People like attention. Nobody wants to be just another nameless face in the crowd. We all want to be known, to have people wave at us and yell, "Hey David, how's it going?!" And then there are the unfortunate incidents where you think you see someone unexpectedly wave at you, so you sheepishly raise your arm to wave back, only to realize that they were actually waving at someone behind you, and you feel like a complete idiot and decide not to make eye contact with anyone for the rest of the day.
But the point remains that we all like to be recognized. The reason FFA kids spend so much time learning how to judge livestock is so that they can get a nice shiny medal to drape around their necks. Grown men spend hours playing Pac-Man at the laundromat so that they can enter their initials in the high scores list. Band students nearly make themselves go crazy from practice in hopes of nailing that sweet oboe solo. And perhaps too often, Christians do good things, waiting to be applauded for being so spiritual or loving or pious.
In John 5:41-44, Jesus says, "I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?"
If there has ever been someone who had the right to bring attention to himself, it would be Jesus. He could do whatever he wanted. He would have been the most interesting person in any conversation, and he could one-up anyone's clever comment or funny story. He lived a sinless life and could have gone around saying, "Hey everybody! You should all come tell me how great and awesome I am!" But Jesus' focus really wasn't on himself as much as it was on glorifying the Father. He wasn't all that concerned about whether or not everyone thought he was the best thing ever, and he was the best thing ever. Actually, he knew that people would hate him and want to kill him, but he didn't change the things he said or did just to suit their preferences. His sole purpose was making God happy, and he knew that if he did this faithfully, the Father would glorify him (Jn. 8:54).
I wrote for my high school newspaper, and I was always excited on days when new issues would come out. It was always satisfying to see a byline with my name on it on the front page, and I would see a bunch of students at lunch or in classes flipping through the pages that I had worked on. It was even better when I was the editor my senior year, because each issue I would have a column where I could write about whatever I felt like, and not only did my name appear, but my beautiful picture as well. I loved when another student or a teacher would see me and comment that they thought my column was funny.
It's the same kind of desire for recognition that creeps its way into the rest of our lives, even our pursuits to do good things for God. All of us want others to notice all of the great things we do from time to time, unless I'm the only one with an inflated ego. We like it when the little old ladies at church tell us how much they loved our sermon, when we get asked to lead worship for a chapel service, and when all the lazy bums in a congregation notice us dutifully stacking chairs. We put little pictures of ourselves looking thoughtful on the sidebar of our blogs. So even when we're working for God, we try to slap a sticker with our name and smiling face on it, just so people know who's responsible.
I wonder how many of us are willing to be anonymous for God's sake. Would I be content spending my life humbly serving at a little church in the middle of nowhere if it meant bringing more glory to God? Would I be happy if no book ever has my name on the cover, no conference has my picture on the speaking schedule, and no podcast has my voice broadcast to cyberspace? Not to mean that we shouldn't dream of doing crazy-big things for God, but we have to make sure that we're actually doing them for God and not ourselves.
Tomorrow (Sept 22) is National Elephant Day. Go nuts. Life is good.