The Problem with Personal Potential

The fundamental motivation of the believer’s life must be “the will of God,” or the what-God-wants experienced through revelation from God. Some discussion has been given for many generations to the question of whether any motivation outside this fundamental motivation is spiritually healthy, proper, or acceptable, but no one with a serious understanding of the Scriptures would entertain the idea that God doesn’t have a specific personal “what-God-wants” for each of us.

It is also obvious that human beings often miss this fundamental motivation, ignore it, resist it, even denounce it even when at least some aspect of what God wants is painfully clear to them. Jesus faced this fundamental motivation head-on in Gethsemane: “Father, not as I will but as You will,” and chose the what-God-wants of His own destiny and purpose.

In the entire life of Christ, there was never a moment of personal potential that served as a motivation for His life and living. He lived entirely for purpose, and the purpose for which He lived, in His own words and declaration, was not pursuit of His potential or a purpose of His personal choosing. He lived a life submitted, consecrated, and perfectly obedient to His Father’s will.

The Bible clarifies that God has a specific purpose for each individual created, that God does nothing random or unintentional. The Bible reveals how men can know and recognize a revelation of His purposes for nations, generations, and individuals that these details are not obvious but is discoverable through the spirit.

The Problem with Personal Potential

By definition, “potential” includes nearly unlimited possibilities. When applied to personal destiny, potential is the vast ocean of possibility from which the believer must chose to prioritize his purpose. In other words, pursuing potential would contrary to God’s strategy for fulfilling personal destiny. What a person could do is the enemy of what a person should do.

I am fully aware that most good people do not think of “potential” in this way. They consider “potential” to be a pursuit of the highest and best in their lives. Yet, such a pursuit can be contrary to the what-God-wants for their lives. The term “potential” in many people’s minds means the “be all I can be” measurement of what they should be realizing and experiencing, the answer to “I could be doing more” and “I’m not there yet.” I understand that.

However, the Bible doesn’t define destiny in this way, and this definition falls short of God’s intentions. It serves as a substitute for the will of God. It allows a mixture of a what-I-want with the what-God-wants. It substitutes human wisdom and strength as a source and resource at the foundational level for grace and revelation.

Paul lived many years of his life in a substitute for the what-God-wants of his life. He lists the achievements his motivations produced. Then, he declares that all of them were valued as manure so that he could achieve a different standard of being right. He says, “I count everything as loss compared to possessing a more valued privilege of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have lost everything and consider it all to be trash.” All that time Paul was pursuing the being-right that the Law provided, he was actually already, from his mother’s womb, from conception and creation, a called apostle by purpose; yet, he lived by a different motivation unaware of his purpose.

The point is that “potential” is so vast it includes doing whatever we want with our lives: potential includes sinfulness, religion, idolatry, murder, and injustice, what Paul practiced thinking he was doing God a big favor in all these pursuits, including stoning Stephen. It was Paul’s potential because it was part of the vast ocean of possibilities he could pursue.

Even after Paul’s conversion, the “potential” required a difficult and strenuous process of filtration and specific selection. That is, as a believer Paul still had “potential” that was far from the what-God-wants for his life. The process was painful and progressive. Not until he had prepared for seventeen years was he ready to be presented and become accountable to the apostles for his apostolic calling.

Potential as Possibility

I could have been a concert pianist, a ballet dancer, a politician, an attorney, a surgeon, a drunk, a priest, or the owner of a Polish sausage factory. If I give myself to the pursuit, my potential would include so many possibilities that a list would fill a book. I could never be a woman or an Eskimo because my origins did not include these as possibilities, but I could have pursued ten thousand currents within the vast ocean of potential without ever discovering my purpose.

When, in fact, I did encounter my life’s work, I was of all men most surprised! While all my experiences with God had prepared me for it, I had never pictured myself as God pictured me. So tremendously distinct was this specialized destiny from my previous understanding and self-image, that nothing short of a spiritual earthquake could distinguish the what-God-wants for my life from the depths of possibility my potential provide.

The problem of personal potential is that only God who created personal potential can distinguish personal purpose within it. It is a problem because that revelation requires a strong, complete sorting out of misconceptions and substitutions for purpose. Something must become dung before that revelation can be defined.

Perils and Pain of Pursuing Personal Potential

Jesus told Paul that it was difficult for him to kick against the goads of the Spirit. The goads of the Spirit were the painful prods of God pointing Paul toward his purpose in the midst of his personal pursuit of potential. Paul’s “be all I can be” made him an enemy of the only One who could distinguish his purpose: “I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting.”

God made is painful for Paul to pursue potential. Oxen were motivated by their caretakers with a long wooden pole, flat on one end to help clean out hooves and pointed on the other to motivate the ox to move north by goading him from the south. The ox would attempt to kick the pointed goad away from the southern regions but such an effort was difficult because the caretaker was adapt at avoiding the kick and finding tender places! How well do you think Holy Spirit is at this?

Much of our evangelical history provides a vision of this “conviction of sin” reaching its end point in our conversion experience: God is working to get us saved. To our own hurt, our salvation experiences are seen as end points, and our next pursuit as new creations one of religious substitutes for personal purpose as erroneous and injurious as the previous substitutes: reaching religious potential is as painful and perilous as pursuing sinful potential according to the Bible.

Jesus arrived to free us from false pursuits of personal purpose: we cannot fulfill destiny through any other means than what Jesus Christ provides through the power of the Cross, the life of the Resurrection, the authority of His Ascension, and the restoration of His intercession! To achieve the proper motivations that will identify and fulfill our personal destiny we must learn obedience through the passion of our sufferings until we realize restoration, such restoration includes a glorified body available to us after His appearing. [We really do have a long way to go!]

Perils and Pain of Pursuing Personal Purpose

Paul describes this process as one of groaning to give birth, not of frustration, but of endurance. With respect even to the whole of Creation, a groaning to birth labors the very structures of the universe. With respect to the kingdom, this groaning requires a direct intervention by Holy Spirit Himself, sighs that only He can articulate because they lie beyond the reach of our limitations. [See Romans 8.]

Every aspect of this pursuit requires the overcoming of obstacles; often death-defying and miraculous breakthroughs alone can push us through to the next level. Bear fruit? Expect pruning. Loved by Father? Endure discipline. Walk in leadership? Endure difficulty. Great ministry door open? Encounter many adversaries.

So, there are perils and pains involved in pursuing personal purpose, but these are the pains and perils endured and overcome that make us the person who can pursue the purpose. In other words, the pain and peril of pursuing personal potential produce futility. Physical exercise profits little and is fleeting; it has little bearing on the pursuit of personal destiny beyond the pursuit of physical potential. God places a very high premium on fasting, and a meager mention to sculpting. Physical potential is very low on God’s priority list. [Not a knock on good physical health, but a proper measurement of priority and strategy; when the body becomes a project instead of a receiving the benefit of spiritual priority as God’s Temple, an improper measurement of success can limit our proper perspective of purpose. “I am feeling great!” therefore, I am.]

Spiritual exercise, however, is more consistent with the pursuit of personal purpose. Physical health as a benefit or by-product of spiritual health is the Biblical norm and better countenances the purpose of the body as God’s Temple.

According to Hebrews 5:8, we understand Jesus’ pursuit of His purpose to be about enduring obedience driven by passion. Understanding Jesus’ life in terms of “potential” would certainly miss the point of His purpose. “Potential” speaks of the strength or power within something or someone that basically means “possible.” In Jesus “potential” would be infinite but limited by choice to strategic purpose. Jesus never lived or acted by “possibility” but by purpose. In pursuing purpose through obedience, He was actually limiting what was “possible,” ignoring potential by prioritizing purpose; His purpose was not available to Him from His personality but from His purpose: “I delight to do Your will, O God.” Jesus reached His ultimate by obedience to Father’s purpose, not by pursuing potential.




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Dr. Don

Dr. Don

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