Performance isn’t worship. Either can be done with too much focus on ourselves, either can be done from motives to bless, encourage, honor God -as well as blessing, encouraging and honoring our neighbor. Let that sink in for a moment.
When Jesus commands us “Love your neighbor as yourself” there must be at core a true, genuine loving of yourself, acceptance of yourself. Mind you, I do not mean accepting your sinful nature and acting out in ways that dishonor God and ignore people. Yet it does seem those most insecure, most un-accepting of others are often themselves starved for acceptance. In essence, their deep lack of believing, experiencing they are loved and accepted by God short-circuits their ability to love Him and others.
I’ve been once again slowly reading through the Book of Psalms. Pondering 147 for the past two days, verse 11 especially, how interesting that as I opened my ECC Home Altar devotional this a.m. I read Aiesha Cox’s profound yet simple lines based on that very Psalm. “God is worthy of our praise beyond the things he does for us. God deserves our praise for simply who he is. He’s a loving God. He’s a faithful God. He’s a merciful God. When we shift our focus to his heart for us and not merely the work of his hands, praise is surely fitting.” (https://covenantcompanion.com/2021/02/08/worthy-of-our-praise/)
I believe there is also something in these thoughts for us to consider as He re-creates us more in likeness to Himself and it’s this: HE is blessed when who WE are (becoming!) is loving, faithful, merciful, when we shift our focus to reflect HIS heart in us and not merely the work of our own hands… I suspect He smiles on us twice- the first time because He loves us, the next because we are receiving His heart and nature in blessing others as He does and desires us to do in this needy world!
I woke up this morning thinking about so many musicians and other artists -tormented and mega-depressed yet massively talented people with growing and often super-large public personas. They are envied, liked, others are jealous of them for their skills and accomplishments yet people are never aware of their struggles, blemishes, sins or personal demons. Our focus is not on them as people but as talented and those acquiring success.
Among Christians and others not of any faith, the gifted (spiritually, artistically or with or talents) are looked up to as role models, sometimes sparking an idea that we might one day be “that good”. Of course all humans are flawed and some much like an iceberg -we only see that which stands majestically above the waterline.
I won’t name names, but as a musician more than one of my musical heroes looked, sounded and in almost every area so impressed me I never really thought about their addictions, destructive lifestyles, discarding people around them at any whim or merely because they didn’t love them just as they did not truly love themselves. Many of them died at an early age though amazingly gifted. They had a powerful muse but did not have a life.
As an insecure kid, usually fat, a bed-wetter until I was (?) 13 years old, the 3rd of 3 kids in a home laced with tension, disintegration, my parent’s divorce, I had in my own view of only “one thing going for me”: I could sing. And eventually write songs, play guitar and perform. My identity and security blanket was -musician- and nothing else.
Performing was and is personally fulfilling, even nurturing to me but not in the same exact ways it was prior to my walking with Jesus. Night and day really. Perhaps I’ll unpack more of that in the future but for now:
Acceptance for any of us and I mean ANY of us is such a key matter, a deep need and desire! Knowing someone, at least one person truly accepts, maybe even loves us -though connected, not synonymous…- affects not only how we think of ourselves but how we treat others. “…as you love yourself.”
Performance, achievement in music, then losing weight, getting high, sex/girls all became my “ticket” to what I thought was true acceptance of me, Glenn the person not merely the musician.
The lights began to come on as I read Jesus’ statements, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? -Matthew 16.24-26
Near the end of these comments He added “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” -v. 27
Plenty of people get hung up on that last verse focusing on the produce of their labor, production output, the actions of their lives either earning them favor and eternal life with God or condemning them. Some argue it’s all about rewards for performance.
Jesus and New Testament writers continually speak of the GRACE (UN-earned favor) of God being the basis of HIS acceptance of us – NOT our works however good they are! Further, plenty scriptures focus on the heart, the motive, the intent as to WHY we do whatever it is we do.
Get this: though study, practice and skill (music or other art form, etc.) allows us to create better offerings it is never the gift, talent, offering itself God is looking at but rather our actual motives for the work, for the offering. I won’t here list the many Bible texts that accent this truth but there are a lot of them.
I know and have known sooooo many gifted artists in many modes of art-making who are deeply troubled and sometimes self-loathing people. Certainly biological, mental challenges and abuse affect many, that’s a given, but I’m talking about something else. Art offerings are often their monument to themselves more than about serving others or honoring God. When worship is focused on self it is not the worship of God “in spirit and in truth”. You see, even a worship leader (and I’m also one of those…) can be caught up self-primping as in a mirror rather than focused UP and OUT. How do I know this to be possible? HA… uhhh… well… 🙂
All this points back to our own truest needs and unless such needs are recognized and dealt with in healthy, healing and maturing-toward-growth and positive change ways we will likely live in at least elements of tragedy rather than recognizing our blessings and living to bless God and others.
“What have you been given that is not a gift?” writes Paul in 1 Corinthians 4.7
Think a bit more about Paul’s admonition to “Examine yourselves to prove whether you are in the faith.” – 2 Corinthians 13.5
What does it mean to walk in the Spirit if not to walk in faith faithfully (as Paul unpacks in depth in his letter to the Galatian church)?
I don’t think at base it means mere performance. The devil performed as an orator actually quoting God’s Word -and was/is no less the devil!
I’m convinced Paul was getting at a faith in the love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and acceptance of God to the extent we know our salvation is in Jesus and no other BUT Him. Of course this will bear fruit (of the Spirit and good works) as Jesus clearly taught in John chapter 15. I’m also convinced that our motives and deepest desires must be for Him and others, not working ourselves to death in order to be liked or accepted. No matter our offering some will never consider it good enough. Thank God He thinks differently about the whole issue.
If we can learn and trust God’s loving acceptance of us (not our every choice or sin… but US.) we are on the road of freedom and can begin to truly worship Him and feed His sheep rather than live in a constant “tail chase” round and round which is a sad and needless tragedy regardless of our apparent gifts and talents.
Last point- popularity doesn’t equal love. It never has and never will. I’ve experienced the disdain and the honor of a lot of people in my lifetime, but as Jesus said in quite negative terms, “How can you believe, when you receive/accept honor/glory from one another and you do not seek the honor/glory that is from the one and only God?” -John 5.44
I believe these are things worth considering.
As always, thanks for stopping by. -Glenn