I was on Amazon.com today just checking out something that did not involve spending any of my money. However, Amazon doesn’t know that, so it helpfully provided me with a whole list of recommended products based on things I’m interested in. Because I have a pretty solid list of theological books on my wishlist, Amazon likes to recommend me all manner of theological books.
I noted today that many in the list of recommendations were along the lines of “How to Become the Most Infectious Christian Possible!” and so on. I might be making that title up, but you no doubt are familiar with the sort of book: Focused on how you can break the mold of hum-drum-go-through-the-motions-Christianity and become a Super Disciple who makes waves!
There’s a lot of draw in those kind of books. We all want to have significance. We all want to feel like we’re doing something special with our lives. In the words of a musician I happen to like named Paul Coleman: “Inside all of us there’s this desire, we want to be the star. Deep down we all want people to look at us and say, ‘You rock!'”
So when a book promises to tell me how I can get that, it’s awfully attractive.
It’s also a lie.
I’m not saying that there aren’t things I can do to get noticed. I’m not even saying that following the plan these kinds of books lay out won’t get me recognition somewhere. I’m saying it is a lie that personal relevance as a goal is godly. It is a lie that personal relevance should be the goal of my life as a Christian. It is a lie that focusing on my own life and its significance to the Church does honor to the Lord of the Church.
But it’s a lie I’ve bought into far too many times.
True confessions: when I write blog posts, or post a status update on Facebook, I can be awfully consumed with pride when lots of people see it, comment on it, “like” it, and so on. When it seems to go completely unnoticed, I get down on myself. I worry about whether or not a class or event I run will be well attended, and when it’s not I wonder if the problem is me. Some of my biggest dreams involve creating something for families that lots and lots of people will use and appreciate.
I know that at some level these things are motivated by a godly desire to serve others well. But like so many other godly desires, it gets so easily twisted to be more about me than about Jesus and pointing others to him. So much easier that twisting when voices from within the Church join alongside my sinful nature to tell me to look inward.
The really nefarious part of this lie is what it does to me when I buy into it. See, I’ll never really get the significance I’m promised. Maybe people will think I’m all that and a bag of chips for a while, but the history of the Church is replete with examples of fly-by-night superstars, who are only remembered in infamy if at all. The Christians who have been remembered by the Church for the good they did seldom did so out of a desire to be relevant or radical or contagious. They just loved Jesus, they loved the Word, and they wanted people to know what they knew.
Worse than not actually getting the recognition from other people that my sinful nature craves, when I focus on myself and my relevance, I completely lose sight of my Savior. When that happens, I’ve lost a lot more than my contagiousness. I see this at work in some of the articles in publications like Relevant Magazine, where having a relationship with Jesus is pitted against striving to do his will, where having doubts and struggles is held up as more honorable than having confidence in the Word, and where finding comfort in creeds and catechisms is looked down on in favor of “personal experience with Jesus” and “hearing God’s voice.”
But I also see it at work in myself when I go to bed thinking about all the things I wasn’t able to get done during the day, thinking about how quickly the candle is burning down on my life, and about all the people younger than me doing more important things than I think I’m doing. I see it at work in myself when my planning is based on my desire to look like I’m “working hard” rather than on the faith that God will use me if I’m using the opportunities he gives me. I see it at work in myself when I find myself completely exhausted because I’m just trying so hard to do everything I think everyone thinks I should be doing so that everyone will speak well of me.
The fact is, my thirst for significance is not slaked by drinking at my own dry well. All I really need is to sit at the foot of the cross, see my Savior bleed for me, walk to the empty tomb and be assured he lives for me. He’s set me free from all that enslaves me, he’s given me life and filled it with meaning and purpose, and he’s set out the work for me to do. And his call is not to examine myself and determine if I’m doing all the right, relevant, radical, contagious, infectious things. His call is to fix my eyes on him, the author and perfecter of my faith. I’m not made to be the star. I’m made to reflect the sun.