Some time during my early teens, I decided I wanted to be a famous musician. I’d been singing and performing for most of my life. People (mostly biased family members) were always telling me I had talent and that I was a natural performer. I loved being on stage. From playing the lead angel in the church Christmas musical, to my many (rather tedious) piano recitals, I always felt a rush of excitement when I heard others applauding me. As I got older, I began to aggressively pursue my dream of becoming a successful musician.
The more I got involved in the music industry, the more I kept hearing the message, “Promote yourself, promote yourself, promote yourself!” I became convinced that drawing attention to myself was the only way I could be a good steward of the talent God had given me.
A few years later, God began gently shining His searchlight of conviction upon this area of my life. As I drew nearer to Jesus Christ and embraced a life of surrender to Him, I awakened to the fact that my musical pursuits were completely self-focused. None of my ambitions had truly been for His glory, but for my own desire to be appreciated, applauded, and recognized. The more I studied Scripture, the more I came to realize that the Christian life was not supposed to be about self-promotion, but self-denial.
To serve Christ with an undivided heart, I had to let go of my desire to be center stage. I had to exchange my dream for personal glory for a new dream: bringing Him glory in every area of my life, pointing people’s eyes to Jesus, even if no one ever noticed me at all.
This was not an easy exchange to make. But as I asked Him for the strength to obey, I found amazing peace in withdrawing from my self-promoting lifestyle and laying my personal ambitions at His feet.
The Lure of Self-Promotion
You don’t have to be an aspiring musician to fall into the trap of self-promotion. Whether it’s in pursuit of a guy, a career, a ministry opportunity, or a bigger social media following, we can quickly become preoccupied with drawing attention toward ourselves instead of humbly pointing people to Jesus Christ. In fact, we often believe it is our responsibility to promote ourselves in order to gain the things we desire. Our culture tells us:
“Want to find your future husband? Promote yourself! Flirt, flaunt, and throw yourself at guys so you don’t get overlooked!”
“Want to be popular? Promote yourself! Make sure you are always the center of attention at social gatherings. Ignore the outcasts and only spend time around people who can help you gain more popularity!”
It’s easy to justify self-promotion, but that’s not God’s pattern at all.
It’s easy to justify self-promotion, because it often seems so wise and logical. After all, the more noticed and popular we become, the better Christian witnesses we will be, right? But surprisingly, that’s not God’s pattern at all.
A Different Way to Measure Success
At the peak of John the Baptist’s ministry, Jesus also started baptizing, and people began coming more to Jesus than to John. Disturbed by this trend, John’s followers told him, “Behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!” (John 3:26).
Yet John knew that his sacred commission was to make Jesus, not himself, known to the world. He told his followers, “I am only the friend of the bridegroom; not the bridegroom Himself; when the bridegroom is seen, my joy is complete” (John 3:29, author’s paraphrase). And then John made a profound statement, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). What an amazing attitude! John’s primary concern was getting out of the way so that Jesus could be seen. He knew that if he tried to take center stage, Jesus would not receive the glory that He deserved.
The same is true in our own lives. When we try to be seen and applauded, Jesus fades into the background, and people look at us, not Him. But when we focus on getting out of the way and pointing others to Him, He receives the glory He deserves.
If we are pursuing our dreams in order to get what we want out of life rather than to lead others to the Source of true life, we are missing a crucial part of Christianity.
This doesn’t mean we can never cultivate the unique talents and personalities that He has given us. It is certainly possible to use our gifts to glorify God (in fact, that is why He gave them to us in the first place!). But first, we must ask some critical questions: Am I doing this for His glory or for my own applause? When people see this part of my life, are they drawn closer to Jesus, or are they merely impressed with me?
If we are more concerned with what others think of us than what they think of Jesus, then we have not learned how to be a faithful “friend of the Bridegroom,” as John the Baptist was. If we are pursuing our dreams in order to get what we want out of life rather than to lead others to the Source of true life, we are missing a crucial part of Christianity.
Pointing Others to Jesus
When my husband and I were first getting to know each other, my dad made the observation, “Ever since Eric has been in your life, you have grown closer to Jesus.” Though Eric had a dynamic personality, he had an amazing way of deflecting attention away from himself and toward Jesus. It’s not that the only thing he ever talked about was Jesus (though he did find a way onto that subject quite often!), but his overall attitude and focus was centered on heavenly things instead of earthly ones, and he was marked by godly humility.
He did not boast about his accomplishments or show off his intelligence or witty humor. Though he was outgoing, he always found ways to encourage those around him and point them toward Jesus, rather than constantly trying to take center stage. He didn’t seem concerned with building up his own image, but he was passionate about showcasing the love of Christ to everyone with whom he came in contact. Even if he didn’t specifically share the gospel with his words, he continually shared the gospel through his life and example.
Ever since my dad’s observation about Eric, it has been my goal to point others toward Christ when I interact with them. I have the type of personality that naturally desires approval from others. But God says that instead of worrying about what people are thinking of me or trying to build up my value in their eyes, I must choose to uplift, encourage, and exhort those around me—to demonstrate the nature of Christ through my words, example, expression, and attitude.
I don’t always succeed at doing this; there are times when I allow insecurity or selfishness to hinder me from showcasing the gospel to others. But I have found that when I purposefully ask, “How can I show Jesus to this person right now?” God gives me the wisdom and grace I need in order to point others’ eyes toward Him instead of drawing attention to myself.
Imagine the freedom of being unconcerned whether people appreciated your unique talents, personality, or accomplishments. Imagine if your only concern was making Jesus known, even if no one ever remembered your name.
When we choose humility, we are choosing the very attitude of Christ, as it says in Phil 2:5. And there is no better way for the beauty of heaven to come cascading through our lives than to get out of the way so that He can be clearly seen.