I like to think that I am good at lots of things but deep down I know that there are many more things that I’m not very good at. One of the things that I’ve worked out that I’m not very good at is receiving compliments. Don’t get me wrong; like most people, I do get that immediate warm sense of affirmation when somebody notices something good about me or acknowledges what I have done. My trouble is that I am reluctant to let that compliment go too much to heart. There’s probably lots of reasons that would keep a psychologist busy for hours but there is one deliberate reason that sees me intentionally try and let compliments pass by with a quick smile of acknowledgement and not much else.
I’ve found in my time in full time ministry, and it was something that I was aware of before priesthood having grown up with a father who is a priest, that a majority of church goers have a high view of their clergy. One of our brilliant retired clergy said to me the other day: “Stewart if you told people you could walk on water, they’d believe you.” It’s nice to know that I’m trusted and admired but I am concerned with the weight that my position carries. To moderate myself I pray daily (and often multiple times a day) the words that John the Baptist says “that I might decrease that he (Jesus) might increase.”
I think we are living in a world which measures a person’s worth by their success, and in my ministry, I am constantly reminding myself that my main role is to be as faithful as possible and that any success is because of Christ working in and through me. I am conscious also that it’s not just clergy who are evaluated by their success. The world we live in is trying to value everyone by their successes and that is a lot of pressure to carry – no wonder we have such an epidemic of anxiety in the world today.
God’s economy is often the opposite of humanity’s and I would go as far as saying if the world gives us identity because of our success, God gives us identity because of our failures and brokenness. Let me explain… I think it is no surprise that God, throughout scripture, choses “heroes of the faith” who have significant failings and flaws. Pick a biblical character and dig deep enough and you’ll find they have problems… Israel’s greatest king for example, is undoubtedly David but he was a war monger and adulterer.
I have always thought that God is much easier to see at work if God is working through broken people than the super gifted and talented ones. I also think that we find our identity in the way we respond to our failures. Years ago someone told me that identity is forged in battle, it doesn’t come through having everything handed to you.
So if you are finding things hard at the moment, if you are struggling with mistakes and failings, know that God has not abandoned you but is closer than you might realise… what we can realise in these times is that we need God. If you are going really well at the moment, and you are getting the odd compliment or two, don’t forget that it is God working through you who deserves the praise and glory and not us as individuals.
I realise that times are tough in so many different ways but if you decrease and allow Christ to increase you will find your identity as a child of God and that’s something I want to be complimented about.