Friday, April 27, 2012

Vainglory? Who...Me?

This week I punted, pitch hit, or what ever other athletic phrase you want to use for stepping up to the plate (pun intended) and speaking at Women's Bible Fellowship when our regularly scheduled speaker backed out. No biggie. At this point in my life I'm very comfortable with being upfront. I don't see it as a burden or a frustration, simply a chance to dive a little deeper into the study and see what God brings to my attention. As an added bonus, I get to share my thoughts with a group of women I love. WBF is a safe place. But then I opened the book. Chapter 8 of The Good and Beautiful Life by James Bryan Smith is titled: Learning to Live Without Vainglory.

Vainglory...have you ever heard of that word before? We all know what vanity means. And glory sounds nice. But put them together and it was a bit of a heart check to read the definition: too much pride, especially in what one has done. Remember when kids in grade school would pound you hard on the chest and say, "heart check"? Heart checks hurt, your shoulders slump forward, torso caves in. You want to yell out, "Hey, stop that you big jerk!" But you can't because you're working on breathing normally again. Yeah, well, that's what reading the definition of vainglory in the children's version of Webster's online dictionary felt like. I'm pretty sure God had me punting for a reason. (Hmmm, is God the big jerk in this scenario?)

I've struggled for the last year or so with the questions: What is effective ministry? Am I a successful leader? I have believed and still do to some extent, that they are valid, important questions. Smith says the false narrative, that we often see as truth, is based on our need for affirmation. Smith writes, "The world measures our worth on the basis of our appearance, production, and performance - which seem to be the only things that count. We feel the need to be appreciated, respected, applauded, and affirmed for what we do. Then we feel good about ourselves." Reading these words, I am faced with the ugly truth that sometimes when I ask myself about ministry and leadership, my feelings of wanting to live and work for Jesus are jumbled with my own insecurity and vainglory. The questions really become, "Are people recognizing and appreciating what I'm doing? Why haven't more people taken part in what I have to offer? Aren't I good enough?" Do you see all those disgusting "I's" in there? I do. Heart check.

Just writing those questions makes me queasy. As much as I tout vulnerability and honesty, I would love to be a little further down the spiritual maturity road. I told WBF, "There is nothing uglier and more deceitful than a person who appears, speaks, and acts holy, but is filled with pride inside." Insecurity and vainglory are an evil mix. It can shred a person to pieces. The antidote is finding your value in Christ alone.

Philippians 2:3-4 says it best.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 

Perfectionism often gets a bad rap in our society. The desire to do a job thoroughly, thoughtfully, and with accuracy is often distorted as an illness only afflicting control freaks. The truth is, God invented detail and purpose. Our innate need to create order out of chaos comes from God. I've also found that appreciating and demonstrating affirmation can be poo-pooed. The desire for relationship, to be loved, respected and liked by family and friends is seen as detriment to our character. (Isn't God enough?) We are created in the image of God and our hunger for affirmation is hard-wired. I'm pretty sure Jesus loves affirmation! Of course, our reliance on perfectionism and affirmation can become a place of brokenness, selfishness, and pain if we don't depend on the Source. I disagree with Smith's suggestion that, "Jesus encourages us to do good things with absolutely no concern for what others think of us." I believe that as followers of Christ, we are called to set an example for others. God knitted us together with the desire to be concerned with our work and our words and how they effect others.

1 Timothy 4:12-16
…set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Michelle. I wanted to be there because this chapter jumped out at me and is something that pops up in my life fairly often because as an innkeeper and florist, the things I do show up.

    I had guests here that stayed too late for me to get to WBF.