Chasing Ghosts

Recently I was sitting in a waiting room of a business establishment waiting for my appointment to take place when I picked up a Sports Illustrated magazine with a picture of LeBron James, the great basketball player, and a statement by him. He said, “My motivation is this ghost I’m chasing.”  As he tells in the article, the ghost is the person many people consider to be the greatest basketball player ever – Michael Jordan. In time, there will be others who will be in the lineup of the top five or top ten greatest players who ever lived, and the discussion has no solution as to who actually is the greatest because every one of the candidates played or will play at different times with a different cast around them and different opponents facing them.

At the present time, there are people who believe LeBron James may be the greatest professional basketball player, but even now there are competitors who other people would put up there and say that they are the greatest. Here’s the fact. This past year LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers through all the basketball wars of the regular season into the playoffs and into the seven games of the championship all the way to win the elusive championship and bring it to Cleveland. He has been on championship teams before, but this is kind of home territory to be in Cleveland. He was so proud and the city was so thrilled that their team won the championship. Without a doubt, LeBron James, this incredible athlete, took his team on his shoulders and at times just willed them to victory.

Whether you like him or not, whether you even know anything about him or not, he is a great player. Is he better than Michael Jordan when Jordan was in his prime? Who knows? Is he going to do things above and beyond the championships and the scoring that Michael Jordan did when he was the best known athlete on the planet? Who knows? Possibly, but it remains to be seen. Both men will go down in the archives of basketball legend as two of the finest athletes and finest basketball players to ever live.

LeBron James described Michael Jordan as a ghost he’s chasing, wanting to do above and beyond what Jordan did and win championships above and beyond what Jordan accomplished. LeBron is motivated not just to do his best but to try to catch up with a ghost. Reading his story, I thought about how many people I know who have gotten trapped by that same motivation and that same idea of a ghost in their lives. There are pastors and lay people, people in churches and people in neighborhoods, living their lives trying to catch some ghost that haunts them. Where do ghosts, these strange semi-appearances of people, come from? Well, for one thing they come from unrealistic expectations. For instance, there are pastors who are living with unrealistic expectations put on them by others and sometimes by themselves. Sometimes it comes from others in that people in the church talk so much about a previous pastor – who he was and what he did and give all kinds of accolades to him as though he was superhuman and lived every moment consumed with divine intellect. That pastor probably never knew while he was there at their church but now he has become a legend, if not in his own mind, in the minds of the people that he served, and they treat him with respect and appreciation that grows as the days go by.

What we sometimes don’t realize is that for many of us — well, let me say for me specifically – it took me a while to figure this out, but people seem to love me more after I’ve been gone a while. I mean, where I used to be the pastor, people think I’m really outstanding but generally speaking, the accolades where I was at the time were not so much. What I’m saying is we live in a world of unrealistic expectations. We think of people as being bigger than life, greater than anyone around, caring at every turn, and never having a bad day. The problem is not in the person who is presently leading the church. The problem is he can’t live up to the memories some people have.

Another place from which these ghosts come are our undiscovered expressions. What I mean by that is, God has put within each of us great qualities that may not be in another person and maybe we haven’t discovered them in ourselves. I don’t think Moses ever dreamed of being the great leader of Israel, bringing a nation together, crossing the Red Sea, and moving on to the Promised Land. How do you prepare for that?  How do you even think you could be the person that God could use to do that? Moses did what God asked him to do, to go to Pharaoh and to let God’s people know they needed to be delivered, but there he was with these undiscovered expressions in his life. Moses thought of himself a failure. He thought he was just a desert shepherd. He thought that would be what he would do the rest of his life, but God brought him to understand that the uniqueness of who he was and what he could do was what God was going to use.

Instead of chasing after ghosts, we need to come to understand we can only be who we are. That may sound simple, but you can only be who you are. If you try to be someone else, you won’t be who you are and you can’t be who they are, so find what God has placed within you and let God focus that, funnel that, and guide you to be the person that God wants you to be. You don’t have to chase after ghosts. You can let God show you what He wants to do through you. You don’t need to be afraid or run from ghosts. Second Timothy 1:7 is that great verse Paul writes to the young preacher and says, “God has not given us the spirit of fear…,” and He hasn’t. You don’t have to be afraid. Serve where you are with confidence that God put you there and can use you in ways that nobody else could be used in that particular time, in that particular way. While you don’t have to be afraid, you do need to run to God and surrender unto Him to be the best you that you can be.

It doesn’t matter where you look; you can find folks who have done great things who are not the greatest or the biggest or the best at almost anything. They don’t have to be. Neither do you. Just think about it. If you sang like Willie Nelson, you probably would have quit singing a long time ago and said, “Man, nobody will want to hear me,” but here is Willie after all these decades and world renown, still singing and still sounding the same way — and what an interesting and unique sound it is. God has given you a unique sound, a special giftedness, an unusual way to relate to people, and a call from God that He wants to use you in His kingdom work. Regardless of where you work day after day, God has a plan for you that overrides all of that and makes you the servant He needs you to be. You don’t have to chase after ghosts. You do have to yield to God. Just follow Him and the ghost will evaporate.

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Jim Futral

Executive Director-Treasurer