When the Son of God also became the Son of Man, he suffered every temptation human beings can possibly experience and never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). He also did miracles, healings, deliverences, taught us about the Kingdom then said "Greater things than this will you do" (John 14:12). When Jesus left earth, He sent us a gift: the same Holy Spirit that He received at His baptism to help us live like Christ (John 14:16-26). So if Jesus can do it, so can we. If Jesus can be secure in His identity, so can we. Part 1 was about Jesus refusing to allow the voice of the 'father of lies' or any evil spirit have a say over His identity but that was not the only influence Jesus had to resist.
2. The Voice of Popular Culture
Sometimes the crowds of people who followed Jesus on earth thought so highly of Him that they were instantly ready to make Him their king - particularly after one of his greatest miracles (John 6:15). Other times they are ready to stone Him (John 8:59). One minute they are pledging their undying love and allegiance (Matthew 26:35) and the next minute they are crucifying Him for heresy (Matthew 27:22).
John 2:24-25 says that at the high points of Jesus's popularity, when many believed in Him "He refused to commit Himself to man because ... He knew what was in man."
This is fascinating! Jesus knew that the hearts of human beings are fickle. Humans can betray you with a kiss. They can steal from you with one hand while warmly shaking the other. Jesus knew. And so should we.
We may be blessed with wise friends who can give us great advice but even they do not determine our identity. We are not who we are because of what has been spoken over us by others - both the horrid nasty lies or twists of truth but also the flattery and enthusiasm of fleeting popularity. The fascinating thing about Jesus is that He didn't place His faith in the seemingly good stuff either - human words of praise from the lips of people.
Jesus already knew He was the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He knew His kingdom was not an earthly one and He Knew the Father had a plan for that Kingdom to come. In the same way that Jesus would not allow the enemy to set the timetable for the Kingdom of God, nor would He allow the over-excited, zealous crowd of believers to lift him up and make Him King in the spur of the moment. Jesus's life, His ministry and the coming of the Kingdom was based on the authority of just One: The Father.
Today more than ever it is possible for ordinary people to become famous in a short space of time; whether it's rising to sensational heights of popularity or being globally crushed overnight by tweeting trolls. To a lesser extent, even the simple likes and blocks of social media can cause emotional highs and lows if we are not careful. If this is where our security, our self esteem, our sense of who we are is coming from, our emotions and mental health will forever be subject to the roller coaster of popular memes and strangers re-tweeting this way and that.
- Great British Bake Off contestant and Christian, Martha Collison experienced the high of being selected as the youngest ever contestant on the show and the devastating low of public criticism over her accent and looks. Through it all, she told the media that her faith kept her stable.
- I once met the personal assistant of a British celebrity (who shot to fame through his musical talent and song-writing ability) whose sole purpose was to help his celebrity Christian boss stay level-headed, make responsible choices and not allow the sweep of fame to change him - he was determined and still is, to keep his identity in Christ as his main identity, no matter how many fans screamed his name or how many opportunities he was offered to leave the path of a disciple.
I believe encouraging, nurturing environments are essential to life and so important in the same way that I believe the in the loving correction of a friend. But just as we must be wary of the lies of the enemy, we must also be wary of the flattery of our fickle culture.
Proverbs 27:6 'Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.'
As I write, I believe this is the lesson God is teaching me right now. It's not just a message for celebrities or those addicted to social media but for everyday life.
I often think back to a time when I was working and living in a warm, nurturing, loving environment surrounded by people who loved me, thought I was great and even told me so. I began to see my future in this community and made plans for the direction of my life until God interrupted and changed (or put back on track) the course of my life. In fact, I think God has done this twice.
Right now I do not live in that nurturing environment - not to the same extent anyway.
I work alone from my home where no one really cares if I show up or not and I have to motivate myself every day. This is off the back of being a stay at home mum where almost every job goes un-thanked and unnoticed. While I've found that extremely difficult and had moments when I wondered if my life even mattered, bit by bit, God is teaching me how He can be my strength, building me up on a foundation of security in Him alone. (more on this in part 3 or 4... this blog's getting longer...!)
While I still hope and believe this season won't last forever, ultimately I believe God has been training me. Can I still live and love and serve in difficult circumstances? Can I still function with only the encouragement of my God to sustain me, in a place where I am not regularly admired for my strengths and talents - in fact, most people don't even know what they are? Ultimately I am being challenged to believe one thing - Is God enough? Are His words over me and His Spirit in me enough for me to follow Him and follow the calling He has placed on my life? Even if I have to go it alone for a little while?
The following three men of God have inspired me:
- Paul who wrote in Philippians 4:11 'I have learned how to be content in every situation.' Notice he says, I have learned. That means he didn't always know. He must have found himself in situations that at first made him very discontent but he learned how to be content through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:11-14) Paul endured times when he was without friends or encouragement, abandoned even by his Christian brothers and sisters to rot in jail for preaching the gospel. He writes: 'My first defence no one stood with me, but all forsook me ... But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me' (2 Timothy 4:16-17)
- Reinhard Bonnke's words of faith
"I am immune to the criticism of man because I am immune to the praise of man."
- Rudyard Kipling's line in the poem "If"
"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
... You'll be a man my son."
(or for our purposes... 'You'll know who you in Christ, my daughter!')
Jesus was immune to people's praises and their criticism because he knew what we need to know: to build our identity on them is like building our identity on the tide of the sea. It waxes and wanes and we will be forever unstable and uncertain; chasing the compliments, being crushed under the criticism, going from identity crisis to identity crisis. For Jesus, the praise, complaints or even recognition of man were not the source of His identity nor an influence over His actions and He held the flattery of the crowd at arm's length - even running away from it at times.
What did Jesus choose instead? He chose to find that quiet space where He could be alone with His Father. (More on this in part 3 & 4.)
Get Real With God
- Are you the kind of person who requires a huge amount of encouragement from others to follow through or do you prefer to forge ahead alone? Or something in between?
- Have you experienced times when God or the teaching of Christ is saying something different to the people around you? How did you feel? What did you do?
- Ask God to reveal to you any words that have been spoken over you by another person and that you believed, that were not ultimately from Him and write them down. It may have sounded like a positive at the time but it's actually been restrictive and labelled you in a way God never intended.
- Pray for God to be your strength - when you are criticised, when you are flattered and when you feel alone.
Click here if you missed Part 1: Your Identity: Who's Voice Are you Listening To?
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