A candy corn here and there is a delectable treat; however, a diet built on candy corn would be both disgusting and disastrous. Likewise, an important distinction exists between a timely word of affirmation or praise and an identity build around the praise and honor of man.
I write from experience on both fronts. I have inherited honestly from my mother a sweet tooth and a compulsion to buy candy corn to keep in a dish during the Fall. One or two candy corn is enough saccharine to last one for days, but to rely on them for sustenance is a very bad idea. Ask my children who pilfer that little dish of artificial coloring entirely too quickly only to regret it later.
Unfortunately, I also have a soul palate that hungers for a disproportionate dose of praise from men. I tend to slip from enjoying a timely word of encouragement to trying to build an identity upon such sugar-coated treats.
When my right and understandable desire to hear how people see the Lord in and through me becomes inordinate, my soul gets a tummy ache. I usually don’t realize this is happening until my soul is pale and pallor from malnourishment, at which time the Lord graciously reminds me that His smile alone is to be my staple.
If we live on the approval of man, man’s disapproval or honest critique of us will kill us rather than becoming an opportunity for growth and honest assessment. If we ride the waves of man’s approval and praise, we will surely get wiped out and tossed.
Jesus knew this. His staple was the smile of His eternal Father. After thirty years of faithful obscurity, Jesus suddenly found Himself being publicly applauded and hailed by large Passover crowds who had seen His miracles. How did He respond? John felt it important to tell us exactly how our Christ reacted to the sudden adoration of the crowds. “But Jesus on His part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” John 2: 24-25.
When the same crowds who would later scream “Crucify him” laid down their coats in laud and hysterical praise, He did not entrust Himself to their whims.
Man’s heart is fickle, and even his earnest praise is fleeting. If our personhood is based upon our performance and man’s judgement of that performance, we are entrusting ourselves to something unsteady and unsound.
In Christ, we have a much more lasting option. We base our personhood as His perfect performance as a man on the earth which climaxed in capital punishment in the stead of unsteady humanity.
Through Christ, we have access to the Father’s smile at all times and in all circumstances. The steady beam of favor which emanates from our Heavenly Father changes not, shifts not, wanes not; however, I often place the smaller, shifting smiles of men in front of that beam, thus obscuring my staple.
I long to increasingly sit under the beam of His smile, eternally secured for me by Christ. I long to enjoy a steady diet of His smile as my staple so that I grow increasingly anchored in a switching sea of man’s approval and disapproval.
I read the following story (emphasis mine) in Brennan Manning’s book The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus many years ago. However, the last line gets me every time I read it. I so long to be like Uncle Seamus, whose deepest certainty was that God was deeply fond of him.
“Several years ago, Edward Farrell, a priest from Detroit, went on a two-week summer vacation to Ireland to visit relatives. His one living uncle was about to celebrate his eightieth birthday. On the great day, Ed and his Uncle got up early. It was before dawn. They took a walk along the shores of Lake Killarney and stopped to watch the sunrise. They stood side by side for a full twenty minutes and then resumed walking. Ed glanced at his uncle and saw that his face had broken into a broad smile. Ed said, “Uncle Seamus, you look very happy.” “I am.” Ed asked, “How come?” And his uncle replied, “The Father of Jesus is very fond of me.”