Friday, November 29, 2013

The Praise of Man

After that brief interlude, back to our story from the book of John. Jesus says, I do not accept the praise of humans. On Tuesday, I talked about what that statement might mean for our praise if that was the God side of Jesus speaking.

But what if, as we more often assume is the case, that was His human side speaking?

It is the kind of thing we say in attempts at humility. We shrug off the good words of our neighbors, friends, family, in order to say that that kind of thing isn't important to us. We outright dismiss those good words, saying we are not worthy or that our feat was "no big deal." We think this sort of thing makes us holy, that it makes us more like Jesus. But that's not what Jesus did.

Jesus didn't say, I deny the praise of humans. He didn't say, I reject the praise of humans. He simple said, I do not accept the praise of humans. So what's the difference?

The difference is that in the latter, He has still heard the praise of humans and allowed it to be. He has given someone the freedom to comment on His work, His personality, His presence...whatever it is they might praise Him for. He gives them the space to speak their response. He just doesn't let that define or direct His work.

Because He still cares what they think. He still acknowledges that His primary work in the world is to minister to the people. It is their response to His ministry that tells Him whether He's getting it right or getting it wrong. It is their response that creates the connection.

Imagine this. You are the blind man in Mark 8. Your friends lead you to Jesus, knowing He can heal your blindness. Jesus leads you away so it's just the two of you. You share this incredibly intimate moment; His hands are on your eyes. You can feel Him touching you. He's tender, loving, present. Once your sight has been restored, you see the Man who has given you this gift, and you naturally start to praise Him. Then Jesus looks at you and says, It was nothing. Ya'll have a good day now. He walks away.

What exactly do you think of this Teacher now? 

He's arrogant, right? Profoundly disconnected from the moment. All of that tenderness you just thought you felt has dissipated as you now realize He wasn't in it for the moment. He was in it for...who knows what. It doesn't seem pure any more. There's something missing about that Jesus. And there's something missing for you.

We are a people who need to process things. That's why we say it out loud. That's why we praise, whether it's God or man that is the object of our current affections. It's how we create connection, by living the moment and then sharing it to confirm the presence. If Jesus gives you a moment and then walks away because He's not interested in what you think about it...that's not your good and gracious, personal, intimate God. That's something far less.

So He invites you to speak. He stands there and listens. He answers questions. He processes moments with us. But He doesn't let our praise define who He is. He doesn't let our praise define His work. He's waiting on praise from the One who sent Him, which will tell Him whether He has served well. He accepts the moment, the connection, the relationship with humans; He accepts praise only from God.

Those of us who would seek to serve would be right to do the same. All of this false humility, however well-intended, in which we shrug off anything another man might say is not the attitude of Christ. It's quite the opposite. It's arrogance. It's disconnection. It takes something away from the moment, and in essence, from our very being.

When we serve, when we engage in the holy work God has created for us, we must learn to stay. We have to hear the words of those that would praise us. We have to let them speak their experience, however embarrassing or ego-boosting it might sound for us. We don't deny it; that creates distance. We don't reject it; that denies it. We embrace the connection it's building between those of us present.

We simply don't accept it. We don't let it define who we are or what we do because such questions cannot be answered by humans; they must be answered by God. We don't let man's words sink into our heart and speak to us; they will only drown out the voice of the One who sent us to do His work in the first place. We turn to God for our praise, even when it seems plentiful in the echoes around us

That changes the way we live. It changes the way we serve. It changes the way we love.

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