Quite full of himself after the service, he said to his wife, “I wonder how many great preachers have preached from that pulpit.” “Probably a great number,” she replied, “but I suspect one less than you think.”
Years ago, I spoke for the worship service at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Nashville.
To be perfectly honest, I was quite impressed with myself. This was a big deal. NRB had looked all over America for someone who was spiritual, profound, and worthy enough to invite to speak. I was their obvious choice.
Just before I got up to speak, I thought just how fortunate God was to have me.
That was when the worship leader introduced me as “Steve Green.”
Steve Green? Good heavens! Being a celebrity and a great spiritual communicator, he could have at least gotten my name right. Then, to add insult to injury, he didn’t even know he had made a mistake. And, to make matters worse, I’m not sure anyone else in the auditorium—except for my wife and staff—noticed.
Did you hear about the father angry at his son’s misbehavior? The father told his son, “You be careful. I made you. I can destroy you and make another one.”
My heavenly Father didn’t put it that way. He’s quite fond of me and hardly ever angry, but I did sense his laughter.
I felt like a buffoon.
That’s when I got it. I was a buffoon . . . and it didn’t matter.
I started laughing, too. Some thought I was laughing at the mistake. Only my Father and I knew the real joke. Frankly, it was glorious to feel free of my need to live up to the false image I had created for myself.
That whole episode taught me a principle: There is a direct correlation between our anxiety and our efforts to live up to a false image of who we—or others—think we ought to be.
When we have a false image, we fail to live up to it and that causes all sorts of problems.
Our false image can destroy our spiritual life. The “image” (because we falsely think that God called us to it) becomes a place of shame when we pray. As a result, our failure becomes the very focus of our relationship with God. After a while, there is the danger of giving up our times with God entirely because we simply can’t deal with the shame, guilt, and failure.
John Calvin wrote, “Those who are bound by the yoke of the law are like servants who have certain tasks daily assigned them by their masters. Such servants think that nought has been done; and they dare not come into the presence of their masters until the exact amount of labour has been performed. But sons who are treated in a more candid and liberal manner by their parents, hesitate not to offer them works that are only begun or half finished, or even with something faulty in them, trusting that their obedience and readiness of mind will be accepted, although the performance be less exact than was wished. Such should be our feelings, as we certainly trust that our most indulgent Parent will approve our services, however small they may be, and however rude and imperfect.”
Our false image and our failed efforts to live up to it can make us phony . . . and, when others recognize it, quite silly. That’s what Jesus was talking about when he called the scribes and Pharisees “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27). I suspect Jesus only said what others had thought, but were afraid to say.
Our false image puts us in danger of thinking we are more important than we are. Paul understood: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). God was doing fine before Paul and Apollos came along, and he would do fine after they left. God simply allowed them to be a part of what he was already going to do.
Finally, when we try to live up to our false image we have a tendency to be quite critical of others . . . in an effort to hide or run from our own failure in the image department. Paul was quite wise: “Why do you pass judgment on your bother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? . . . Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Romans 14:10, 13).
By the way, Paul wrote that right before he pointed to the “proper” and biblical image we should have: “For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again” (Romans 14:8-9).
Steve Green did sing at the NRB convention. And because God was wise and gracious enough to remind me of that, Steve Green the singer and “Steve Green” the preacher both did okay.
To realize that we’re not that important—except to Jesus—can, in a very superficial way, make us feel like “nobodies.” But to realize that we are children of the King and no one can change that or take it away, and there is no other image we bear, is an invitation to real freedom and joy.
So I’ve decided I’m not all that important. Before you agree, just remember that you aren’t either. That’s bad. No, that’s good. It’s a wonderful, joyous, and glorious truth in the life of the believer. The only image we have to live up to is the true image that God loves us without qualification, anger, or requirement. He just does.
You and I aren’t that important to anyone except him.