"Perish Every Fond Ambition"

This morning, a nice, folksy version of this hymn called “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken” came on my Pandora, caught my attention, and got stuck in my head. So, I’m writing about it.

Verse 1:
“Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow thee.
Destitute, despised, forsaken, thou from hence my all shall be.
Perish every fond ambition, all I’ve sought or hoped or known.
Yet how rich is my condition! God and Heaven are still my own.

From Verse 3:
“Go, then earthly fame and treasure! Come, disaster, scorn, and pain!
In thy service, pain is pleasure. With thy favor, loss is gain.
I have called thee ‘Abba, Father.’ I have set my heart on thee.
Storms may howl and clouds may gather. All must work for good to me.”

School is starting all over the place for students of all ages, including myself. This is the time of year when we often make ambitions, join activities, run for elected positions, and apply for internships and jobs. We often enter degree programs hoping that their outcome will be more “earthly fame and treasure” (which might sound more like “credentials” and “salary” in modern parlance).

Then, this song goes and says that if all my ambitions were to die I would be rich, and if all my credentials and salary were to go away that would be a gain.

Whoa. What? Why is loss a gain?

Because, even if we don’t get our ambitions we have “God and Heaven.” Even if we don’t get earthly fame and treasure we have “Abba, Father.”     

Both Jesus and the apostle Paul described this dynamic long before songs with convoluted grammar were written about it. He wrote to the Philippians: “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ  Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:7-9).

What does this have to do with starting the school year? Well, sometimes I think I can have “a righteousness of my own” that comes from my grades or résumé or any number of other sources (Phil. 3:9). I get one A on a paper, it feels good, so I focus on getting another one and thus get into a righteousness-of-my-own feedback loop. Eventually, though, I’m going to get a B, the feedback loop will be broken, and the resulting cognitive dissonance between expectation and reality will likely be discouraging. However, life could look like this: I seek to acknowledge my imperfection and God’s perfection, it feels good (feels weird comparing the goodness of good grades to the goodness of a good God, but we’re gonna let that go for a sec), so I focus on doing that again and thus get into a righteousness-from-God feedback loop. And the kicker? A righteousness-from-God feedback loop can never be broken (Hebrews 7:27, 13:8).

Ambitions, credentials, and salaries are inherently perfectly fine things. But what if they were to perish? Would you be able to say “how rich is my condition!”? I can’t always. But I’d like to try it this semester.

So, here goes: No matter what grades I do or don’t get, no matter what grad programs I do or don’t apply to, no matter what my parents/professors/mentors/friends think…those things are nothing compared to “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). In light of that, indeed, “how rich is my condition!”

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