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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Are You Valuable?

I hate being rejected. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world. When I get rejected, I feel like I’m nothing more than a piece of garbage that’s been thrown out to the curb. Sooner or later, the garbage man is going to come along to pick me up.

I first began to understand what it felt like to be rejected when I was in fourth grade. My teacher, Mrs. Montgomery, was a member of the same church as me, which of course was pretty exciting for me. So I took the liberty of making sure everyone in the class was aware of it too.

Needless to say, some of the other kids in my class didn’t respond well. They started calling me “Teacher’s Pet” and a host of other names which I have thankfully forgotten. But I’ll never forget the feelings of rejection I experienced that year.

When I feel rejected, it feels like a dagger has just struck my heart. Whether I want to or not, I take rejection very personally, even on simple things like asking a friend if he wants to go to lunch. That’s why I could never be a salesman.

Hopefully you don’t experience these same feelings, but based on my observations, it seems like a lot of people, like me, struggle with feeling rejected. And if you’re like me, then your feelings of rejection are almost always accompanied by feelings of worthlessness. For me, those two feelings are so interrelated that when I feel one of them, I always feel the other as well.

What Makes Something Valuable?

Let’s say you’re on a mission to buy five bananas, so you go to the grocery store. When you find the bananas in the produce section, you’re not going to buy the first five you see. Instead, you’re going to look over the bananas to find five that look like they meet your expectations.

Let’s say you come across a banana that’s brown and is growing white fuzzies. What are you going to do? Are you going to pick it up or pass over it just like everyone else who came before you. Of course you’re going to pass over it. Why? Because it has no value to you. If you’re like me, brown bananas with white fuzzies aren’t good for anything; the best place for them is in the garbage can.

Let’s dig even deeper here. What makes a brown banana with white fuzzies different from a yellow banana? Well, the difference is that a yellow banana meets a need whereas a brown banana with white fuzzies doesn’t.

Does it only work this way with bananas, or does it work this way with all food? It seems to me that it works this way with all food. Food which meets our needs is going to have value to us whereas food which doesn’t meet our needs isn’t going to have value. The more needs the food meets, the more valuable it is. That’s why we’re willing to pay an exorbitant amount of money for a steak from Mitchell’s Steakhouse, but wouldn’t even dream of paying that much money for a steak from Meijer.

Taking another step back, don’t we find that it works this way with everything in life? I’d say so. We’re willing to pay more money for a Chevy Camaro than for a Ford Focus because the Camaro meets our needs better than the Focus. We’re willing to spend money on indoor plumbing because it meets our needs better than a hole with a shack out back. We’re willing to spend more money to buy a large flat-screen TV rather than continue using the old tube TV because it meets our needs better.

It seems that value is directly connected to need-meeting. The things which are most valuable to us are the things that best meet our needs.

What Makes Someone Valuable?

Can we apply this same principle to people? Is the value we assign to people based upon their ability to meet our needs? Since many of you reading this article live in corporate America, let’s answer this question by taking a look at what makes someone valuable to a business.

Let’s say there was a job opening for a Project Manager at Turner Construction Company where I used to work. What type of person would Turner want to hire? They’d probably want to hire someone with either a civil engineering or construction management degree who has five to ten years of related experience.

Why would they want applicants to have those two credentials? Because they think someone with those credentials is going to be able to perform the job well. Therefore, a person with a civil engineering or construction management degree who also has five to ten years of related experience would be valuable to Turner Construction. On the other hand, a person who has just graduated from college with a creative writing degree is not going to be valuable to Turner Construction.

What’s the difference between the two people in my example? The difference is that one of the people is going to be much more likely than the other one to help Turner be profitable. In the same way that value in the food world is assigned by its need-meeting abilities, value in the corporate world is also assigned by a person’s ability to meet the needs of the company.

What about in our personal lives? Is value assigned in the same way? As much as I don’t like admitting it, it seems like many times the most valuable people in our lives are the ones who meet the most of our needs. A general exception to this rule is a family member who is really sick, but even when we care for that person, we can be doing what we do because it meets our need to feel needed or our need to care for people who are less-privileged than us. I’m not saying we always place value on people only because they meet one or more of our needs, but on the whole, it seems the most valuable people to us are people who meet some of our needs.

Can We Lose Our Value?

Have you ever thought about what your employer would do if you were unable to continue performing your job? Would your employer continue to keep you on the payroll just because they like you, or would your employer get rid of you? Most likely, your employer is going to get rid of you.

In my mind, this concept makes complete sense, but this reality is extremely difficult for me to swallow. No fiscally smart business owner is going to employ someone just because he likes the person. The only reason businesses keep people employed is because of what they can do for the business.

I think the best example of this can be found in the world of professional sports. In 1990, Jaromir Jagr was selected fifth overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins. For years he’s been one of the NHL’s premier players. But now at the age of 45, he’s still on the free agent market. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still a great hockey player, but he’s no longer able to contribute the way he used to. The NHL general managers apparently believe he’s no longer a valuable asset to have on their teams.

Whether we want to accept it or not, every one of us is going to experience the same thing one day. If you’re young like me, you may feel valuable because you can do lots of different things that are valuable for other people and businesses, but one day you’re not going to be able to do all this stuff anymore. You’re going to get wrinkles. Your body is going to wear out. Your memory may even start to escape you. What’s going to happen then? Are you still going to be valuable to the people around you?

Can We Increase Our Value?

When I was rejected by some of the kids in my class back in fourth grade, I began trying to prove to them that I was, in fact, valuable. I wanted to show them that I was worth accepting rather than rejecting. But what could I do to prove my worth to them?

The solution I landed on was to try to emulate someone like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs who ran successful businesses. “If I could become a wealthy, honored, and influential business owner, then,” I thought, “they will think I’m valuable.” So I began working my butt off to get straight A’s, a feat which I achieved for the first time in my life during the final quarter of my fourth grade year. I thought to myself, “I finally got all A’s; now they’ll accept me.”

In my excitement, I ran up to seemingly every person in my class to tell them the good news. I thought everyone would have an immediate change of heart and begin to accept me…but they didn’t. My classmates’ rejection continued to follow me all through my grade school years. But that didn’t stop me from continuing to try to earn the approval of everyone around me.

Once I graduated from college, I began my career as a young Field Engineer (a glorified title for a project manager in training) at Turner Construction. A year and a half later, I switched jobs and began working as a Project Engineer (another glorified title) at Marathon Petroleum.

In both of these jobs, I continued my pattern of trying to prove my worth to the people around me. I attempted to demonstrate over and over again why I was a valuable asset to these companies.

Then I left Marathon to go work as the Director of Operations at the church Amy and I attended. When our Senior Pastor resigned three months later, I stepped in as the interim until we were able to hire a new Senior Pastor. It was here that things began taking a drastic turn.

When our Senior Pastor left, he didn’t leave on the best terms. And his explanation of why he was leaving was filled with a multitude of unanswered questions, both for us on the leadership team and for the congregation. Over the course of the next six months, our congregation size continued to shrink and shrink until we were left with only about the number of people we started with.

Even though it may seem like I shouldn’t have felt rejected when all these people left the church, I did. I felt like they were rejecting me personally. So I continued trying to do what I knew to do: prove my value to them so that they wouldn’t leave. Yet, no matter how hard I tried, they continued to slowly walk out the door. It was at this point that I really began to understand where my value really comes from and the secret to retaining it.

The Secret to Retaining Our Value

Whose assessment of your value holds the most weight for you? Your parents? Your friends? Your boss? Your coworkers? Your classmates from elementary school? Church people? The random person who says you’re a piece of crap? Now ask yourself another question: Do any of these sources actually have the authority to assign you value?

Did people like my fourth grade classmates actually have the authority to determine my value? They seemed to think they did. But did they really? Or were they simply overstepping their boundaries?

In the same way, I ask you to consider the same question with the people in your life who are trying to determine your worth. Do these people actually have the authority to determine your value, or are they doing nothing more than overstepping their boundaries?

When I was in the midst of feeling rejected by some of the people at our church, God showed me something which was completely groundbreaking for me: They, nor anyone else, have the authority to determine my value. Many different people, including me, can try to determine my worth, but their opinion doesn’t hold any weight to God. My opinion doesn’t even hold weight to God. He is the sole appraiser of my value. If he says I’m valuable, then I’m valuable. If he says I’m not valuable, then I’m not valuable. It’s really that simple.

But my transformation wasn’t done yet. God now had the challenging task of helping me to understand why I was valuable to him. For many years, I thought God operated like us in that I would only be valuable to him if I met some of his needs. So naturally, I’d spent years doing a host of need-meeting activities for God. I was reading my Bible every day, praying every day, going to church every Sunday, serving in countless ministry roles through my local church, and serving “needy” people in my community. This is where he showed me yet another groundbreaking discovery: He doesn’t have any needs.[1]

Think about that for a minute. God doesn’t have any needs. This was a major problem for me because if God doesn’t have any needs, then there’s nothing I could do to become valuable to him. Yet he says over and over again that there are people who are valuable to him. What makes these people valuable? This is where God once again showed me another groundbreaking truth: He has chosen to assign value to his people, not because of anything they do, but simply because he chose to do it.[2]

Let me put it in more practical terms: Nothing you do–no hand raising, prayer praying, aisle walking, self-righteous actions, etc.–can give us more value in God’s eyes.[3] How could they if the value he assigns to us isn’t based upon anything we do?

I don’t know about you, but this knowledge gives me a great sense of assurance and peace. If God assigns value based upon his sovereign will and not as a result of something I do to earn it, then I never have to worry about potentially losing my value when I lose my ability to meet the needs of some pie-in-the-sky, less-than-sovereign deity.[4] God will never look at me the way the NHL general managers look at Jaromir Jagr.

Lastly, if God assigns us value based on a decision he makes, then there’s also nothing anyone else can do to take my value away. They can try all they want, but they’re going to fail every single time because they don’t have the authority to determine my value. Only God has that authority. This is great news!

So are you valuable? Only God knows the answer to that question. But one thing I can say is that if you belong to God, then you are valuable to him, not because you did anything to earn it, but simply because he says so. And if he says so, then it’s true because he is truth.[5] If this is you, then you don’t need to listen to all those other people who are trying to tell you how worthless (or valuable) you are; they don’t have the authority to make that determination.

[1] The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. – Acts 17:24-25
[2] When Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad–in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls–she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” – Romans 9:10-13
[3] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9
[4] All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. – John 6:37-39
[5] Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6

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