Worth vs. Ability: There is a difference

It is the first day of a new year, and you can tell by looking at social media. Twitter and Facebook are clogged up with quick motivational messages and reminders to make 2014 the best year of your life.

These messages may be sentimental, and some are spot on. However, a constant thread runs though most, and I am not convinced it is a good one.

We no longer know the difference between worth and ability.

Instead, we live in a society that seems to measure worth by ability. This is why these self-actualization messages in social media are so prominent. “Make you a better you!” is the chorus our culture sings to itself. These cute Instagram pictures and clever tweets are meant to inspire one on to fulfill their dreams, but we need to be slow to accept every sweet message stamped across an Instagram photo as good advice.

Ironically, when we trust in such false promises the result is unmet expectations and a life of dissatisfaction. Well-intentioned sayings of misguided hope establish a unrealistic expectation in the head and heart of the one who believes them. Every nice-sounding quote is not true, and even when they sound like they should give hope, they may only bring hurt in the long run.

Sitting at the heart of this worldview is the concept that ability is the measure of worth. Now this may be a true concept when it comes to some things. A hammer’s ability to drive a nail does, in fact, determine its worth. However, humans and hammers are very different things. Born inside of humanity is an intrinsic worth. Most of us believe that too, or at least we say we do.

However, when it comes to the way we live our lives and the messages we believe, our culture sings a different song. In this arena, ability rules the day and we base our life goals, decisions, and self-worth off of our perception of our ability. With that said, consider the definition of ability. In essence, ability is someone’s proficiency at achieving success. If someone achieves success, it is because they were able to do so.

Success is a slippery concept today. It looks different to different people. Some consider money a measure of success, others popularity, fame, happiness, getting married, being debt-free, raising a big family, or being thought of as an authority in some field. Success is a badge placed on all kinds of things today. However, culture is quick to convince us that our worth is defined by our ability to achieve whichever concept wears that badge of success in our mind.

The quickest way to an empty life is to believe this lie.

Yet, look no further than your Facebook feed to see a steady stream of reminders that your worth depends on your ability. It is obvious in the memes that tell us to follow our dreams in order to find happiness. It is subtle in the albums of dream vacations that everyone goes on except you. Have you ever noticed how wonderful everyone else’s life looks on Facebook? Ever wondered why yours was not the same?

When we look for our value in our ability, we will always come up lacking. Fact is, we are not perfect. I am not and you are not. And that idea of success laid out across your computer screen is a myth. Furthermore, it is one that you can never reach. Even if you do achieve a level of success in one of those areas I mentioned above, it will not be enough. There is no end to that road. The more money someone makes, the more they feel they need to make. Even that gold medal olympian gets replaced in a few years. These hopes that culture tempts you to follow are hollow and fleeting.

The gospel, and only the gospel, speaks a better word. The truth found in the good news of Jesus Christ is the only way to find worth despite our inability. This good news is the source of true joy. The gospel is very quick to point out our lack of ability. Unlike the world around us, unlike our well-intentioned friends and the memes they post on social media, the gospel is honest with us about who we are. It tells us that we cannot, and will not, achieve success, at least not as culture defines it.

However, it does not simply crash our hopes of ability. It displays our full worth in a way ability never could. For in the gospel, we see the most valuable being in the universe condescend to rescue us from our inability. Our worth comes not from what we can do, but what has been done for us. The God of all creation gave up heaven for a stable and exchanged his throne for a cross, so that he may reclaim what was lost in our inability. He won the battle because we could not, and did so at an unimaginable cost. I challenge you to find a higher statement of worth than this.

So, believer, find joy in your inestimable worth despite your inability. And for those who cannot call Christ their Lord, know that the success you are chasing cannot bring you peace. Instead, find your worth in Christ and trust in his ability instead of your own.

One Comment

  1. Carol Nicholson said:

    Thanks, Keelan. We often compare our insides to everyone ele’s outsides, not realizing their troubles, difficulties or insecurities, as we know our own. Your point is well taken that we cannot do or give enough to succeed, but Christ’s sacrifice made success in God’s world possible for us. We belong because of Him. I thank God for His marvelous gifts to us, every day! Love, Carol

    January 11, 2014
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