This is embarrassing.
I would just as soon you not read this. What I am writing about concerns one of the most embarrassing aspects of my life.
Years ago, I was sitting in the cafeteria at Pepperdine University. I was there for their annual Bible Lectures. (Something like the National Pastors Convention recently held in San Diego. Or, you might think about a very large seminar.) I was eating breakfast and sitting across from a minister who is now considered to be one of the finest preachers in Churches of Christ.
We were talking about his former congregation. A search committee from this congregation had contacted me about moving and beginning a new ministry with them. Their former minister was telling me about the church and was expressing that he was glad they were interested in me. As we were talking, another minister came by our table and said to me, "I happen to know that such and such church wants to talk with you about working with them." The friend I had been visiting with looked at me and said, "Boy, Jim, you seem to be a hot item."
Now let me quickly tell you that I certainly didn’t see myself in those terms. In fact, I even feel embarrassed right now as I type these words. My point for relating this is to say: His words massaged my ego. For a few moments I felt important, worthwhile, and significant. The problem was that I was gaining these feelings from what others thought of me (or what I imagined they thought). I remember even comparing myself to others and thinking about their shortcomings (now that is sad).
When a person is depending on others for these ego strokes, it is very easy to become arrogant. However, when they don’t come, it is also easy to feel low, unappreciated, and worthless. What if people are not interested in my ministry? What if they do not think I am gifted, intelligent, a good speaker, or a good church builder? If I depend upon these people and their affirmation for my sense of self-worth, I will probably come to the point where I feel as if I am not worth very much. Perhaps more importantly, I will be getting my sense of self-worth some place besides God.
I love Paul’s words in II Corinthians 1:8-11:
We do not want you to be
uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province
of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to
endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed,
in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we
might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He
has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On
him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
Paul spoke of the troubles and sufferings that brought great pressure to his life. He says that they were under great pressure "… far beyond our ability to endure …." He went on to say that "this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead." How true!
I later learned that who I am as a child of God and as a minister has nothing to do with how good a Christian I might be or how good a minister I might be. It has nothing to do with how much I am noticed or recognized by others. It has nothing to do with whether or not I am successful in the eyes of my peers or other people who might be watching.
Who I am has everything to do with what God thinks of me. It has everything to do with understanding that, no matter what, my ministry is far beyond my ability to do this on my own. My life and work are not about proving to others that I am adequate and able. Rather, it is about relying on God who raises the dead. My hope is not on finding the right church or getting recognized in some way that might stroke my ego. My hope is in the only one who is worthy of my complete reliance.
Do you relate to this at all? Do you find yourself listening too much to what people say about you and either feeling self-important or self-condemning? Is this familiar territory?