It blew my socks off.  

In a recent post, I shared the dark struggle that led to my first 8-day silent prayer retreat. At the time, I was so depleted, I couldn’t think straight. Seeing my distress, my spiritual director shared something no one had ever mentioned in 7 years of theological education: the Two Standards.

Two Standards

As a Jesuit Priest in the Roman Catholic Church, he is deeply steeped in the Spiritual Exercises written by Ignatius of Loyola in the 1500’s. Ignatius invites everyone to consider the Two Standards. Think of a standard as a flag under which the followers of a specific leader rally.

One Standard represents the tactics and values of Christ. The other of Satan (also called by Jesus the enemy, the Father of lies, and the Evil One). Each of us must choose the standard under which we will stand.

At first blush, this doesn’t seem like a hard choice, but the tactics of the enemy are subtle and deceptive. The enemy loves to prey on three desires in our human nature. They make up what our world defines as success. In fact, they could be called the success track.

The Success Track

Our enemy begins by seducing us with riches.

  • Riches

Riches brashly says, “I am what I have, do or produce.”

In other words, my life is defined by what I possess or what I have accomplished. For me to be bigger, more important, more valuable, I must have, do or produce more. And if any of these things are less, then I am less.

Riches easily gain us honor from others, something our souls begin to crave.  

  • Honor

Honor rashly says, “I am what others think of me.”

If they are impressed, then I am OK. But woe if they are not. Therefore, I must do all I can to impress others with my possessions or accomplishments.

Fixating on riches and honor inevitably devolves to self-serving pride.

  • Pride

Pride smugly says, “I am at the center. I am doing this. This is my work. I am the center of the universe.”

In this state, there is virtually no room for God or others in our life. It’s all about us.

These are the hooks that grab us and drive us. They are blatantly obvious in our culture and politics today, but that’s nothing new.  

Two thousand years ago, a young man came to Jesus who had it all: riches, honor, pride…but something in him wanted more. He knew the religious rules. What he desired was a real relationship with God. That’s why he sought Jesus. He wanted to know how to inherit eternal life.

Jesus could see in him a sincere yearning for spiritual things. With love he said to him, “You lack one thing. You must lay down your way of living and take up my way. You must lay down the success track.”

Jesus offers a different Standard. It could be called the upward demotion.

The Upward Demotion

Rather than riches, Jesus chooses poverty – the letting go of things and accomplishments as a measure of one’s worth.

  • Poverty

Poverty joyfully says, “I possess nothing. Everything I have is a gift from God. I am merely a steward of all the things that God has placed in my hands.”

Let me be quick to add that material wealth is not evil in itself, but we all have seen how tempting and distracting it can be. Jesus calls each of his followers to a spiritual poverty that creates to a deeper reliance on God. He also calls some people to material poverty to identify with and bring good news to the poor and downtrodden, as Jesus himself did.  

Rather than honor, Jesus chooses transparency.

  • Transparency

He consistently refuses to hide from God or from others those things that show his humanness, his limitations, even the abuse and torture he suffered on the cross. He makes himself vulnerably transparent because he knows, “I am not what others think of me. I am what God thinks of me, so I don’t have to hide.”

With his focus on poverty and transparency, rather than pride, Jesus chooses humility.

  • Humility

He is willing to stand in the naked truth. He has no compulsion to doctor the truth for public consumption. It is what it is. On a personal level, here’s what this means for me, “I am a limited, sin-prone follower of Jesus.”

The Way

Poverty, transparency, humility…this is the way of Jesus. When we understand that, Jesus words to the rich young man make a lot more sense.

 “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”        

Mark 10:21 (NIV)

Go and sell everything you have and give to the poor. In other words, “Let go of things and accomplishments as a measure of your worth” (poverty).

You will have treasure in heaven. Said differently, “Your honor will not be in what others think of you on earth, but how God sees you in heaven. Relax. You don’t have to hide behind your image. You have nothing left to prove” (transparency).

Then come, follow me. Between the lines, “You know, you are not as self-made or self-sufficient as you may think. In reality, you are a limited, sin-prone person in need of a Savior – Someone who can do for you what you cannot do for yourself. I would do that for you, if you will let me” (humility). “If so, follow me.”

How might you respond to such an offer? Here’s how the rich young ruler reacted.  

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.   

Mark 10:22 (NIV)

I feel his pain. I know all too well what it is like to be too attached to something that could measure your worth, whether it is popularity, influence, position, books (a true addiction😊), or even money.

One of my Lenten disciplines has been to give away one or more of my possessions each week. It’s a simple reminder of my poverty. I truly don’t own a thing. It’s all God’s.

A Choice

Deep down, I no longer want to be lured into the Success Track. Riches, honor, and pride are not the Standard I want. They ultimately lead us away from God and into a kingdom of darkness and despair.

As hard as it may be, I want to live in poverty (of spirit at least), transparency and humility. I know under that flag I will find Life.

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Roger Ross

A native of Cambridge, Illinois, Roger has served as a pastor in Texas, the British Channel Island of Guernsey, and Illinois. While in Illinois, he led teams that planted two new churches and served for 10 years as the lead pastor of one of the largest United Methodist Churches in the Midwest. It was his privilege to serve as the Director of Congregational Excellence in the Missouri Conference before coming into his current role with Spiritual Leadership, Inc (SLI).

Roger now comes alongside pastors, non-profit leaders and their leadership teams as an executive coach, specializing in leadership that inspires change. As a side gig, he loves teaching evangelism and church planting as an adjunct professor at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas.

Other passions of his include SCUBA diving in warm blue water, Krispy Kremes, board games with family and friends, and traveling in different cultures. He also has a weakness for golf.

Roger is the author of three books, Meet The Goodpeople: Wesley’s 7 Ways to Share Faith, Come Back: Returning to the Life You Were Made For, and Come Back Participant Guide, all through Abingdon Press.

Now for the best part. Roger is married to Leanne Klein Ross. Leanne grew up around Bloomington, Illinois where the two of them now reside. God has blessed them with two adult children, a son-in-law, several tropical fish, and one adorable granddog.