I’m in the middle of a discussion on idols that can tempt us when we gather to worship God on Sunday mornings.
Today, I’d like to talk about the idol of REPUTATION, especially as it’s revealed in the lives of leaders. God commends a good reputation in Proverbs: A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. Prov. 22:1 That means God wants our lives characterized by virtues such as godliness, integrity, and faithfulness. However, I’m never to seek my good name at the expense of God’s name. I must never be more concerned about my reputation than God’s.
The idol of reputation is subtle. It’s masquerades behind holy acts, but reveals itself in unholy responses or thoughts. It’s sad, sobering, and scary that I can use the act of worshipping God to try to make myself look better in people’s eyes. I’ve done it countless times. Here are a few ways I’ve seen this idol express itself through the years… “I wonder if anyone will notice that outstanding piano fill…” “My voice is SO much better than hers.” “That was a GREAT song selection I made this morning!” “What do you mean you want the singing time to be cut short by five minutes?!” “Why don’t they ask me to sing more?” “I don’t need to rehearse like everyone else.” “I could NEVER sing in the choir. I’m a soloist.”
These are the more obvious self-exalting kind of thoughts. I’ve been guilty of all of them. However, the same root can manifest itself in anxiety and self-deprecation as well. “I wonder if people will like the worship today.” “My stomach is tied up in knots before every meeting.” “Worship was just terrible this morning.” “Don’t ask me to sing or play a solo.”
These responses are often rooted in the fear that we won’t get the credit and acclaim we crave. Because we’re afraid we won’t be honored, we make excuses, we aim low, we nurture unbelief, and give in to anxiety. In short, we fail to honor God. In both cases, our goal is the same – to improve what others think of us, rather than what they think of our Savior.
While musicians and pastors are no more sinful than anyone else, we do have particular temptations that we need to be aware of. Since much of what leaders do takes place in front of people, we can be tempted to steal glory from God. That is what I mean by serving the idol of our reputation. Of course, non-leaders can serve the same idol. As we sing praises to God, we can wonder if we’re singing in tune, if we look passionate (or contemplative) enough, or if the people around us are REALLY worshipping God.
Years ago, I was in England at a large Christian conference. During one seminar, we were led in corporate worship by a guitarist whom I thought was average in every respect. As he finished what I would describe as a sorry time of worship in song, the elderly gentleman to my side turned my way. With a glowing smile, he asked, “That was simply lovely, wasn’t it?” I wanted to say no, but the Holy Spirit caught my tongue before the answer slipped out. What I realized was that only one of us had been worshipping God during that time. And it wasn’t me. I was busy worshipping myself, exulting in my knowledge of worship, my experiences, my training, my background. Needless to say, God wasn’t impressed. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. (Is. 66:2b ESV) May God grant us grace to truly seek His reputation above our own each time we meet to worship Him.