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Donna Morley on the Significant Life

Interviewer: Debra Peppers of the Debra Peppers Show at KJSL-AM in St. Louis, Missouri

DEBRA: There’s a lot of talk today about how to feel significant. How does your approach in the book differ from most of the popular views that tell us how to attain it?

DONNA:     There have been a lot of effort over the years, including within Christianity, to make people feel more significant, by raising their self-  esteem for example. And, despite the fact that a lot of people have embarked on the “esteem” journey they have yet to reach their destination. The advice they navigated by said only to think more highly of themselves while ignoring their genuine shortcomings and personal limitations. But groundlessly puffing ourselves is really a form of self-deception.

The book helps the reader rely on the sufficiency of Scripture and discover what God thinks of us, the significance we already have in His eyes apart from our achievements. Now, positional significance is to be our foundation in the book for building certain character traits by which we can, through God’s strength, also become significant in the unfolding of His will. This is called practical significance. Our concept of ourselves must be formed not by putting on rose-colored glasses and looking within ourselves, but by looking to God and seeing in His eyes our reflection, which includes who we now are by His grace and who we can become through His power.

DEBRA:      What are the wrong ways people seek significance?

DONNA:     We can wrongly get our sense of value or worth from focusing on our appearance, or from what other people think of us--or from how we perform in life. These things hunger for personal affirmation. And, feeding off the affirmation of others can do strange things to us. Not only does it allow us to be controlled by what we continually guess others think of us but it tempts us to be continually dissatisfied with ourselves.

For instance, in regard to our appearance, we can end up becoming a slave to our own image. We can strive to lose weight and exercise like mad, not because we want to be healthier, but because we want the approval of others. All too often this leads to deeper insecurity. Why? Because once the affirmation dies down (and it always does), we will most likely feel worse about ourselves and go back to our old eating patterns and sedentary life.

I have discovered that personal affirmation can be a special gift from God when it comes to us from others and based on our character, our choices in life, and our ministry to others. We can thank God for the kind words we may receive from others as we serve Him. But its nearly impossible to feel affirmed when we get compliments on our physical appearance. That is because God is the artist, and He deserves the credit for the way He made us. Scripture compares Him to a skilled potter, and we are told we have no right to be critical of His work.

DEBRA:      There are a lot of women who don’t like themselves. They feel inadequate and would prefer to be someone else. What would you say to them?

DONNA:     Many of us think that others are better than we are, and we try to deal with the discomfort by desiring to be someone we are not. When we feel this way, we can think as little of ourselves as Mephibasheth who said to King David, “What is your servant, that you should regard a dead dog like me?” (2 Samuel 9:8).

Many of us simply feel we have nothing to offer. But this attitude only takes away our motivation to discover and appreciate the good and unique qualities God has given us and wants to further develop in us. In my book I talk about how we get into this sad state and how we can get out of it.

DEBRA:      For many women their sense of insignificance is tied to a fear of failure. How does your book help a woman who feels like a failure?

DONNA:     The book helps them by first showing the reasons why they may be fearing failure. It then discusses some of the behaviors that stem from having a fear of failure--or feeling like a failure. Lastly, it gives the women some things Scripturally to focus on...truths that will help them from fearing failure, or fear what others think in order to have a sense of self-worth.

DEBRA:      You make a statement in the book that is quite a paradox. You say, “Our true significance is grounded in our inadequacies.” Tell us how that works.

DONNA:     Many people could probably look at their lives, and all they see is their inadequacies. I think of David Brainerd who dropped out of Yale for awhile because of illness, but shortly after his return, he was expelled. This was probably a great humiliation for him. But, had he not been forced to leave school I doubt he would have become a missionary to Native Americans.

Paul adamately believed that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, and to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). This confidence helps us see God’s purposes where we might otherwise see failure. Faith that God can work in any circumstance (even with our inadequacies) helps us focus on ultimate spiritual victory. It’s a victory won in spite of and even through our inadequacies. In fact, consider this–Who we are potentially in Christ is founded upon God rescuing us from our sinfulness. Who we are practically in God’s plan is founded on personal inadequacies that God divinely empowers. In otherwords, we are significant for who we are in Christ--that’s our position. And, as God uses us in His plan we have practical significance as He--get this: takes our personal inadequacies and uses them--He empowers them--that is why we can say along with Paul the apostle, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5).

DEBRA:      You talk quite a bit about dignity. What’s the contrast between false and true dignity, and what is the secret for attaining a truly dignified life?

DONNA:     In the book I give a lengthy illustration of a friend named Farid (I changed his name) who is a part of a royal family in the Arab world, I talk about the day I shared Christ with him and his response.

He said to me, in a condescending tone, “Donna, Donna, Donna. I am already rich! I have everything I could possibly ever want. This Jesus of yours doesn’t even have the prestige I have in my homeland.”

Farid then started laughing, and in a high pitched tone with his Arabic accent, declared, “If I were to tell others that I have accepted this Christ of yours and that I have become some sort of ambassador for Him, I would become a laughing stalk, stripped of my reputation, robbed of my royalty, and treated worse than a ‘common’ man!”

Then in a nervous tone, Farid said, “No thanks, Donna, I have my dignity to think about.”

Little did Farid realize, I was offering him true dignity. It’s a dignity that reflect not earthly glory, but God’s own glory. All earthly glory derived from worldly nobility, reputation, and success is a false dignity. But the Lord offers us a dignity that will never fade because it is from God Himself. Bernard of Clairvaux said it well, “we are, but by His dignifying us, not by our own dignity.”

In the book, I show Paul’s own contrast between the true and false dignity and how true dignity works.

DEBRA:      Most Christians have heroes of the faith they admire. And yet, they feel there is no way they could ever have the kind of impact they had. What do you think?

DONNA:     From the beginning, God has taken what seem to be ordinary men and women and used them in extraordinary ways. They may have done very different things, using diverse gifts in various places on the globe, but it is likely that their lives had something in common--the traits that make for a significant life.

Now, had they simply sat on the beach all their life doing nothing other than enjoying life’s pleasures--they still would have had positional significance (who we are in Christ), but they would not have played a significant part in the plan of God.

If we want to have a significant part in God’s plan there are a few traits we must embrace. They are faithfulness; sacrifice, being salt and light; and having patience in the outworking of God’s plan. These topics and more are discussed at length in the book.

DEBRA:      What is the relationship between being significant and character?

DONNA:     Again, let me reiterate that we already have positional significance (who we are in Christ), but practical significance depends largely upon us whether we are going to be salt in this world--as well as--light. Jesus showed us practical significance when He said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:2).

This significance of being light has much to do with our character. There is a biblical Proverb that shows us this. In contrasts two very different lives. The first part of the Proverb encourages me, “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full of day” (Proverbs 4:18). The next verse is tragic, “The way of the wicked is like darkness; they do not know over what they stumble” (Proverbs 4:19).

Here we have human drama revealed. One is a godly life whose way is lighted, not just dimly, but brighter and brighter, as she stays to one path--the path of righteousness. The other person stumbles in life because righteousness is far from her; therefore, she lives in complete darkness. While the righteous can see the road ahead; the unrighteous can’t see even what’s in front of her and she stumbles.

“The path of the righteous” consists of all that is good, including truth, purity, joy, peace, and love. I discuss each of these character traits in the book, but let me just say, if we are weak in these areas, then our light is dim, and our character is weak. The weaker we are in character, the less we will guide anyone to the Lord. So growing in righteousness means growing in character before a watching world.