Most folks know that much of my experience growing up in Hoosier country involved lots and lots of basketball. Whether alone in an empty gym or outside on a concrete court I put forth some serious effort into that game. I have to acknowledge that the effort and intensity shot up dramatically depending on who was in my audience. If one of my coaches was present or a pretty girl walked in the gym my posture and level of effort significantly spiked up. It's humbling to admit that sometimes I played the game for the “Attaboy” factor. Although my strong commitment to being cool at all costs allowed me to play it off, I gotta admit now that I loved the affirmation and acclamation I'd receive as a result of my accomplishments on the court.
The same question remains in my ministry work today... Am I working and living out of obedience to the One or for the “attaboy”? Does my posture and effort vary based on who I see in my audience?
As Thomas Merton says,
We must be content to live without watching ourselves live, to work without expecting any immediate reward, to love without an instantaneous satisfaction, and to exist without any special recognition.
I work with the poor and I work to connect others with the poor in discipleship relationships. That sounds quite noble and all, but the authenticity of which I do my work relies mostly on who I perceive is watching me.
From Richard Foster's, Freedom of Simplicity,
Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, "Pray for me that I not loosen my grip on the hands of Jesus even under the guise of ministering to the poor." That is our first task: to grip the hands of Jesus with such tenacity that we are obliged to follow his lead, to seek first his kingdom. The next step is so simple I am almost embarrassed to mention it, and yet it is so important that I must. Begin now to obey him in every way you can.
The temptation to come off cool in the eyes of important people is just as relevant now as it was back in my younger b-ball days. The temptations just change shape as we grow older.
But more and more I recognize that I'm most prone to a life of obedience when I allow myself to accept that I'm accepted right now in this very moment regardless of the outcomes of my performances. My effort toward impressing a culture who thinks they're hungry for 360 dunks is empty energy by Kingdom standards.
Knowing that I'm accepted by God and can never be disconnected from that complete love and the sonship that Paul talks about in Romans 8 moves me further from the anxiety over attaboys and closer to the Jesus life of quiet and simple obedience.