It isn’t wrong to say that we are living in a generation with a tremendous sense of self-importance. If you point this out as a problem, the critics will accuse you of not seeing the need for self-esteem. But even self-esteem has become a euphemism for self-aggrandizement. And self aggrandizement has an ancient code word that we hate to hear unless in the positive- pride. Deadly, infectious, venomous pride. Timothy Keller once said that we are so profoundly self-centered that we don’t think we are.
The center of the universe for the average human has become self. The middle letter in pride is I. The biggest worry with this is that our generation is pushing itself every day for the uplifting of self i.e. to get respected, liked, appreciated, admired, upheld, revered, celebrated, esteemed etc as an end in itself. But it isn’t a shock. The prophecy states clearly:
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves” 2 Timothy 3:1-2 (NIV)
Our eschatology theology is ringing the bells so loudly. LOVERS OF SELF! LOVERS OF SELF! WATCH OUT FOR SELF! But I am so full of myself to the point that when I read that scripture I imagine it referring to someone else. And in doing so I have just loved myself again. Oh wretched man that I am! How often we pray “deliver us from evil” and imagine that very evil to be outside of us. The scriptures are a clarion call that the evil in the tips our lips’ prayer is very well inside of us.
I look at the scriptures and I see that these accolades (being respected, liked, appreciated, admired, upheld, revered, celebrated, esteemed etc) were either by-products of helping others genuinely or by-products of loving the world sinfully. As for the former, the men and women that received the applause and esteem were not looking for it; they had others in mind. Joseph just wanted to honour the LORD; he never wanted the fame.
Moses just wanted to see his people free; he never wanted leadership and headship. These people just wanted to be used by God in their obscure prison cells and desert shepherding but ended up changing the world. They hoped to make life better for others even if meant they never had their names remembered or spelled correctly.
As for the evil latter, the men and women were drunk with self to the point of idolatry. They wanted their names esteemed higher than Yahweh’s. They built Babel. They raised Nimrod. They chose gold over God. And today we are not seeing anything new; the accolades are pursued whilst moving Earth and Heaven to get recognized. And if the focus on helping others will get us there, then it is seen as a necessary step to rise to the top of the “look-at-me” mountain.
And if getting noticed doesn’t work as fast as we hope, the scenario is stage-managed. It’s quite simple; have a form of godliness but deny its power. Preach water, drink wine. Praise God, curse a brother. Condemn hate, gossip a sister. Post scripture, watch G.O.T. Sleep around but sing in the choir. That stage is yours. They are here to see you. Your new this, your latest that, yours and you did, you and you. It’s all for you and about you. And if you ever receive rebuke and correction, remind them all how judged you feel. Tell them how your situation is different. Write an angry Facebook post about “some people.” Show us how you are living well and everyone else needs to apologize for not seeing things your way. And when push comes to shove, use an analogy that keeps you at the top and them at the bottom.
Are we in the least concerned that our level of self-importance has kept away God’s move in our land? Perhaps the LORD cannot raise a Noah to build an ark in our generation because that Noah will take selfies at every stage of the ark. The flood will kill us all with an incomplete ark and a bloated ego.
Perhaps the LORD cannot raise a Daniel in our generation because that Daniel will be more concerned about his rights than his responsibilities. Perhaps the LORD cannot raise an Esther in our generation because that Esther will be more concerned about refraining from foods for physical beauty and instagram filters than a spiritual fast for inner beauty.
Perhaps the LORD cannot raise a Job in our generation because that Job will write endless blogs on why they left the church and why they always suffer and why they have to go through this if God is a God of love. Perhaps the LORD is telling me that it’s not about me. He must increase and I must decrease.
And if I hear the clarion call well, then the LORD is telling me that this life is not about me but about Him; that I must be comfortable to be nothing in light of his glory and accept it. That when he talks of no other gods before him, that it includes self. That I must be content to be wronged and not have the last word. I must be concerned about living right than telling others how offended I am. I must be preoccupied with pursuing holiness than telling others how judged I feel. That I must strive to follow the narrow path of the Gospel as opposed to the wide road of destruction.
It can’t be about me, how I feel, what I want, why me, what I think, what I want, when I was. He must increase and I must decrease if he truly has saved me. And if I can’t accept that, perhaps I am not his child in the first place. I may look the Christian part but belong to the multitude of Matthew 7:21-23. But if I am truly saved by his blood, he can only take His rightful place and give me true joy and peace if I find my identity in who He says I am and not in what men say I am. The praise of men is poison. The esteem of Christ is my food. The LORD is telling me that people rejected Jesus because they cared for man’s praise more than God’s.
“Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God.” John 12:42-43 (NIV)
And if that describes me today- so concerned with human accolades- then I shouldn’t fool myself that I would be among the 12 that followed Jesus. I would be in the crucifixion chanting crowd. And if I would be among the 12, I’d be Judas. The fact that I even think I would be among the good guys at the crucifixion persists to add the cancer of self-importance that is killing us spiritually. The pressure may just fall off if I discover the freedom of being a “nobody” in a world where multitudes want to be a somebody.