Driven or Called?

By Gordon MacDonald
Ordering Your Private World  pp. 28-61

Jesus Christ will not do mighty works in the private worlds of people who are driven. He never has. He seems to prefer to work with people whom He calls. And that is why the Bible knows nothing of volunteers, only the called.

In the exploration of the inner sphere of the person, one has to begin somewhere, and I have chosen to begin where Christ appears to have begun—with the distinction between the called and the driven. Somehow He separated people out on the basis of their tendency to be driven or their willingness to be called. He dealt with their motives, the basis of their spiritual energy, and the sorts of gratification in which they were interested. He called those who were drawn to Him and avoided those who were driven and wanted to use Him.

Identifying a Driven Person

How can you spot a driven person? Today it is relatively easy. Driven people show the marks of stress. Look for symptoms of stress, and you have probably found some driven men and women. I use the word driven because it describes not only the condition in which they are pursuing life, but also because it is descriptive of the way many of the rest of us are not facing up to reality of what we are doing to ourselves. Perhaps we are being driven toward goals and objectives without always understanding why. Or we may not be aware of the real cost to our minds, our bodies, and of course, our hearts. By heart I mean the one written about in Proverbs 4:23, that fountainhead from which comes the energy of life.

There are lots of driven people doing very good things. Driven people are not necessarily bad folk, although the consequences of their drivenness may produce unfortunate results. In fact, driven people often make great contributions. They start organizations; they provide jobs and opportunities; they are often very bright and offer ways and means of doing things that benefit many other people. But nevertheless they are driven, and one worries about their ability to sustain the pace without danger to themselves and others.

Can driven people be spotted? Yes, of course. There are many symptoms that suggest a person is driven. Among the ones I see most often are these:

1. A driven person is most often gratified only be accomplishment.
Somewhere in the process of maturation this person discovers that the only way he can feel good about himself and his world is to accumulate accomplishments.

2. A driven person is preoccupied with the symbols of accomplishment.
He is usually conscious of the concept of power; and he seeks to possess it in order to wield it. That means that he will be aware of the symbols of status: titles, office size and location, positions on organizational charts, and special privileges. There is generally a concern for one’s own notoriety when in a state of drivenness. Who, the driven person wonders, knows about what I am doing? How can I be better connected with the “greats” of my world? These questions often preoccupy the driven person.

3. A driven person is usually caught in the uncontrolled pursuit of expansion.
Driven people like to be a part of something that is getting bigger and more successful. They are usually on the move, seeking the biggest and best opportunities. They rarely have any time to appreciate the achievements to date. You can see this unfortunate principle in the pursuit of some careers. But you can also see it in the context of spiritual activity, for there is such a thing as a spiritually driven person who is never satisfied with who he is or what he accomplishes in religious work. And of course this means that his attitude toward those around him is much the same. He is rarely pleased with the progress of his peers and subordinates. He lives in a constant state of uneasiness and restlessness, looking for more efficient methods, greater results, deeper spiritual experience. There is usually no sign that he will ever be satisfied with himself or anyone else.

4. Driven people tend to have a limited regard for integrity.
They can become so preoccupied with success and achievement that they have little time to stop and ask if their inner person is keeping pace with the outer progress. Usually it is not, and there is an increasing gap, a breakdown of integrity… In the attempt to push ahead relentlessly, they lie to themselves about motives; values and morals are compromised. Because the goal is so important, they drift into ethical shabbiness.

5. Driven people often possess limited or underdeveloped people skills.
They are not noted for getting along well with others. They were not born without the capacity to get along with others, but projects are more important to them than people. Because their eyes are upon goals and objectives, they rarely take note of the people around them, unless they can be used for the fulfillment of one of the goals. There is usually a “trail of bodies” in the wake of the driven person. Where once others praised him for his seemingly great leadership, there soon appears a steady increase of frustration and hostility, as they see that the driven person cares very little about the health and growth of human beings. Colleagues and subordinates in the orbit of the driven person slowly drop away, one after another; exhausted, exploited, and disillusioned. Of the person we are most likely to find ourselves saying, “He is miserable to work with, but he certainly gets things done.”

6. Driven people tend to be highly competitive.
They see each effort as a win-or-lose game. And, of course, the driven person feels he must win, must look good for others. The more driven he is, the larger the score by which he needs to win. Winning provides the evidence that the driven person desperately needs that he is right, valuable, and important. Thus, he is likely to see others as competitors or as enemies who must be beaten—perhaps even humiliated—in the process.

7. A driven person often possesses a volcanic force of anger, which can erupt any time he senses opposition or disloyalty.
This anger can be triggered when people disagree, offer an alternative solution to a problem, or event hint at just a bit of criticism. The anger may not surface as physical violence. But it can take the form of verbal brutality: profanity or humiliating insults for example. The anger can express itself in vindictive acts such as firing people, slandering them before peers, or simply denying them things they’ve come to expect, such as affection, money, or even companionship.

8. Driven people are usually abnormally busy.
They are usually too busy for the pursuit of ordinary relationships in marriage, family, or friendship, or even to carry on a relationship with themselves—not to speak of one with God. Because driven people rarely think they have accomplished enough, they seize every available minute to attend more meetings to study more material, to initiate more projects.

This then is the driven person—not at entirely attractive picture. What often disturbs me as I look at this picture is the fact that much of our world is run by driven people. We have created a system that rides on their backs. And where that is true in businesses, in churches, and in homes, the growth of people is often sacrificed for accomplishment and accumulation.

In the Bible, few men typify the driven man better than Saul, the fist king of Israel. When Saul became king of Israel, he enjoyed too much immediate success. He spent little time pondering his need for others, engendering a relationship with God, or even facing his responsibilities toward the people over whom he ruled. The sign of a driven man began to appear. Saul became a busy man; he saw worlds he thought needed conquering. Thus when he faced an impending battle with the Philistines, Israel’s great enemy of the day, and waited at Gilgal for Samuel the prophet to come and offer the necessary sacrifices, he grew impatient and irritable when the holy man did not arrive on time. Saul felt that his timetable was being compromised; he had to get on with things. His remedy? Offer the sacrifice himself. And that is exactly what he did.

The result? A rather serious breach of covenant with God. Offering sacrifice was the kind of thing prophets like Samuel did, not kings like Saul. But Saul had forgotten that because he saw himself as being too important. From that time forward Saul found himself on the downhill track. “Now your kingdom shall not endure. The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). This is how most driven men end. Saul never came to grips with his drivenness by simply facing the inner rebukes God would have liked for him to have heard in his private world.

To the extent that we see Saul in ourselves, we have to work do in our private worlds. For an inner life fraught with unresolved drives will not be able to hear clearly the voice of Christ when He calls. The noise and pain of stress will be too great. Unfortunately, our society abounds with Sauls, men and women caught in “golden cages”, driven to accumulate, to be recognized, to achieve. Our churches, unfortunately, abound with these driven people as well. Many churches are fountains gone dry. Rather than being springs of life-giving energy that cause people to grow and to delight in God’s way, they become sources of stress. The driven man’s private world is disordered. His cage may be lavishly golden. But it’s a trap, inside there is nothing that lasts.

Driven people will never enjoy the tranquility of an ordered private world. Their prime targets are all external, material, and measurable. Nothing else seems real; nothing else makes sense. Let us be sure we understand that when we speak of driven people, we are not merely thinking of a highly competitive business person or a professional athlete. We are considering something much more pervasive than “workaholism”. Any of us can look within and suddenly discover that drivenness is a way of life. We can be driven toward a superior Christian reputation, toward a desire for some dramatic spiritual experience, or toward a form of leadership that is really more a quest for domination of people than servanthood. A driven person can be any of us.

Can the driven person be changed? Most certainly. It begins when such a person faces up to the fact that he is operating according to drives not calls. That discovery is usually made in the blinding, searching light of an encounter with Christ… To deal with drivenness, one must begin to ruthlessly appraise one’s own motives and values just as Peter was forced to do in his periodic confrontations with Jesus. The person seeking relief from drivenness will find it wise to listen to mentors and critics who speak Christ’s word to us today. The driven person may have some humbling acts of renunciation, some disciplined gestures of surrender of things—things that are not necessarily bad, but that have been important for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps the driven person will have to grant forgiveness to some of those who in the past never offered the proper kind of affection and affirmation, which may have led to the drivenness.

Paul the apostle in his pre-Christian days was driven. As a driven man, he studied, he joined, he attained, he defended, and he was applauded. The pace at which he was operating shortly before his conversion was almost manic. He was driven toward some illusive goal, and, later, when he could look back at his lifestyle with all of its compulsions, he would say, “It was worthless.”

Paul was driven until Christ called him. One gets the feeling that when Paul fell to his knees before the Lord while on the road to Damascus, there was an explosion of relief within his private world. What a change from the drivenness that had pushed him toward Damascus in an attempt to stamp out Christianity to that dramatic moment when, in complete surrender, he asked Jesus Christ, “What shall I do, Lord?” A driven man was converted into a called one.

Living as a Called Person

It is the quality of certitude for which we seek when we compare driven persons and called persons. Driven people are confident they have that quality as they forge ahead. But often, at the moment when it is least expected, hostile events conspire, and there can be collapse. Called people have strength from within, perseverance and power that are impervious to the blows from without.

Called men and women can come from the strangest places and carry the most unique qualifications. They may be the unnoticed, the unappreciated, the unsophisticated. Look at the men Christ picked: few if any of them would have been candidates for high positions in organized religion or big business. It is not that they were unusually awkward. It is just that they were among the ordinary. But Christ called them, and that made all the difference. Rather than living according to drivenness, some are drawn toward the beckoning hand of the calling Father. Such calls are usually heard within an ordered private world.

John the Baptist, a beautifully called man
John the Baptizer is a powerful example of a called man... He is a remarkable contrast to King Saul, the driven man. John seems to have had from the very beginning a vivid sense of destiny, the result of a heavenly assignment that came from deep within himself. One sees the contrast between Saul and John most vividly when their personal identities and their sense of vocational security were under attack. Saul, the driven man, reacted violently, lashing out against his perceived enemies when he became convinced that the preservation of his power and the survival of his position relied solely upon himself.

But John is another story. Watch him when the news comes that his popularity may be on the verge of serious decline. The account opens after John has introduced Christ to the multitudes and they have begun to transfer their affections to this “Lamb of God” (John 1:36). It is brought to John’s attention that the crowds, even some of his own disciples, are turning to Jesus, listening to His teaching and being baptized by His disciples. One gets the feeling that those who brought the news to John concerning the decline of his ratings may have hoped that they would get the chance to see John react negatively. But they didn’t.

”A man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, “I am not the Christ,” but “I have been sent before Him.” He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. And so this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:27-30).

Qualities of a Called Person

1. Called People Understand Stewardship
Notice John’s concept of stewardship. John thought like a steward, and that is the quality of a called person. The task of a steward is simply to properly manage something for the owner until the owner comes to take it back. John knew that the crowd leaving him for Christ was never his in the first place. God had placed them under his care for a time and now had taken them back. With John, that was apparently just fine. How different this is from the driven Saul, who assumed that he owned his throne in Israel and could do anything with it that he wished. When one owns something, it has to be held onto, it has to be protected. But John did not think of things that way. So when Christ came to command the crowds, John was only too glad to give them back.

John’s view of stewardship presents us with an important contemporary principle. For his crowds may be our careers, our assets, our natural and spiritual gifts, our health. Are these things owned, or merely managed in the name of the One who gave them? Driven people consider them owned; called people do not. When driven people lose things, it is a major crisis. When called people lose them, nothing has changed. The private world remains the same, perhaps even stronger.

2. Called People Know Exactly Who They Are
A second quality of calledness is seen in John’s awareness of his own identity. You will remember, he said to them, that I’ve told you often who I am not; namely, the Christ. Knowing who he was not was the beginning of knowing who he was. And John had no illusions of his personal identity. That had already been established in his inner world. By contrast, those whose private worlds are in disarray tend to get their identities confused. They can have an increasing inability to separate role from person. What they do is indistinguishable from what they are.

3. Called People Possess an Unwavering Sense of Purpose
A third look at John’s remarkable response to his interviewers will reveal that the prophet from the desert also understood the purpose of his activity as forerunner to Christ. To those who questioned him regarding his feelings about the growing popularity of the Man from Nazareth, he likened his purpose to that of the best man at a wedding… The best man is simply to stand with the groom, to make sure that all attention is riveted upon him. The best man would be a fool if in the middle of the wedding processional he suddenly turned to the wedding guests and began to sing a song or engage in a humorous monologue. The best man has fulfilled his purpose most admirably when he draws no attention to himself but focuses all attention upon the bride and groom… That was the purpose that flowed from John’s call, and he had no desire to aspire to anything beyond.

4. Called People Understand Unswerving Commitment
Finally, John, as a called man, understood the meaning of commitment. “He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30), he said to those who had queried about his attitude. No driven person could ever say that, because driven people have to keep gaining more and more attention, more and more power, more and more material assets. The seductions of the public life would have led to competitive posture, but for John, the original call to commitment from within spoke louder.

It is these kinds of qualities—John’s sense of stewardship, his awareness of his identity, his perspective on his role, and his unswerving commitment—that mark a called person. And they are the characteristics of a person who builds first in the interior or private world so that out of it will flow fountains of life. What was the makeup of John’s private world? Frankly, the biblical writers do not give us much of an answer. We are simply treated to evidence of an ordered inner life. John is a prototype of the product we are looking for. In a public world where all seems chaotic and disordered, he moves with assurance and certitude. To operate on the basis of God’s call is to enjoy a great deal of order within.

How totally different are the lives of Saul the King and John the Baptizer. The one sought to defend a golden cage and lost; the other was pleased with a place in the desert and a chance to serve, and won.