Its Not About You

by Rachel Pieh Jones on February 20, 2014

“You will not receive praise in heaven; no one will glorify your name. No one will say to you, ‘This person is here because of you.’ The praise will all belong to him because he has accomplished it all,” Elyse Fitzpatrick, Comforts from the Cross

You know the song, that tear-jerker everyone sang for special music in church in the 80’s and early 90’s, Thank You For Giving to the Lord by Ray Boltz? I used to love that song.

Now I think it is a bunch of baloney.

Okay, maybe not entirely baloney. But mostly.

Because guess what? Nothing is about you. Or me. Not even the people who will be in heaven.

I know. Shocker.

glory in the heavens

I once sat at the beach with a young woman who had lived in Ethiopia for six months. After hearing her speak for five minutes I had to leave the conversation. I climbed the nearby hill, past the French Danger of Death sign, and ranted at God.

My husband saw me leave and knew exactly why because he knows my tendency to keep score, to compare, to either wallow in self-pity or bloat with pride. He started praying, down below.

“Who does she think she is?” I said. “She has been here barely six months. She doesn’t speak the language or understand the culture or have actual relationships. She talks about her project at the clinic as though it were changing lives. Can her stories even be true? Maybe she is a compulsive liar. Probably that’s it. Or at least she has a pride issue and need to address her boastful attitude.”

But maybe people are actually being healed. Maybe she is communicating miraculously.

Where does that leave me after all these years?

A big fat loser.

And so on…

This internal dialogue was all about me, what I had accomplished so far, and what I felt I deserved, had earned. I was jealous to the point of furious tears at the idea that this clueless newbie was earning a better reward, would encounter more changed lives on earth and in paradise. That she was, was apparently, more pleasing to God.

What.an.idiot.

Me, not her. After I paced on the hill for a while, after I confessed my sin, I descended and later apologized to the young woman for my cold attitude.

Clearly I had a sin issue that needed to be addressed but I also think there is a larger lesson here.

Focusing on my good deeds and on my reward runs the risk of stealing the freedom to rejoice with those who rejoice. Instead, if I focus on what God accomplishes and on the glory Jesus will receive, all I can do is delight in the joys and good works of others because that delight isn’t about them, it is about God.

Yes, we are promised a reward in heaven and yes, there is the real hope of hearing, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’

But our response will not be, “Thanks. Now show me all the people here because of my sacrifices. Show me all the things my good works have earned.”

Our response will be, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us be the glory. We have only done our duty. Now show me all the people here because of your sacrifice, because of the cross.”

We perform our duty while clothed in the righteousness given by grace not earned by works, a duty that brings deep joy and abiding peace. A duty that is assigned to each, to accomplish the good works God has prepared in advance for us to do and which cannot be compared. A duty that does not earn one iota of saving grace or eternal glory.

“I am the Lord, that is my name. My glory I give to no other,” Isaiah 42:8

A question for private pondering: Are you ever inclined to steal a piece of God’s glory?

And a question for public discussion: What helps you battle the monster of envy or pride?

 -Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

                         Blog: Djibouti Jones, Twitter: @RachelPiehJones, Facebook: Rachel Pieh Jones

*image via Flickr

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About Rachel Pieh Jones

Rachel was raised in the Christian west and said, ‘you betcha’ and ate Jell-O salads, she now lives in the Muslim east, says ‘insha Allah,’ and eats samosas. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Family Fun, Running Times, and more, and she blogs for Brain Child and Babble.
  • Annie

    Thanks, Rachel!! I definitely struggle with this too (almost exactly as you described it–“wallow in self-pity or bloat with pride.” So needed this reminder!!!

  • Hope Egliht Johansson

    God is teaching me this lesson the hard way. I think he must have tried to teach me over and over for the past thirty years, and apparently I wasn’t learning it. So now we are here in West Africa. We’ve been here a while. We’ve been here 2 years working on a project for orphans and widows (and we were here 4 years before that). We have very little to show. We are waiting on God. There are some doors that only He can open. He is teaching this to show us that our power comes through Him and not from us. And so we wait. Also, yesterday, my son threw a giant fit in his classroom at school which led to him hanging out, face down, on the floor, under a bench FOR TWO HOURS. I blogged about that at daveandhope.com and about how I am learning to deal with my anger and my jealousy and show grace to my kids because I’m the biggest sinner of them all. And then God sent me over to a life overseas to read you blog. Yep. I need to learn this lesson about it not being about me. Because right now I have very little to show or to prove. And if I ever do, it will be because of God- not me. 🙂 thanks Rachel.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      You’d think we would learn eventually, right? I have this specific conversation in my memory, and how convicted I was about it, and then go and continue to struggle with the same thing. But that quote from Comforts from the Cross has probably been one of the most helpful things in this. Such a kick in the butt to rearrange my worldview and values.

  • Donna

    I am cut to the core. My conversation with another faith worker. My flight to a private place. My rant to God. My prideful heart.

    My sin.

    Your honesty. My confession. Thank you.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      I am blessed by knowing others struggle with this too. Oh for the days when we don’t! But unit then, let’s encourage one another more and more, thanks Donna.

  • Dave Swartz

    God’s glory is sticky. No matter how hard we try to deflect back to Him, to take a whiff of the rose (It is an honor to be used by Him in the tiniest way.) before passing it along, it’s altogether too easy to begin to like the way it looks on us. When someone younger in the faith gets to cut in front of us in the servant line, it flags us. I usually need a good face-to-face rebuke. The Lord is usually both generous and swift. Also Psalm 103:1 forces in almost instant spiritual inventory spotlighting my shabbiness of the moment. Glad I found your blog.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Thanks Dave, I like how you call God’s glory sticky, that is a good visual image for me.

  • Dawn

    Thank you so very much for your raw honesty. I don’t know what else to say. Really. I mean, this is me. And it is sin. And thank You, God!..for grace. For not shaking Your head in disgust at my smallness. For lifting MY head too look at You.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Grace, amazing grace. That’s all I can say in moments like that, and so many others.

  • Dave Lewis

    It’s been said that there is no limit to what can be accomplished when we don’t care who gets the credit. That might be true for the world, but believers (missionaries in particular) should care very much who gets the credit. The only One who deserves it.

  • Always need this reminder. It’s both humbling and freeing at the same time.

  • Liz K

    hummmm. Ouch. a good ouch, but ouch. 🙂

  • Rachel! You have knocked my socks off yet again! Confession: the mime troupe I was a member of during my youth group days traveled around to different churches and the song you mentioned was one of our most beloved performances. We were called “Silent Witness”. Clever right? Oh my. I am sure you are laughing with me, not at me. Although, laughing at me would be completely justified. Ha!

    Seriously though, this is so good. The green monster of envy rears it’s head every once in a while. The mutt-like pride tag teams with it’s ugly bud and gets to me too. Fighting back? Remembering, like David, the lions and the bears that God helped me push back. Intentional gratitude (as opposed to sarcastic or obligatory gratitude). Times of rest are vital – a bedraggled me makes for a pitiful opponent.

    Someday, maybe in eternity (wink), we can sit down over a nice cup of something and talk. I really think I would like you very much in “real life”.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Only and always WITH you Angie! Its a date, for heaven – a cup of something in heaven with you sounds absolutely delicious. Great points about fighting back. Intentional gratitude – I should have been grateful for the amazing stories she was sharing, for the fellowship together, for the beautiful day at the beach. But I could only see myself. Gross. Gratitude is something for me to work on, for sure.

  • You.are.so.not.an.idiot 🙂 I loved everything about this post! Thank you for being humble enough to share your pride. For saying what everyone needed to hear. It is grace to be reminded that it’s not about us. To Him be all the glory.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Thanks.Dorette.(!) This made me smile. And amen, to Him be the glory.

  • Ashlee

    I was thinking recently that it can be easy to try to be God’s “teacher’s pet” because you honestly do try to serve Him wholeheartedly; also serving in full-time ministry (here in the States in my case) can feed into this, I think. Like you said, it’s a pride thing. It “does not earn one iota of saving grace or eternal glory.” Thanks for the reminder!

  • Lana

    Usually life is about picking the same people up over and over. So maybe she really did pick them up. Life will hit her two years later when she is still picking them up. At least that was my story. I don’t know what helps me with pride. I don’t have that conquered, but reality usually helps.

  • mpieh

    Rachel, thanks so much for writing about this and, as always, for your honesty. It’s a tricky subject. As carnal beings, we love affirmation and pats on the back (myself included!)…and the promise of “rewards.” But as Christians…as followers and servants of Christ…should we be serving, laboring, and sacrificing for accolades and rewards? I’ve always been uncomfortable with that idea…though, I have to admit, I shed tears over that Ray Boltz song back in its heyday…probably even sang it as a solo once or twice. 🙂 I know a fellow Christian who often talks about how those who suffer great personal sacrifice and hardship in their service of Christ and the advancement of the gospel “earn extra jewels in their crown.” Like she truly believes that some in heaven will have more jewels in their crowns than others. Is that even biblical? I don’t know, but the thought makes me uncomfortable. Like you said, when we are truly and fully in God’s presence, I don’t think we’ll worry or care about anyone else’s glory…much less our own. And I believe that imagining that piece of heaven gives us a clue as to how to battle the envy and pride monsters on this side of heaven (to answer your question, which, by the way, is a big one for me too). If we consistently strive to keep our eyes fixed on God…to read His Word (what He has done for us and what He requires of us), to make ourselves available to Him so that we can be used by Him, and to expectantly watch and see what He is doing in and through the lives of others (both close to us and around the world)…we will be so utterly aware of our own unworthiness and of His awesomeness that there will be no question in our minds as to where the glory belongs.
    Thanks again! You always help me think and work out my own faith when I read your thoughts and convictions. Much love to you. 🙂

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Mandy, you raise an interesting question about the amount or level of reward in heaven, will we have the same? I don’t know. Jesus talked a lot about rewards and I’m inclined to think that we won’t be all the same but at the same time, that we won’t care because we’ll have perfected the art of rejoicing with those who rejoice and of turning all the glory back to him anyway. And, if we aren’t all rewarded equally, I think many (myself included) will be stunned to see who is rewarded highly – like the widow’s mite. God’s value system is so different from ours. I’m still thinking on it, what do you think?

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  • Marilyn Gardner

    The question for private pondering was why I couldn’t respond the day you first posted. As others have indicated in the comments, your post is like a mirror for me. It is an ongoing struggle. I think the words that stood out to me the most were these ones: “Focusing on my good deeds and on my reward runs the risk of stealing the freedom to rejoice with those who rejoice”
    I’ve never heard this articulated in this way but its so true. I end up so full of myself I can’t enjoy the amazing gifts of others. It happens in person and it happens online. You ask what helps you rid yourself of this at the end — I think the number one thing is honesty and confession. It is amazing how the act of confession/repentance can tune me into to both Glory and Grace. Thanks Rachel.

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