Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Fearing God vs Fearing Man: Who's opinion matters most?

How much does the question 'what do people think?' grip you?

It may be the big crit that leaves you either utterly crushed or flying high, or your tutor's off-hand comment that shapes your mood for the rest of the day...

Maybe you fear people seeing your new work in case your reputation wobbles in the lime light...

How do people's opinions affect making your work?

Making work is one of those things where there will always be an audience, normally of more than one.  Consider your course-mates looking over your shoulder in the studio, your tutor's cursory glance and more intense perusal, the wider audience who may see it in the coming months, and the harshest critic of all: yourself.  Fearing man can be stifling.  It can be all-consuming.

So what do we do with this desire for people to like our work? Is it wrong to seek approval? Is it wrong to want to be successful in what we do?  Is that really fearing man above God?

Andrew Jones, a vicar in east London, gave some very helpful advice to the London Interface gathering this month. He started off by saying very simply that
'there is an appropriate way of wanting people to like your work, and there's wanting people to like your work too much.  The former leads to pleasure and an outgoingness, as your own success leads to wanting others to experience such delight, while the latter leads to pride, and shutting yourself off from other people.'
Pride: something we all are tainted by.  An attitude that creeps up on both success and failure and robs us from responding with integrity.  Pride isn't just a puffed up feeling when we've been successful.  Pride is also the root of feeling utterly despairing and crushed at failure too.  It's the attitude that imprisons us either with 'I deserve better' or 'look at me, aren't I great?', both of which place ourselves at the centre.

So what's the antidote?
In Ezekiel 14v1-6 we are shown how people had "set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces" - notice the language here: they're not setting up idols as we might imagine back in the Old Testament, whether we think of the golden calf or the many statues of Baal.  No, here we read they are setting up idols in their hearts.  It's our hearts that are the issue.

So when we think to ourselves, "If I stop showing my work I'll be ok", or "If I just have one taste of success I'll be content and satisfied", we are ignoring the root issue: that our heart is still captured by what others think.

Thomas Chalmers, one of those wise men back in the 19th century once wrote:
"the only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one"
God is after your heart.  But in a way far removed from the simplistic "God loves you" and so everything will be alright.  The gospel digs way past the superficial and instead invites us to repent.  To acknowledge that we are more sinful, more proud, more enamoured by other's opinions than we believe.  But that there is freedom and honesty in coming to God.  Because in the gospel we are more loved and more accepted than we can ever imagine, through Christ.  The gospel accepts us just as Christ is. Which is far better than just as I am.  The only way to dispossess our hearts of the affection of ourselves, or other people's opinions, is by the expulsive power of Christ and and the very brilliant gospel.

So the question that I leave you to ponder today:
What are you looking for in the approval of others, that Christ does not give you?

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