"Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips." Prov. 27:2
Toby Keith's song by the same title as this blog is one of my favorites. It obviously struck the right chord in a lot of other people too. It remains one of his best sellers, and his music video is a scream. There's nothing quite as satisfying, and at the same time as deflating as having to praise your own accomplishments.
I had walked for six hours from a small church in Kenya to a clearing in the bush where a rustic school had been built. It was very impressive operation considering the remote location. Children were everywhere and they were excited. Many of them were frightened because they had never seen a white man. It was quite an experience for them and for me.
The headmaster invited me to speak to the older students. There were about 200 children roughly equivalent in age to American eighth graders. He called them to order and surprised me with the news that if I wanted, I could tell them about the love of Jesus. Did I mention this was in Kenya. Many people still think of it as deepest darkest Africa. As the children settled into the room and took their seats on the floor, I had a moment to reflect. I wondered how my visit would have been handled, and if I would have been permitted to speak freely of Jesus if I arrived unannounced in most schools in America.
Sharing the Gospel in a cross-cultural setting, I used two chairs and called for a couple of volunteers. I asked the students who was the smartest student in their school. There was no sound made, but all heads turned to a young man who was sitting with his head down and his hands on his face. He was hiding in the tall grass in a room full of young scholars. He knew and they knew, and every eye in the room was on him. He was busted. I asked him to step forward and take a seat in one of the chairs. I then asked who was the strongest athlete, fastest runner, and could jump farther than anyone in the school. Again all eyes turned towards another young man who was seated on the floor. This time there were some giggles from some of the young ladies who were obviously smitten with him. Some things defy cultural differences. When I called him forward he stood up with an easy grace, an unassuming confidence and walked towards me to take his seat in the other chair. All the children knew these young men were the best and the brightest. Neither of the two men had raised their hand, or sought recognition. Their culture rewarded personal humility with public respect.
I have used this same method of communication when speaking to children in America. The reaction I get from them is polar opposite to what I saw in Kenya. Most kids in a stateside room are wearing jerseys with the name and number of their favorite NFL or NBA star. On their feet they have state of the art footwear, Nikes,Air Jordans and such. Their parents have covered them in enough brand-name sports wear to stock a good sized sporting goods store. When asked who the smartest kid in the class is, all hands go up and everyone starts shouting and grunting, "ME! ME! OOH!OOH! ME! Their reaction to who is the best athlete is met with a similar sugar induced surge of enthusiasm. "PICK ME! PICK ME!" Somehow, somewhere along the way, they picked up and held on to the lie: buy a labeled product and this will make you someone special. Couch potatoes and wannabes wearing the latest fashions posing as world class athletes...so sad.
Proverbs 27:2 provides God's insight on our obsession to make a name for ourselves. He frowns on self -congratulatory behavior, but we live in a world that says, "If you don't toot your own horn, you can't play in the band." This creates a conflict in the soul of the Christ follower that must be reconciled.
"Do you want to make a name for yourself or do you want to make a difference?" I had just met a guest preacher at the airport. We shook hands and headed to baggage claim. The guy didn't waste time. He cut to the chase. I had invited him that week to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable in my church. He was good at it, but he was starting with me. That annoyed me. This was going to be a long week. I told him I knew the right answer to the question, but I still found myself tempted to take the short-cut to making a name for myself. The road was easier. It's all down hill.
Why should I have to choose between making a difference in life or making a name for myself? The first can only be accomplished by a work of God, something only He can get credit for. The second can be accomplished by building a puff sheet resume or a self congratulatory website. In Proverbs, God tells us that He is not pleased when His people brag about what they have done with their lives. He considers it a higher form of praise when even strangers can tell He has made a difference in His children. The choice is yours, God reports and you decide which path to take in life.
During the Gilded Age of the 19th Century, D.L, Moody was challenged with the words, " The world has yet to see what God will do with and for and through and in and by the man who is fully consecrated to him." His response was, "I will be that man." God used a meagerly educated salesman to straddle the Atlantic Ocean and shake America and England with Spiritual Awakening. The 21st Century could benefit from people who weren't so full of themselves. The strangers of this century and in this culture need to see people who give God elbow room in their lives. People who allow Him to do a work in them will be privileged to be a part of something only He can get credit for. God save us from self-made men and women.
"For I am confident of this very thing. That He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." Phil. 1:6
BTW: God is doing a great work in you, and His handprints are all over your life.