Self praise is very flattering…and deceiving. I used to work in Christian school education where the holistic approach to developing the spirit, as well as the mind and body, had people thinking that they must automatically be offering a superior product. After all, it was “based upon the Bible”! But by the measure of objective league tables ranking final year results, the schools’ academic performances (important to parents. employers and universities, if not all principals and teachers!) were vastly different from each other. The question had to be asked, by what measure do we (or should we) value success? The answer was seldom as straightforward in every school.
I wonder whether the same applies in churches. Is it possible that we flatter ourselves into believing that the sermons we preach, the help we give, the lives we influence and the needs we meet provide evidence of success? Do they provide the proof that we ‘measure up’? Undoubtedly they do, to some degree. Yet it is easy to evaluate success by measures that suit us, or measures that seem right and make us look or feel good. By what is quantitative rather than qualitative, popular rather than prophetic, contemporary rather than Christlike.
Of course, we are talking here about tensions which need to be managed rather than resolved where, for example, we must be contemporary and Christlike, and so on. Yet, the value of looking at the opposite extreme of the one that we sometimes get drawn to is to force ourselves to ask whether we are actually doing what the God we serve is asking of us. For instance, the Bible has much to say about the need for a Christian to reproduce himself spiritually in making disciples. How many people are you and I discipling (and not just influencing)? Not a popular question in a me-focused generation.
Yet if we don’t force ourselves to ask these questions, then we can become fixated and even affirmed by the wrong measures of success. We don’t need to be glum and depressed, because we undoubtedly do not have it all wrong (and maybe do not even have it far wrong). It’s just useful to occasionally remind ourselves that we can be unwittingly addicted to performance and not to pleasing and serving a real God in Heaven if we aren’t consumed by what consumes Him. It’s just a matter of fine-tuning the alignment of our lives to His agenda yet again.
The Bible says that without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6) and the faith by which we are eternally saved should, of course, drive us to good works. These works do not, however, provide the basis for our redemption (Ephesians 2:8-10). Understanding our unconditional acceptance by God helps us to be properly motivated for the good that we are compelled to do and to rest assured in the identity and self-worth that is truly found when we lose ourselves in Christ and with what matters most to Him. May I be more like Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:38-42) than her sister whose justifiable busyness nevertheless shut out the party’s guest of honour.
It’s easy though to evaluate others in this matter. Yet I think it’s time to get our own measure!