Putting Ourselves Forward

When should we put ourselves forward?

Some years ago, a former pastor was speaking about the “selfie generation,” drawing parallels between self-promotion, self-interest, self-centeredness, etc. He mentioned in passing our youth pastor, a young man not long out of college who was very active on Facebook. The older pastor didn’t use the younger as a negative example. I think he just mentioned feeling a little awkward speaking about Facebook with one who knew how to use it so well.

It didn’t take long for the younger pastor to reduce his FaceBook presence. The only times he or his wife post anything any more is when they have a new baby. Of course, a growing family and ministry may have lessened his online time as much as the older pastor’s comment. But I miss hearing how the family is doing and seeing their updates. I suppose I could have, and should have, emailed or written them.

This is not a post for or against Facebook or selfies. But incidents like these have caused me to wonder when talking about ourselves goes too far.

We’ve probably all known people who post more than we want to know or see on FaceBook.

On the other hand, we can’t help but speak about ourselves, our thoughts, opinions, etc. We can share examples of what other people have said, but mostly we can only share from our own frame of reference.

Sharing ourselves is part of being human, being a friend, ministering to others. 2 Corinthians 1: 4 tells us to “comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

In my Christian college, each person in the dorms had to take turns sharing a devotional with the other members of their “prayer group,” which consisted of three rooms that met every evening. One particular roommate always struggled with what to share. Once she said, “I know what God has been teaching me, but how do I know if that’s what others need?” Well, we can only share out of what God has been teaching us. He’s probably showing us those things not only for our benefit, but also for those with whom we interact.

Once when a guest speaker was invited to speak at our church, he was in the middle of research for a book. He quipped, “If you want me to provide the meal, you’ll have to eat what’s cooking on my grill”—another way of saying he could only share what was primary in his own heart and mind at the time.

In Write Better by Andrew T. Le Peau, he suggests sharing something personal with one’s audience as a way to make a connection. But he acknowledges the difficulty:

Writing is a tightrope because on the one hand we are told as Christians not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, and on the other we are told that as writers we should talk about ourselves so audiences can identify with us. By being vulnerable we can draw readers in and so help them benefit from our life and work (p. 190).

Here are some principles that I need to keep in mind.

God promises wisdom when we ask for it. I clearly need wisdom.

Do I listen before I respond? James says, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). We’ve probably all had the experience of someone telling us what we need to do when they clearly don’t understand the issue. Few things are more frustrating. I shouldn’t assume. Maybe I don’t even need to answer; maybe I just need to provide a listening ear or shoulder to lean on.

Do I show interest in others? I have one friend who asks lots of questions. After one time we were together, I realized that we had spent most of our time talking about what was going on in my life. Sure, I was mostly responding to her queries. But I neglected to ask about how she was doing. I have tried to rectify that in our subsequent visits.

Am I the star of my own narrative? Am I, in my own mind, the hero, the one who came up with the right answer or best solution and saved the day?

Now, sometimes we did come up with the best solution, and it’s not wrong to say so. Thomas Umstaddt, Jr. tells the story of Dr. Barry Marshall’s work on the cause and treatment of ulcers. His research led to a different theory than that of prevailing medical opinion. He was denied permission to conduct human trials. So he experimented on himself to prove his theory that ulcers could be treated with antibiotics. Thomas makes the point that it would have been wrong of Marshall to hold back his discovery because he didn’t want to put himself out there and promote his own work. He helped others by sharing his research.

In the apostle Paul’s writings, he had to stand fast on the truth and oppose false doctrine. He did so not because he couldn’t tolerate anyone else’s opinions, but because God’s glory and people’s souls were at stake.

So sometimes it’s right to share my research or solutions or whatever. But I need to make sure I don’t view every opinion or solution of mine in that way.

What is my motive? Am I seeking God’s glory or mine? Am I seeking to minister to people or seeking attention?

Am I operating from humility? As Andrew Le Peau stated above, the Bible does tell us, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Romans 12:3). That doesn’t mean we put ourselves down. The verse goes on to say, “but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” I like what C. S. Lewis said about humility: a truly humble man will “not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.” Part of humility is acknowledging that all our gifts, talents, experiences, and the truth we know all comes from God.

Can I help? I have an inner, competitive, over-eager student who would squirm in my chair saying, “PIck me! Pick me!” if I weren’t so self-conscious. So, to combat that tendency, I often don’t answer in a group setting. But sometimes the poor teacher asks a simple question that she wants a quick answer to, and we’re all holding back because we don’t want to put ourselves forward. So going ahead and answering–as long as I am not monopolizing the conversation—is sometimes the best help to the situation. Or a hostess asks for people to help themselves to a buffet, but no one wants to go first. And we’re all holding up the evening’s activities and letting the food get cold. Sometimes it’s more self-forgetful in those situations to just do what’s needed. And sometimes God lays a burden to say something or brings a situation to our attention because He does want us to pitch in or share our perspective.

Some of us are like Peter: quick to jump in or to speak. Others of us are more like Moses or Gideon: we need a little convincing before we step out or speak up.

I’m sure there’s much more that could be said on the subject of when and whether to put ourselves forward. But these are the thoughts I have at this time.

How about you? Have you wrestled these issues? What principles help you?

(Sharing with Hearth and Soul, Sunday Scripture Blessing, Selah, Scripture and a Snapshot, Inspire Me Monday)

Laudable Linkage

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Thank you so much for your kind thoughts, comments, and prayers regarding my post yesterday about being in the hospital. We got home mid-afternoon yesterday, and I have follow-up appointments in the next couple of weeks.

Here are good reads collected through the week. I used to make a list of these as I found them, then would have to turn them into a blog post. Now I open a draft and list and format them as I come across them through the week, so by Saturday the post is almost completely ready to go.

“What Do You Want From Me, God?” Part 4: A Humble Walk. “Isn’t it remarkable that the God of the universe, the One who is perfectly satisfied in himself, to whom we cannot possibly be intellectually stimulating, comes to us every morning and asks, ‘Do you want to go for a walk?’”

Enjoying Imperfection, HT to Challies. “Only God does all things perfectly. In a world that has written God out of the story, we have written ourselves into the role of perfection-attainment. And it is killing us—our dusty little frames, our finite abilities can’t handle it.”

The Local Church Was Made To Serve The Christian, Not The Christian The Local Church. “If we judge our faith or our spiritual maturity or our commitment to the local church by the quantity of activities we participate in (or choose not to participate in), we are judging ourselves not by the freedom of the gospel but by the captivity of the law.”

When Your Mother Grows Old: Open Letter to Younger Believers, HT to Challies. “Being old is a topic that Scripture does not shy away from. Proverbs, for example — such a valuable book for young people — addresses it directly. As one who is both learning and observing a mother’s experience of growing older, I want to ask you to think in particular about old women, while you are young — in order to encourage clear vision now, and farsighted vision for the years ahead.”

In Support of Our Law Enforcement Officers. “That’s what police officers do. They keep the rest of us safe. They are the representatives of human government that enforce the law and protect citizens. Saved or not, believers or not, they put their lives on the line on a daily basis in order to provide for us a peaceful society in which we can live, work, worship, and pray.”

C. S. Lewis and His Stepsons, HT to Challies. “While the relationship between Lewis and Joy Davidman has been a matter of endless fascination to Lewis fans and academics alike, many have ignored the fact that the marriage made Lewis a stepfather.”

How to Run a Good Meeting–And Why it Matters More than You Think, also HT to Challies. Spirituality and efficiency are not mutually exclusive (though God’s idea of efficiency may differ from ours). I appreciate these evaluations of the best way to conduct necessary but numbing ministry meetings. I’d add a sub-note to his last point: don’t have a meeting if an email can take care of the meeting agenda.

Finally, I think I’ve seen all of these at a potluck (minus the alcohol).

Laudable Linkage

Here’s my latest round-up of noteworthy reads:

Lies That Keep Women from the Word: Busyness Is Not the Problem, HT to True Woman. “Imagine if you thought that in order for a green bean to nourish you, you had to eat it in a calm place with nice lighting and no kids. What if a shower cleaned you only when you had a journal on hand to write about it? Or what if toothpaste worked only in Instagrammable moments?” Silly, yet we do the same thing with Bible reading. Good stuff here.

A Different Kind of Christmas List. Doing all the things leaves us exhausted. Choose the ones that mean the most to you and your family.

The Christmas Rush. From the first Christmas to now, people rush by the most important aspect of Christmas.

Someone Needs to See You Suffer Well. “Don’t assume your suffering is a detour. Suffering may hinder or even halt a hundred things in our lives, but God loves to use our griefs to magnify our small visions of him. And suffering makes the gospel run with a pace unknown in prosperity.”

Some Kids Barely Survive Christmas: Celebrating the Son with Special Needs. “Special needs can isolate families. When a child’s sensitivities preclude even a routine trip to the grocery store, the usual avenues of fellowship — birthday parties, baby showers, church-wide dinners — become unfeasible. But love and fellowship from other believers, offered without judgment, can provide parents a cool cup of water as they labor through arid terrain.”

The Humility of the Given Self. Wise words on sacrifice and humility in motherhood, but applicable to all of us who are task-oriented.

Why Did God Give My Kids a Sick Mom? HT to True Woman. “For mothers struggling with chronic pain, fatigue, physical or mental illness, our inabilities can be soul-crushing. . . . We want our kids to see us smile, even though it’s hard. . . . Whether or not you’ve struggled with significant illness, we all have seasons when we worry we don’t have enough to give to our children. And we can all be encouraged that God has good purposes for us and our children in every season.”

From Girl Power Strong to the Right Kind of Strong. HT to True Woman. “The Bible’s concept of weak and strong doesn’t line up with culture’s. This is especially the case when it comes to ideas about womanhood.”

And for a Christmas smile:

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

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Here are the latest, greatest reads I’ve found:

For My Angry Friends, Part 7: Foundation II. This is a continuation of a link I posted last time.

A Different Kind of Humble Pie. I like this idea! And it would help us avoid having to eat the other kind.

I’m So Glad Our Vows Kept Us, HT to Challies. “God has not given you your love to protect your vows, but he’s given you your vows to protect your love.”

Don’t Squander the Little Years, HT to Story Warren. “The endless demands of parenting little ones can feel heightened by the fact that this is often the very season of life—late 20s through the 30s—when budding careers are most demanding and precarious. The need to be tirelessly devoted outside the home can tempt young parents to be less devoted inside the home.”

How Parenting Exposes Our Need for Faith. “Like nothing else in my following life, mothering has taken me to the edge of what I know for sure about God and how to follow him well.”

What Is the Aim of Christian Writing? HT to Challies. If you are at all into writing as a Christian, I encourage you to read this. “Writing is an attempt to take the truth of God’s Word and apply it to the crevices of life.”

Elderly Couples’ Photos. A professional photographer asked several older couple to pose for engagement-style photos. So sweet and beautiful.

It Is What It Is”…but God IS Bigger.” I’ve followed Carol at Blessed But Stressed for many years now. A few years ago, her son fought leukemia, and God graciously healed him. Now he’s facing serious surgery on his eye. Would you join in prayer for as much healing as possible in God’s perfect will?

I don’t know the origin of this graphic, but it looks like something Little Birdie Blessings might do. But I like what it says.

Happy Saturday!