Do you only get impressed by celebrity pastors, famous scholars or authors, renowned rappers and other “big” names? Do you often struggle to applaud something your local pastor or unimpressive colleague says, no matter how profound it may sound? Instead, d you find it easier to share and recognize something your favorite celebrity said, no matter how unoriginal or lame it was? I do. I confess that I seldom get impressed by people whose popularity (or lack thereof) doesn’t “deserve” my applause or recognition. It is a point of pride in my life that I repent about quite often.
And maybe this is why some habits in other human beings, such as plagiarism, seem to really get to me. I read a lot. In fact, I think I am addicted to reading, a chronic reader, if there’s such a thing as that. I take breaks from reading to read something else. Yes, it’s that serious. I highlight this fact because my extensive and intensive reading means that more often than not, I can spot an unoriginal thought from a mile away. It also means that, having read a lot, I have somehow managed to convince myself that there’s such a thing as original thoughts in this world, and those thoughts only belong to famous people… or me. That’s right, an even more appalling thing about all this is the fact that I have somehow managed to convince myself that I am an original thinker.
This realization scares me. It scares me because I am not very good at affirming my friends. I always feel like I am not being honest when I tell them “great job!” when in reality, it wasn’t all that great. The more accurate words would be, “you could do better.” But I cannot, or rather, I should not say those words. Perhaps this is because we live in a world where accurate words are not always welcome. I want to say honest statements, isn’t that what God expects of us? Wouldn’t calling a spade a big spoon be considered flattery? And isn’t flattery forbidden in the Bible?
“Whoever flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his feet.”? (Prov 29:5)
Isn’t it the wise Elihu who said that; “I will not show partiality to any man or use flattery toward any person. For I do not know how to flatter, else my Maker would soon take me away.”? (Job 32:21-22)
Such are the questions that I wrestle with whenever I try to persuade myself to be more supportive and affirming of my friends. But those questions somehow always end up hardening me rather than softening me up to affirming others. So, I prayed to God and asked Him to help me about this issue. What did He mean when he told me to “consider others better than myself” when the fact of the matter is that I am obviously much better than them? Isn’t that foolish? Wouldn’t that be dishonest?
But then God pointed me to His Word and to the Cross, and what I found there was both compelling and humbling. In His Word, I found a Father who delights in His children. At first, that did not sound so strange, until I looked at the children that this Father delighted in. They were wayward children, disobedient children, frail and fickle children. The children that God delighted in were blasphemous children, bent on satisfying their own lusts and ignoring their Father. These children were evil, sinful to the core, hell-bent and proud of it. They were simply not children worth delighting in. They were not worth pursuing, they were nothing to write home about. These children didn’t deserve their Father’s love, let alone His smile of approval.
So, how then could God delight in such a people? How could He smile upon such a rebellious bunch? The answer was in the Gospel:
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3;16)
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)
I admit that I have tried to look inside me and around me, for an explanation, a reason why God would love me, or love humanity at all, and I have found none. It is simply not there. The only reason why God could love me, was that it is in His nature to love. God is love. And this declaration is preceded by a sobering assertion; “Whoever does not love does not know God.” (1 John 4:8)
And that’s when I got it, or rather, that’s when it got me. I ought to consider other better, not because of the progress they’ve made, or the affirmation-points they’ve earned, but because of the direction they’re facing – God ward. They are better because they are made in God’s image. They are better because Jesus Christ died for them. They are better because the Father considers them worth delighting in and lavishing His love upon them. They are better because, well, I am no better.
I find great comfort in this revelation. Now I can envision myself as an earthly father, delighting in the fickle progress of my future children. I can envision myself as a loving husband, delighting in the fickle and reluctant submission of my future wife. I can envision myself delighting in my friends and laughing at their jokes, no matter how stale and recycled they sound. I can see myself, smiling and praising God, thanking Him for everything. For saving the mess that I was, and for delighting in the mess that I am, for sanctifying this mess, and lovingly conforming it into a message of his sovereign grace and unconditional love.
I am slowly learning to affirm and delight in the progress of (or just the existence of) others, and I am now doing it while being vividly aware of the fact that I am quite undeserving of the ultimate affirmation that I someday hope to get from my Father when I get to heaven, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)
I pray that I will continue to cultivate and never lose this humble delight in God’s creation,
For the fame of His name,