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Thursday 12 June 2014

Our Cry To Be Seen As Special

There is something inside of all of us that cries out like a beacon seeking to draw the attention of those around us to our particular little place in this world. Inside of all of us there is a desire to be considered special, to be loved, cherished, and cared about. This is a natural desire; God placed it in the hearts of our first parents, and every human being since the beginning. Because of this we all long to be connected in a way that counts.

There is no need to try and prove this because we all know it to be true, just look at selfies, or inane Facebook posts about the most basic situations in life from what time people woke up, to what meal they had, to people telling us all what they are doing right now, even if it is literally nothing except telling us what they are doing right now. People long to be considered special. Some people want to be loved by everybody, like Michael Scott who put it this way, “Do I need to be liked? Absolutely not! I like to be liked. I enjoy being liked. I have to be liked. But it’s not like this compulsive need to be liked. Like my need to be praised.” We can laugh at this because we all know someone like this, and if you don’t it’s likely you are that person. Then there are those people who pretend that they are ok being islands, in need of nobody, but even the Arrow has Felicity, Diggle and an ever growing bunch of people who know who he really is and even on the island he had so many friends and acquaintances it boggles the mind. My point? Everyone wants to be special to someone. This is my segway into my third part of my three part blog in reference to discernment. I said I would deal with this quote:

If you listen to some of the most influential teachers in the world, (of the seeker-driven, evangelical and charismatic variety), across denominations, rather than hearing the word of God opened, and our sinfulness and need for the atonement of Jesus expounded and the clear teaching of each text explained clearly; you will hear passage after passage misquoted to be about how special we are, how sin stops us from realizing our potential, how all we need is a clear purpose and we can make a difference in this world; and the scary thing is, most people don’t have an issue with this, they see this as solid Bible teaching (Matthew Littlefield, Discernment Must No Longer Be A Spiritual Gift).

I now want to deal with the statement “you will hear passage after passage misquoted to be about how special we are, how sin stops us from realizing our potential.” Some of you probably thought I would never get to this one because I deviated down a different path in my last blog, but the truth is I needed time to think and pray about how to deal with this statement. Why? Well because as I said we all want to be seen as special, and it’s so easy to attack that notion as narcissistic, ego-centrism, that is plaguing our culture, and I would be partly right, considering how it is the obsession of so many in our society. But the truth is, like so many other things, this is just a natural desire that has spiralled out of control because of sin and to be helpful I want to try and bring some course correcting.

You see, God knows that we have a desire to be seen as special because he placed that desire in us. Parents know it because we see how our children look up to us with those cute little eyes seeking affirmation. But it is important to realize this: if we find our joy in self-esteem, or if we try to balance our lives by thinking about how awesome we are, then we have really placed our joy on thin ice, with cracks in it, and someone is holding a flame thrower underneath it…in other words we are looking to the wrong place for our joy.

To explore this I want us to look at Psalm 139, you know the one, it contains these famous words people often use to affirm themselves: “13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (NIV). I reckon if there was a top ten list of Bible verses likely to be found in a devotional, on a fridge magnet, or bookmark that this one would be in the top three. Why? Because people have been taught to look at this verse as an amazing affirmation of how awesome they are in God’s eyes, we are God’s masterpiece, his amazing creation. And you know what? There is some truth in the fact that we are amazing works of God.

I once asked a man what was something amazing about God. He said “Airplanes.” I was like, “What?” He replied that a God who could create people to make something like a jumbo jet fly, well that is an awesome God. What I love about this statement from this older Christian bloke was that he got what David was saying in this Psalm. You see David is not seeking to affirm himself in this Psalm by talking about what a wonderful art of creation he is; no, David’s aim in writing this Psalm was worship of the awesome God.

In the first six verses he praises God for his ability to know everything, about him, and everything else. In verse 7-12, he worships God because of his incredible ability to be everywhere at once, and to know what is happening no matter where David is. Then in verses 13-16 he writes those famous words that speak about the creation of every human being, from his own perspective, but notice that his emphasis is not on self-affirmation, but on worship still, “I praise you…” he says to God. Like my friend, David looks at this awesome creation, and at himself, and this causes him to praise God. He does not use this to build up his self-esteem.

And the result is even better than if he had used such thoughts to build himself up, because instead of placing his joy in how he thinks about himself, he places his joy in how he thinks and feels about the God who created everything. Ask yourself this? Who is the person who lets you down the most in life? Yourself, maybe? We often let ourselves down. We make commitments to change and then don’t, we make commitments to lose weight then eat so much KFC and chocolate cake it takes a month to work it off, or we do some really seriously bad things that hurt people. The truth is if we place our hope for joy in seeing ourselves as special, we have placed it in the wrong place, because sooner or later we will break our own hearts. But God, he is our eternal reward, he does not let us down, because he is perfect, and in him is fullness of joy for eternity (Ps. 16:11). It’s better to look to God for our joy, not in self-affirmation. 

It’s obvious that David was feeling down in the dumps when he wrote Psalm 139, because he is obviously under attack from some bad people (verses 19-22), plus he ends with these words:  “23 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” David is anxious, he is down about something. But he is also realistic, he knows that he is a sinner as well, so he asks God to search for that in him, and then lead him in the everlasting way. David does not seek to assuage his anxiety about himself by looking in the mirror and saying how awesome he is, because that is not biblical wisdom, that is late 20th century narcissistic pop psychology designed to help people make it in the corporate world. No he turns his thoughts to worship of God, and asks God to make him a better man, one who walks in the way everlasting, being led by God. Ultimately, the way everlasting is Jesus. Remember, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). In his moment of self-doubt and anxiety the righteous David turned his thoughts in worship to this awesome God who made a way for us. 

If we are down on ourselves, feeling blue and feeling deeply our cry to be seen as special, pop psychology will tell us to look to how awesome we really are, and look at all the things we can offer this world, that we are unique, and there is no one quite like us, and the world just needs us to shine. Pop Christian teachers will tell you basically the same thing, but place the biblical spin that you should meditate on how God sees you, so that you can build up your self-esteem and feel better about yourself. And you know what there are times when we need to hear God loves us and that when we believe in him he makes us his children (1 John 3:1-3) and that we are his special possession (1 Peter 2:9-10). But even in the midst of doing this, the Bible says don’t stop there, move one step further: look to the God who loves you and place your hope ultimately in him. Sing his praises, not your own. 

To fix your eyes upon Jesus (cf. Heb. 12:1-3), not on yourself, to look beyond yourself to God, this is the Christian way, and the way of joy. If we look to ourselves, we are setting up ourselves to fail, guaranteed. But if we find our joy in God, I tell you what, the need for a boost in self-esteem tends to disappear, and we move into this crazy awesome thing I call God-esteem; that is finding our joy in God, not in ourselves.

Over the course of our life, our joy will rise and fall, due to circumstances in this life, because we are human beings, fallen people, but if we press to find our joy in who God is, it will become more stable and more trustworthy, because he is not like us, he does not change, he is constantly, and always awesome beyond anyone and anything else in existence.

Let me leave you with the words of John Piper which I think are incredibly insightful:

Our Fatal error is believing that wanting to be happy means wanting to be made much of. It feels so good to be affirmed. But the good feeling is finally rooted in the worth of self, not the worth of God. This path to happiness is illusion. And there are clues. There are clues in every human heart even before conversion to Christ. One of those clues is that no one goes to the Grand Canyon or the Alps to increase his self-esteem. That is not what happens in front of massive deeps and majestic heights. But we do go there, and we go for joy. How can that be, if being made much of is the center of our health and happiness? The answer is that it is not the center. In wonderful moments of illuminations there is a witness in our hearts: soul health and great happiness come not from beholding a great self but a great splendour. (John Piper, God is the Gospel)

  May your happiness be founded in the solid rock that is Jesus.