Today’s reading: John 3:22-36
GOD, I praise you for the work that you have done in this world before I was born,
for the faithfulness of all those who came before me.
Thank you GOD for everything you have done through them,
that I can be inspired by their faith and their example.
When I feel discouraged or lost, remind me that I am not alone.
Strengthen my heart with the reminder that Jesus walked before me
Help me to center my heart on Your Truth instead of my fears
Bless me with a spirit of selflessness as I walk with Jesus and leave a legacy for those who will come after me. AMEN
In 2007, I was in my first year as a teacher at an elementary school. My 4th grade “portable” classroom was filled completely with all the energy and excitement of 25 young humans. Freshly graduated with a master’s degree from a Jesuit university, I thought I knew everything about education.
Pressured to perform, I’d spend hours preparing lessons and feel defeated the next day if the students weren’t successful. I took their failures personally and as the year ended, this thought nagged me, “Was I having a positive effect on these students?” Four years later, I’d find an answer.
During a field trip to the neighboring middle school, I ran into Derrick*, a memorable student from that first year. As a 4th grader, he was skinny and quiet, the kind of introverted kid whose slim frame would hunch over while reading a book.
In middle school, Derrick had completely blossomed into a different kid – tall, strong, confident, and elected by his peers as president of his 8th grade class. He recognized me first, and surprised me by saying that I was his favorite teacher in elementary school. His words still stick out to me: “You were the first teacher that made me like school. You cared.” He updated me about his family, the mentors he had found since that year. I was deeply moved, not only by Derrick’s compliment, but the sobering realization that my work with him was just one part of his present success.
I share this story because of today’s reading in John. Today’s Scripture is well known for v.30 “He must increase, but I must decrease,” which describes the sovereignty of God and the need for our lives to be centralized on God’s Kingdom rather than our own ego.
The apostle’s writing in v.22-36 note that the followers of John the Baptist felt threatened by Jesus’ popularity and went to complain to John. Imagine their surprise when John not only reminded them he was not the Messiah (v.28), but also that he was filled with joy to occupy a place of lower status than Jesus, the one who is above all (v.31). Yes, John’s ministry of preaching repentance and baptizing was important, but that importance was never centered on John himself.
To live as both a Christian and progressive is to engage deeply in God’s heart for people that have been oppressed and forgotten. This is important work, work that Christ invites us to join in, however, it is of paramount importance that we do not center that work on ourselves or our own ego. This does not diminish the value of our own stories or experiences, but we must always remember our calling from God exists as part of something greater. We must honor those that preceded us, just as we must also honor those that succeed us. The work of God belongs to God.
When we lay aside a self-centric ego, we can feel confidence, peace, and joy – just as John the Baptist felt joy at seeing the prophecy of the Messiah filled in Christ. For the progressive Christian, we should understand we may not see the fruit of God’s work in this world within our lifetime and that’s OK. Our faith journey is not driven purely by results, but our faith is a process where we can bear witness to God.
*Not his real name; identifying details have been altered to protect his privacy
In what ways are we tempted to center “good work” on ourselves rather than God?
How can we keep ourselves from being egotistical about our work or progressive values?
Created by: Anonymous
About the author: 4th generation Chinese American. Full time dad, full time teacher.
Image by: Hisu Lee
“In what ways are we tempted to center “good work” on ourselves rather than God? How can we keep ourselves from being egotistical about our work or progressive values?”
Thank you for these resounding questions. I definitely fall into the pit trap of comparing my work to others and placing my self-worth in results, which causes me to be stressed and insecure. This blog post reminds me that we must create a better activist culture which celebrates people rather than comparing them to each other based on their perceived utility (especially since marginalized folks often bear the brunt of toxic activist cultures).