Keeping an ideal from becoming an ordeal

May 13th, 2011 · by Tom Stuart · Overcoming

The joke is told of the young couple who entered into their marriage looking for the ideal, discovered it was an ordeal and ended up wanting a new deal.  Unfortunately whether it is a relationship, a job, a home, a purchase or some project, all too often our pursuit of the ideal can end up just like this marriage – becoming an ordeal in search of a new deal.  It is this common pattern of regression, from ideal to ordeal, that produces so many unfulfilled expectations in our lives.

Sadly, unfulfilled expectations are toxic to faith and idealism.  They tempt us to give up on our ideals and to stop dreaming.  In the process they discourage us from hope and perseverance, in making a better life for ourselves and for those we love.

Here are three ways to keep your pursuit of the ideal from becoming an ordeal.  They are based on biblical principles from the teachings of Jesus.

1. Don’t capitalize the “i” in ideal.   If you make “I” the first letter of Ideal you may be in for trouble.  We need to be sure that the things we pursue are not merely our own, but more importantly that they are God’s.  The secret to success is to set aside the big “I” and subordinate it along with our will and our ideals to God.  When we keep the “i” appropriately lower case in ideal, we put God’s glory first and foremost, and even the glory of others before our own.

Sometimes we suffer from unfulfilled expectations because our ideals or standards for things are higher than God’s.  That is when the big “I” causes us to cross the line from idealistic to unrealistic.  Unrealistic expectations will always lead to unfulfilled expectations.  That is one of the pitfalls an idealist must be careful not to fall into.

The dreams we dream and the investment of our lives in pursuing them, must be conceived by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus’ rebuke when Peter sought to impose his own will instead of God’s should be a sober warning to us.  “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men!”  (Mark 8:33)  Make sure the ideals you pursue are the things that God has in mind for you.  It is our self-centered, self-willed and self-generated ideals that invariably end up becoming our ordeals.

2.  Count the cost before pursuing the ideal.  Pursuing ideals is costly.  They take a commitment of time, energy, money and talent.  How many times have you said, “If I had known how costly this was going to be I would never have started it.”?  Pursuing ideals takes a toll upon our lives so we must be certain that they are God’s ideals (see point #1 above) and that we understand what it will take to reach them. 

Jesus clearly spells out this cost-counting principle in His teaching on discipleship.  He emphasizes its necessity by using the analogy of counting the cost before building a tower or going to war. (Luke 14:25-33)   In both instances He says you must “first sit down and count the cost.”   

We must pay attention to the phrase “first sit down.”  This is absolutely critical advice before pursuing any ideal.  Cost counting must begin by sitting!  That means sitting in God’s presence, resting in Him, waiting upon Him, praying for wisdom and placing the entire weight of the project on Him as well.  Sitting is a picture of entering into the rest of faith. (Hebrews 4:3, 9-11)   Let us be careful in our cost counting to be sure we acknowledge that it is only by faith, with God’s grace that the ideals He sets before us will be reached.  Without them, nothing will be accomplished.  (John 15:5 & Hebrews 11:6)

Finally, it is wise to communicate your cost counting conclusions to those affected by the pursuit of your ideals.  Unspoken expectations are fertile soil for the weeds of unfulfilled expectations.  Share your expectations and encourage them to share theirs.   The cost counting process is never complete until everyone affected is in the loop. 

 3. Persevere even when God’s ideal looks like an ordeal.  The pursuit of God’s ideals in our lives takes perseverance.  Seldom do they come easily and initially they often look more like an ordeal than an ideal.  Jesus promised that if we ask, seek and knock with persistence the Father will grant us our request.  But He gives us a clue that for a time, the bread we dream about may look like a stone and the fish we desire may look like a snake. (Matthew 7:7-11)  And so in hope, we must hold onto what appears to be a stone or a snake, and trust that eventually they will turn into the ideal gifts we seek.  God is faithful, but we must persevere in faith trusting that what He promised He will do.  You may find yourself in an ordeal right now but hang on, He will turn it into an ideal in His timing and in His way.

Don’t let the fear of an ordeal keep you from pursuing your ideal.

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