“How good are you?”
The question caught me totally off guard. Several years ago I was having a conversation with someone about the possibility of creating some pieces of custom jewelry for their ministry to give as gifts. Even though I had done a whole lot of jewelry-making up until that point, I had never been asked to share how good I thought I was. I froze, completely unsure of how to answer. Even though I had had lots of really good feedback and had spent countless hours perfecting my techniques, I felt it would sound completely puffed up to just say, “I’m pretty experienced.” And I certainly didn’t want to ruin my reputation with this ministry I greatly respected by coming across as such.
As I stuttered and uh-ed my way to finding an answer, the person who asked the question leaned forward and said kindly, “It’s not prideful of you to tell me your level of skill. It’s completely fine if you state the facts. In fact, it’s good for both of us.” So, I answered as truthfully as I could, and ended up making the jewelry.
That conversation has come back to my mind over and over again in the years since. It pricked a part of me that I knew God was wanting to sanctify in a deeper way, but something that was so uncomfortable to face (again):
The fear of man.
You could probably call this one of my besetting sins. Too often it’s been the driving force behind my decisions, especially if it requires stepping outside my comfort zone and risking looking bad or silly in other people’s eyes for the sake of doing what is right. Now, why did that conversation spark all these thoughts? Because I realized that too often I give into the fear of man by cloaking it in seeming humility.
I don’t want to look prideful by sounding like I know too much about a certain subject, so I generalize and make it sound like I’m not that great (and that way I have an excuse not to live up to a certain expectation).
I don’t want to come across as pushy if I share the gospel with someone, so too often I chicken out.
I don’t want to look rude or too eager, so I choose not to ask for good things or opportunities.
I don’t want anyone to be offended, so I choose not to address the false doctrine that comes out in a conversation.
I don’t want to disrupt the peace, so I let reconciliation just kind of slip under the rug and pretend like it never happened.
And what’s the root of it all? Fear. Not love for God or love for others. It’s just plain old fear (along with pride, since I want to look good in other people’s eyes).
Now, there’s the other side of the coin that rushes into things recklessly and harshly. That’s just as bad, but it’s hardly ever my issue. This one – fear dressed up in humility – isn’t as easy to catch, because it can be all-too-easy to put a spiritual sheen on it. And, as if that excuse wasn’t good enough, we hear from the world all the time that this kind of “tolerance” is actually the humble way. “Don’t be too strong in your stance (unless it’s what is widely accepted).” “Live and let live.” “Keep your ‘radical’ Christian thoughts to yourself.” And boy, this appeals to my flesh… But the Holy Spirit won’t let me stay comfortable there. Because being truly humble means being like Jesus.
Jesus spoke the truth even when it was extremely unpopular (Matt 15:12). He was willing to associate with people who would make Him look bad (Matt 9:11). He was willing to be despised, rejected, ridiculed, and killed out of obedience to the Father and love for us (Isa 53:3). And He calls His disciples to follow in His footsteps.
Often, taking the most humble stance means we will receive severe criticism. It means we’ll look funny or crazy to others. It means speaking boldly when we’d rather be quiet. It means lovingly sharing black-and-white truth when we’d rather be gray about it.
All of this requires wisdom and grace that only God can give. If we try to change in our own strength, we’ll make a big mess out of things. We’ll just go from one extreme to the other. So, how does true change take place?
The fear of the Lord – knowing Him and loving Him.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”(Prov 9:10)
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…”(1 Jhn 4:18a)
The more we know God, the more we will love and revere Him. And as we delight ourselves in Him, we will learn more and more what it means to “keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal 5:25). He will give us wisdom for when to speak and when to stay quiet, when to ask and when to wait, when to confront and when to “bear with.” He will reveal wrong motives (i.e. fear, pride, etc.) and help us act and speak from the right ones (love for Him and for others).
Some of the most significant spiritual growth has taken place in my life when God has asked me to do or say things that I knew might rub people the wrong way. I knew there may be offense taken or significant back-lash. And you better believe I wanted to take all those excuses that flooded me about not causing waves and just “keep the peace.” But I’ve seen God’s wisdom manifest in unbelievable ways as I’ve died to myself and chosen to obey Him instead. I look back and see the ways I would have missed out on being used as a tool for His glory. And the more I experience this, the less I want to hold onto that false, fear-filled “humility” that keeps me ineffective in His Kingdom.
God can use even a seemingly insignificant conversation about something like jewelry-making to catch our attention, convict us, and make us more like Him. He loves us too much to let us stay in those sinful comfort zones of ours. He moves us out by His grace, revealing more and more just how incredible it is to risk it all for the sake of His glory.
If He’s asking you to take a risk in faith and out of obedience, do it. Don’t let the fear of what others think keep you from experiencing the joy of living in full abandon for Him.