Speaking of John the Baptist, Scripture says,”And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.” Luke 1:80
In the December 1, 2009 issue of the Christian Century, Andrew Finstuan, in an article entitled: Where is Reinhold Niebuhr when we need him? This American mess quotes Niebuhr as saying, “men want power and glory as much, if not more than material possessions.” I think Niebuhr was on to something.
Even in Christendom, within every church community, within every heart, there is the temptation to promote self instead of God. Our flesh and the devil and his minions can take a good desire, a desire to serve God, and twist it so that it becomes self-serving. At times we’re so hungry for fame and recognition and power (control) that we are willing to act in our own strength, do whatever it takes, to achieve the ambitions of our hearts. Perhaps unknowingly, we seek to overthrow God by seeking the glory and power and honor that he alone deserves. It is a subtle temptation because our ambitions, our wills are cloaked in righteousness. However, should we be stripped of that cloak, we find that we are not purely righteous for we want to be superstar writers, pastors, monastics, social-justice activists, priests, servers, moms, fathers, musicians, holy men and women because we seek glory and power for ourselves. The church is merely our venue for glory and power grabbing.
As I mentioned, we’re often not aware of our sometimes sinister motives, but let us remember Jesus’ words in Mattew 7:21, “”Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” If we are to enter the Kingdom, we have to be obedient to his will, not our own. And sometimes we equate our own will with his. So how do we know the difference? We must be careful to listen for his voice and direction (through Scripture first and foremost, tradition–the Christian community now and throughout the ages, reason and experience).
And we must remember that the Lord often forges his vessels in the fires of obscurity. Abraham away from his people, Joseph in prison, Moses in the desert for forty years, David in the wilderness fleeing from Saul, John the Baptist, and of course Jesus for the first thirty years of his life.
Obscurity–God’s school of humility and purification, transformation, renewal, and wisdom. In obscurity we grow and become strong in spirit as did John the baptist.
Perhaps we’ll leave obscurity and enter public ministry. Perhaps not. Either way, God is the one who decides. God is the one who promotes. And God is the one who alone receives the glory. It would behoove us, behoove me, to remember that the person who would be greatest in the Kingdom will be servant of all. Our God is a jealous God who will not share his glory with another.