We hope you had a good summer. We're back! Once a week. Every Thursday. Here's our first post from Richard Collins
It’s not just the rich and famous who “get press.” We all do.
For most of us, it’s not others who are writing, but we ourselves who write our own press. We write it in our hearts and we carry it with us during our daily lives. No one else reads it; we alone know what we’ve written. And God, of course.
What is our press?
It is all the beliefs we hold about ourselves. They are beliefs that we order into varying levels of importance.
When we think about who we are, we often betray what’s important by the questions we ask. In reality, these questions tell us very little about who we are, but we ask them anyway. Here are some:
What do you do?
Where do you live?
How big is your church?
Are you married?
Do you have children?
Where did you go to university?
Is your church multi-site?
Have you written a book?
Let me first state that there is absolutely nothing wrong with these questions. They are asked routinely in order for us to get to know others. Please don’t stop asking them at conferences and when you meet new people. However, there are dangers with them, which must be addressed.
In answering them, we give their answers power to define us. Big church means I’m doing well, I’m successful. I went to Oxbridge so I’m obviously very bright and well-connected. The new church plant means I’m a success. By contrast, now that I’m struggling in my marriage, that means I’m a failure.
Let’s just stop for a moment and ask how God sees us, how he defines us.
I will never forget some wisdom I received from a friend at university. He said this, “you know, Richard, the only thing that really matters to God is who you are when you’re alone with him.” I’ve never forgotten that, and it is why I encourage you to hold the presses.
Don’t believe your own press. It will kill you.
Never think that because your church is growing, or your children are doing well, or your book is praised, that somehow those things define you. The writer, Henri Nouwen, once gave a talk (with teaching materials for a half-day conference) in which he spoke about three ways we define ourselves. Here they are:
What I do
What I own
What people say about me
The dangers inherent in all three are clear to see. And they are especially dangerous to people pleasers. I was listening to Tim Keller the other day and he pointed out that church leaders often seek affirmation. It was a gentle way of describing people pleasers.
People pleasers get lost because they don’t just seek affirmation, they crave it. At worst, their identity and their sense of self rise and fall on other people’s words. That is a disaster. Just how reliable are people compared to God? (See our post on disappointment)
Be very careful when you hear encouragement, for while encouragement can lift your spirits – and that’s good – it can also deceive you. It can pull you away from your true sense of identity.
“Great sermon, pastor!”
“So enjoyed visiting your church, Rev. Tom. Your congregation is growing. Well done!”
“Heard your son just qualified as a barrister. You must be proud.”
“Your daughter is going to theological college? You must be a proud parent.”
“Are you speaking at Keswick/New Wine/Spring Harvest? Well done.”
I’m a good leader – my church is growing. I’m a good parent – my children are professionally successful. I’m being asked to speak – I’m a talented communicator.
Don’t get me wrong, you may well be a good speaker or a good parent or a faithful husband and leader, but if you’re getting that from your press, then you’re looking in the wrong place. Others don’t define you. Nor do they value you the way God does. And their words, though they may lift you, will never, ever have the power of . . .
The truth of who you are. Only God knows who you are. And still loves you.
Your spiritual life, the person you are becoming, may well find expression out there in the world – the way you live – but that person is not described by achievement or connection or task fulfilment. One day we will stand before our God and we will see him, and he will look into our hearts and he will extend grace to us because, in truth, we only draw breath because of his grace.
So hold the presses.
Be careful when people speak about you, not because they’re wrong, but because it’s foolish to invest their words with power when only one Person’s words truly matter.
Alone in a room. A Bible on your lap. Door closed.
When you close your eyes and spend time talking and listening to your God, that’s who you are. No more. No less.
No platform. No awards. No “many years of faithful service.” Just you and God alone enjoying each other’s company. That is enough because God’s favour towards you is enough.
It’s one of the reasons why we at Living Leadership are determined to stress the importance of rest. We believe that taking time off for a retreat, making time for solitude and silence, prioritising the inner life – these are essential to a healthy spiritual life. Only when you find your true identity in that quiet intimate space between you and God will you find peace.
The other voices are chatter.
The only press worth its salt is the press that comes from the mouth of God.
He writes about you, “My beloved child, the apple of my eye, whom I love more than words can express, you are safe within my care. Saved. Forgiven. Called. Loved.”
At last. Press that actually tells us the unvarnished truth. Press that’s worth burying deep in our hearts.
Hold onto it and draw on it during the day.
As you serve the One who defines you and gives you life.