We long to be distinguished, to stand apart, to feel above from the crowds. As such, it is not surprising that an honorable way to introduce a famous or elite person is to say, “Please welcome the distinguished….”
Our culture loves a stand out, whether on the basketball court or the courtroom, the classroom or the boardroom. This desire to be distinguished is not simply out there; though I am loathe to admit it, I find it still hiding in my own heart.
I have always longed to be distinguished. For the first half of my life, I wanted to be the best, to stand out head and shoulders above the rest. And for a long time, I was pretty good at it (which is not all that hard to do in elementary school through high school). I dreamed of having lots of letters after my name which implied a long list of accomplishments and accolades. When I came to know Christ (or rather came to realize how deeply he knew and loved me), he got right to work exposing this pattern for seeking praise.
God has been chipping away at this monolithic idol in my heart for nearly two decades now. As promised, he is making me new; but sometimes it sure does feel like a slow work.
Whenever I speak at a retreat, inevitably someone asks me about my seminary degree (or lack thereof). And for a moment, I feel a wave of fear, insecurity, and shame at having no letters to hang on my name and no extra degrees to dangle in conversations. In those moments I feel like a sailor-gone-overboard, frantically looking around for something to hold my weight and keep me afloat. And then I remember that I can stand on an unseen sandbar.
As a daughter of the King, I am distinguished by his delight in me. My confidence comes from a source far more steady than my own performance or gifts. The Spirit brings to mind verses I put to memory when I first began fighting my false confidence in the flesh. I remember that an implication of the gospel is that I put no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:1-4).
“Thus says the Lord, ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:23-24).
The Spirit reminds me gently that I do not need to ride the roller coaster of man’s approval with its tummy-dropping heights and its sudden, sharp lows (John 2:24-25; Galatians 1:10).
Distinguished by Delight
This morning in my study of Psalm 17, the Hebrew word palah (translated distinguished or distinction in the Old Testament) jumped off the page at me.
Wondrously show your steadfast love, O Savior of those who seek refuge from their adversities at your right hand (Psalm 17:7).
In other words, the psalmist is saying, “Set me apart by your steadfast love; let your faithful love and delight be my greatest distinction.”
The Psalm, which began with the imagery of a trial scene ends with a scene of the psalmist treasuring the face of Christ.
“As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (Psalm 17:15).
What a sweet and timely reminder from the Lord. I long for my greatest distinction to stem from God’s delight in me: an undeserved, unearned, dearly purchased but freely bestowed delight. I long for the day when, like the Apostle John, I will most deeply identify myself as “the one whom Jesus loved.”
The more my heart can be stilled from strivings to begin to believe and receive God’s delight of me through the work of Christ, the less I will crave human distinguishment. Like the writer of Psalm 17 who began in a courtroom, trying to prove his worth and righteousness (or distinction), I long to end my struggle in the bright light of God’s delight.
I want to be like Uncle Seamus, an eighty-year-old man described by Brennan Manning in his excellent book The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus.
“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’.”
May we need no more distinction than the delight of the Father. May his delight in us and our subsequent delight in him be our single beaming distinguishment.