An old Scottish proverb says, “Open confession is good for the soul.” With that in mind, can we all openly admit we all possess some bit of narcissistic tendency?
The word “narcissism” comes from the Greek Mythological character by the name of Narcissus. The myth goes that Narcissus, while passing by a reflecting pool, became so enamored with his own reflection that he could not look away from his own beauty. Narcissus continued his gaze until he eventually died, unwilling to pull himself away from his own image.
This is a cautionary tale about becoming fixated on oneself; within Christianity we call this, simply, pride. Our perception of how great we are causes us to be unable to care for ourselves or others, as well as, places us in our minds, above the Creator God. When this occurs, the Bible warns us, like the tale of Narcissus, that “pride comes before the fall.” Our vanity, or pride, has been the downfall of our sinful nature since the fall, and was the reason for the fall, and regardless of how humble we think we are, I believe pride is the root of most of our sin and it is an issue which we all wrestle with every single day.
The culture we live in plays into our own narcissism, it encourages our pride and arrogance. I was reminded of this recently when my oldest daughter came home singing a song she had heard at school. I had heard the song a number of times in various places, it wasn’t a song that fits into my musical palette (I’m a noisy indie rock, quiet singer songwriter kidna guy), but I was somewhat familiar with the song when she began to sing it. The song’s chorus encourages people to watch the singer do a dance move which I’m still not entirely certain as to what that move actually means, yet it was neither the concept of what a “whip” or “nay nay” is or is not that caused me to discuss why we were not going to be singing the song in our house. The troubling part of the song for me was the repeated refrain of “Watch Me! Watch Me!”
For some of you reading this, you know exactly which song I’m referencing. I have been surprised at a number of public events I’ve been at where large crowds of people, who have been ignoring whatever music is playing at to this point, begin to bob their heads and sing a long to this simple refrain. Now, I may be making too big of a deal out of a simple lyric, but as I’ve talked about in a former post, I do think the things we read, watch, and listen to are important. I do not find this song nearly as overtly offensive as some songs we could talk about, but I do think the lyrical content and the connection those lyrics have made, not only with young people, but people of all ages is very telling for us all.
Let’s turn the dialogue inward. It’s easy for me to think of other people that I might would consider to be self absorbed, but I find in doing so, I’m feeling fairly prideful about myself. For the past ten years or more, I’ve served as a worship leader, children’s pastor, and teaching pastor at my home church. Basically that means, I’m on a stage A LOT, and when you are on a stage, you have a lot of people looking at you. If I am not careful, a platform of any size can quickly go to my head. Aside from being on stage, I write a blog, which I feel God has compelled me to do, to spread His word, and help others on their spiritual journey as I am on my own. Though I didn’t feel the need to use my name in the blog title, yet blogging can be a bit of self promotion that can go to anyone’s head as well. Like most of our society, I also have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and two Instagram accounts. If I am not careful, like the refrain in the song, I’m simply chanting “Watch Me!” over and over.
My situation is not unique, it is common. Though your circumstances are probably different than mine, we all have businesses, jobs, hobbies, houses, and accomplishments that can go to our heads. Here, Paul would encourage us all to:
“…not think of himself more highly than he ought to think.” (Romans 12:3, ESV)
But what is the proper gauge of how high or low we should think of ourselves? If we think to highly, we become prideful, but if we think to lowly of ourselves, we are at risk of devaluing the fact that God has a purpose for your life, a role for you to play. C.S. Lewis famously gave us a great observation in his book “Mere Christianity’ on how we should think about ourselves. He said,
“True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.”
I think that is a true statement. I also think a good gauge of where our affections lie, is if we would be willing to give up any attention we are receiving to someone else, or would we be willing to give up getting glory in order to give glory.
As Christians, our job is to be little representatives of Christ. That is literally what the term “Christians” means. If I am representing Christ, any attention, affections, or glory I may receive in my life or work, should be redirected to Jesus himself. So to put it plainly, would we be willing to give up all of that to God? Or do we want to hog the spotlight for ourselves?
We have no greater example of this than John the Baptist. John burst on the scene with a truly extreme ministry. God’s followers had spent the time between the Testaments not hearing from God, they were in need of something tangible when John began his radical wilderness revival. To use a term Pentecostal Pastors like to use, John’s ministry was “Blowing and Going.” Then Jesus steps on the scene.
John had been upfront throughout his ministry that he was the forerunner of the coming Messiah, but not the Messiah himself. This did not stop many of his followers to assume that John was the one the Old Testament had promised would be coming. As the crowds grew, I am sure John was wrestling, as we all do, to keep his pride or ego in check. It all came to a head one day as a crowd listened to John preach, from the back of the crowd John noticed Jesus approaching. This was the moment that he could choose to ignore Jesus’ arrival and keep people watching himself, or he could relinquish the stage.
In John 1:29 John stops speaking and points to Jesus:
“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
He continues to tell the crowd that this man is who they have been waiting for. Again, the next day John is with his followers and Jesus walks by and again John cries out “Behold the Lamb of God.” What happens next is the litmus test of our humility.
“The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.” (John 1:37 ESV)
This was the end of John’s flourishing ministry. As we see later, he wrestled with letting the crowd go, but in the end he was content with redirecting the spotlight to “the one.” I often wonder what I would do if I were in John’s shoes.
There is a crime drama on TV that boasted for years that its plot lines were “ripped from the headlines.” I remember reading a story where a family sued the show for taking certain elements of their true story and misrepresenting what actually happened. I forget the outcome of the case, but I can’t help but think we often do the same thing when reading God’s word. We “rip” passages out and apply them to us, when they aren’t about us at all. As a kid, I remember hearing the story of David and Goliath and thinking that I was supposed to be the “David of the story.” If I had enough faith, I could stand up to whatever giant that stood in my way. And while there may be some truth in that statement, if we look at that story, if there is anyone in that story who represents us, we are the members of the Israelite army who are helpless against the enemy. Jesus is David, not us.
We like to be the heroes of our own stories. We like to quote verses like “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” so that we can win football games. The simple fact is we are not the heroes of our story, and that verse we quote is about learning to be content when we learn this story is not about our glory. Jesus is the hero, God deserves the glory, and we just get to have small roles in pointing people to Him. This doesn’t stop us from having to fight against wanting to hog the glory though. This is why Paul says in Galatians:
“Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord…” (Galatians 6:14, ESV)
Also, why he quotes Jeremiah in 1 Corinthians:
“Let the one who boast, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31, ESV)
The problem is when we confuse ourselves with God. We become like Narcissus, and die gazing into our own perceived beauty. It is not that God doesn’t want us to have a platform, or longs for us all to live in obscurity. God wants us to thrive, He wants us to accomplish great things, but he’s very specific about what we are to do when we do those things. In Matthew 5, Jesus begins His public instructions by telling us that we should be like a city on a hill. He says that we shouldn’t hide our light from others. He wants us to be seen. He tells everyone who will listen that they should go out and do good things in front of others so that they will see the light we have. However, Jesus knew in doing this we would be tempted to let that attention go to our heads. So he ends the passage in this way:
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and GIVE GLORY TO YOUR FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN.” (Matthew 5:16 ESV, Emphasis added.)
May we all be more like John, and be willing to point to Christ instead of asking people to “watch me!”
Grace and Peace to you.