve made a lot of money encouraging people to see themselves as superheroes.
There is even a Christian version of it, based on “being able to do all things in Christ”. The problem with this is that it doesn’t pass the reality test. Try to be whatever you want to be and you may not be it. A 45 year-old, overweight man, may fervently want to play football for Brazil but his age, weight, footballing skills and British citizenship may get in the way. No amount of fervent wanting will realise the untapped potential. A 75 year-old grandmother may dream of fronting a rock band with its accompanying fame, fortune and adulation but without some basic musicality, energy and opportunity this is unlikely to happen.
The irony is that the 45 year-old man and the 75 year-old grandmother have probably realised this, but we continue to advocate this arrogant, expensive nonsense to younger generations.
The result is a self-absorbed, self-reliant behaviour style which partially blinds us to the need we have to live and work hand-in-hand with God. If the lie can partially blind us for long enough, we reach the middle and later years having attempted the impossible of realising our potential, believing it limitless. When the lie is finally exposed, years when the energy levels were highest have been sacrificed on the altar of self-centredness.
“Do not think of yourself”, according to the highly talented Saul of Tarsus, writing to Christians in the incredibly powerful city of Rome, “more highly than you ought”. His arguments were earthed in using measures of faith, humbly using the gifts and kindness of God for the benefit of others in a spirit of generosity. It is not that we should avoid excellence, ambition or dreams. We are not called to mediocrity or laziness but it is important to recognise that self-reliance will drive us away from God. Being driven away from God is to be driven away from the power and energy required to enable us to reach our potential. Perhaps it would be wise to remember that fulfilling potential can only be measured by what matters to God, which will be deep and fulfilling but not necessarily conventional.
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