Following on the heels of thoughts on mediocrity, my thoughts have been swinging the other way – not because of suddenly getting so much better, but because it seems there’s always a see-saw between “I feel so good!” and “I’m awful” (or, “I have so far to go!”), with the latter being far more frequent (and if I feel really good, all I have to do is go do some aural training and that good feeling vanishes).
I began thinking more about how we act when we’re feeling good – or even when we’re feeling bad and wanting to feel good again. Most often, this manifests itself in boasting. Some small accomplishment – or maybe a big one – makes it into our Facebook status. We want people to know we fixed that reed ourselves or memorized the concerto or ran a faster mile. We even do this under the guise of complaining – we may be upset at how busy we are because we don’t have time for some things, but deep down we’re actually quite proud of all we’re getting done and want others to know about it.
The beginning of these thoughts were already in my mind when we sang “How Deep the Father’s Love” at church. The last verse says “I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no pow’r, no wisdom,
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.”
Not boast in anything, not even the gifts He’s given us. Not boasting in the length of time we can hold a note supported by breaths given by Him, or the distance we can run with strength from Him, or conversational skill gained by His wisdom.
But you can not boast and still be prideful. The boasting may remain in your thoughts, whether you’re lingering on all your accomplishments or putting others down so you can feel better about yourself. I’m currently reading Amy Carmichael’s little book, “If – What Do I Know of Calvary Love?” Each page has a paragraph or two, each beginning with “If I…” and ending with “then I know nothing of Calvary love.” And in the middle is always some convicting statement, and they are almost always related to pride. It’s a book I highly recommend. You can read some excerpts here, and download the whole book here.
When I think of examples of boasting, most of the thoughts that come to mind are of myself, because I know I am often guilty of it. And when I think of people I know who aren’t boastful, they seem to share one common trait: they don’t draw attention to what they know or can do, but keep it for when using it will benefit others. They may be able to play for 60 seconds straight or have perfect pitch or a great wealth of scientific knowledge. But they don’t flaunt those skills, neither do they ignore them. They use them when they’re needed. When they need to play a long passage without breathing, or we need a starting note and have no instruments around, or when someone needs help with homework or is being confused by research and quotes that are making claims we know nothing about (this especially goes for lots of articles on health food, that often quote without reference or the references aren’t those we should be looking to on the subject), they use their skills, but they use their gifts as we’re supposed to: not to build ourselves up but to build others up, drawing attention to helping the other person and not what we know.
It makes me think of a quote I read about technique the other day. “The most profoundly inspiring performances of a lifetime were those where the performer’s technique was so superb that we forgot it existed.” Said another way, “technique only exists to make the music come alive.”
Gifts from God can be likened to superb technique. They may be incredible and mind-blowing – and yet if it really is great our attention isn’t drawn to the gift but to what the purpose of the gift is. The technique is there so we can more accurately convey what the composer wants, not so people will say “did you see how fast he played that?” but “that piece of music made me feel… inspired me to… etc.” It helps us get out of the way so that the music can speak. Likewise, the gift is there so we can serve others and point them to the Giver.
As the hymn-writer said,
“May His beauty rest upon me
As I seek the lost to win,
And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him.”
And so after saying “I will not boast in anything,” the hymn writer continues, “but I will boast in Jesus Christ.”
Our lives are not about ourselves, but Christ. And when we have that perspective, then on our worst days we remember that what lasts isn’t our ability or how great we are, but Christ, that matters most. And on our best days, we remember that anything good in us is from Him.
Let’s use our gifts – be they musical, relational, scientific, artistic, or anything else – to draw attention not to ourselves, but to the One who is unfathomably greater.