Silverware clinked around the dinner table; my sweet family gathered together to enjoy a Christmas meal. As I explained how school was going, I mentioned my thoughts about switching my major to a relative. She smiled approvingly, affirming that I should change my major because "a smart girl like " should have a more "impressive" major. I slapped on a fake smile and continued with the conversation, but what she said struck me deeply, and I haven't been able to shake it off since. Why are we all so caught up in impressing people? I didn't realize how worried I was about impressing others until this past semester. I would constantly ask my roommate for fashion advice, trusting her opinion above my preferences because I felt like I had to be liked by and approved of by those around me in every way, including my style. I would go to the gym, not necessarily to stay healthy, but so that I could say that I had gone to the gym. It made me feel better about myself, and it made me feel impressive. I smiled when the children's pastor at church said she could use my help in the kids' Sunday School class over Christmas break, because I felt like I needed to be serving in church in order to be an impressive Christian. I started to see service opportunities as chances to make myself look good. And then I read a devotional about the suffering and service of Christ (Paul Tripp's New Morning Mercies). This devotion gave me a reality check and reminded me how God truly suffered for us not only in his death, but in all that led up to his death. Isaiah 53 recounts that Christ "was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not" (v. 3). In addition to the physical horrors of the cross, Jesus suffered emotional pain and rejection from the religious leaders of his day, from the cities he came to save, from his family and closest friends, and even from random strangers passing by the cross (John 8:58-59; Matt. 8:34; John 7:5; Luke 22:54-62; Matt. 27:39-41). It's tempting to skim over those facts and forget about the hurtful realities that Christ endured for us. This kind of sacrificial love strikingly opposes the self-absorbed "love" that is upheld in culture today. In fact, the more I think about service and suffering, the more I realize that our society has confused their meanings. Instead of seeing them as vehicles through which to minister to others, we view them as activities to accomplish, boxes to check off, and badges to earn in order to make ourselves look better. When we redefine service to be focused around ourselves, we lose its true meaning, working for the likes of others from a place of need instead of for the glory of God from a place that is experiencing the love of God. We can silently compare ourselves with our friends, holding secret competitions in our minds of who can sleep the least and work the hardest and get the highest grades and raise the best-mannered kids. If we define these competitions as "service," we place the focus on ourselves and our strength. Instagram likes become the measure of our worth, and we share pictures of our achievements with the hopes that others see our works and glorify us, instead of working so that that others see our good deeds and glorify God (Matt. 5:16). As my Theology professor (Dr. Erik Thoennes) says, "we exchange Creator-worship for creature-worship." All of these misplaced priorities can cloud the true meaning of service and cause us to become caught up in this Instagram-filtered world, allowing the actual suffering that Christ experienced on our behalf to slip from our minds and be replaced with our personal efforts. The more we focus on ourselves and our status, the less we think about Christ and his service. True service can seem unattainable as photos of missionaries holding beautiful babies on their hips in picturesque landscapes flood church Missions Weeks and Christian magazine covers. Of course, this is nothing like the reality of daily missionary life, but we tend to think that it is. We do not see suffering for what it truly is because we are not in direct contact with it. A similar blindness can occur concerning our Savior. At Christmastime, we sing about the manger and the virgin birth, smiling as we picture quaint paintings from children's books and our family's manger scene displayed on the mantle. But we forget about the stigma and the smell, the loud pushy crowds and the over-eager shepherds and the two tired parents who just wanted a good night's sleep. When we turn service into a picture-perfect show tailored to impress, we sacrifice the point, we miss the pain, and we lose the purpose. We forget about living in the moment because we're obsessed with trying to capture the moment for others to notice and admire. The outward circumstances of Messiah's birth were not impressive. His disciples were not impressive. His family was not impressive. Luke 2:6-7 narrates that Christ was born in a manger due to a lack of room for his parents. This not only tells of the lack of glory of the circumstances around his physical birth, but also alludes to the unimportant social standing of his parents. Further, the men Jesus chose to be his closest companions included fishermen (Matt. 4:18-19) and a tax collector (Mark 2:14), people society treated with disdain. Perhaps the most impressive quality of the Son of Man was his complete willingness to honestly suffer for and serve humanity. He suffered not in an "oh look at me I'm being so helpful, and everyone loves me" kind of way, but in an ugly, lonely, painful, and gruesome kind of way (Matt. 27:28-29; Heb. 2:10; Luke 22:42,44). From the lowly circumstances of his birth to the horrific spectacle of the cross, Christ put our needs above his own (Mark 10:45). He served not in a public self-promoting way, but in the privacy of an upstairs room with a basin of warm water and twelve pairs of tired, stinky feet to wash (see John 13). He did not in the least seem to care about impressing others; he simply cared about exhibiting faithful obedience to the Father. So why are we so worried about impressing others? And why do we not give much focus to serving others? I think that the root of this impressiveness issue is pride. We can cloak it in a lot of different ways, but pride always seems to peep out from behind our articulate excuses. "I need a high GPA so that this grad school will accept me.""I have to have a new outfit so that I'll fit in with my colleagues.""If I have more followers, I can share Jesus with more people."One similarity pops its all-too-familiar head out of these reasons, and that's the focus on "I." If the power resides in us, we're in a tough spot; we'd better be impressive because everything hinges on our ability. If suffering depends on our capacity to be strong enough and serve long enough, we put ourselves in the power seat, acting as if we have the ability on our own strength to work for Christ. The beautiful truth is that, while we cannot work on our own, God never asks us to. He says that his strength is "made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9). God calls us to lean on his power and reject the lie that we are powerful enough in ourselves. But the power does not reside in us (thank. goodness.). It takes up residence in the King of kings and Lord of lords, who is so beyond "impressive" that our minds cannot comprehend his glory and splendor and majesty and might (see Revelation 4). Today, I encourage us to let go of our need for attention and control, and instead allow God to point us to a focus on the King of kings, our Jesus. When we look at Jesus, we think less about ourselves. When we surrender our need to impress, we can genuinely serve in the ways God has called us to, even if this brings suffering or pain. Jesus did not come to impress people; he came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). When we see our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord (Romans 12:2), we cultivate a desire to serve him instead of impress others. Our daily patterns and actions may not look that different, but the heart and motivation behind them will. I still want to switch my major. But I want to because I think it will open more opportunities for me to serve God with the gifts with which he has entrusted me. I will still ask my sweet roomie for her pro fashion tips, but I'll do this out of a heart that is content with its complete acceptance in Christ. The fashion shows are just for fun, not for validation. As I go to the gym, I will start to see it as a time to worship and glorify God with the body he has given me, instead of a time to impress those around me. As I serve in church, I will remember how God served me and will do my best to reflect a glimmer of his selfless love. I will begin to see service opportunities as chances to worship God more. Will this happen overnight? Doubtful. It's a process of persistently asking God to redefine comfortable and well-worn patterns. We must seek his heart of service more than the approval of others. It will take time, and we'll be in need of God's mercies and grace, but it will be well worth the journey. Let's dare to surrender our need to impress, swapping it for a heart of service. Life feels freer already.
We want to invite women to join us in our conversation about our great God, and be encouraged to seek a deeper knowledge of God that leads them to live their lives for God’s glory as they grow in love and awe in response to who He is.