My six month old granddaughter Sophie wants to be noticed! That’s not unique to her, of course. One of the longings of every human heart is the desire for significance. We desire not just to be significant but to be recognized as being significant. From the time that a child first develops a sense of her own identity, she wants to be noticed, to be recognized, to be valued. We all want to make an impact on those around us; we all want our life to count for something.
Some over-zealous Christians see this desire for significance as inherently sinful, a form of pride. But when we look at the Genesis account we see that God made the first human couple in his image and assigned them responsibility for the entire earth. That sounds like significance to me! Further, Psalm 8 tells us that God has made us only a little lower than the angels. No, the desire for significance is not evil. Like the other built-in longings of the human heart, the desire to be significant is God-given. It’s when we try to fulfill this desire outside of a trusting relationship with the living God that we get into trouble.
Lucifer was an angel, beautiful and powerful. Not content with being on God’s team, he became proud because of his beauty and wanted to be the supreme ruler. He was cast out of heaven and lost his authority. Furious that God had given authority over the earth to man and not to him, he decided to try to establish a realm for himself on earth by deceiving God’s new creature, man. Not surprisingly, he tempted Eve by promising her what he had wanted for himself – the prospect of being as smart and powerful as God. The only catch was that to get this prize, Adam and Eve would have to disobey God’s clear instruction, thus breaching the intimate fellowship with God that had been their life up til that moment. He knew that if Adam and Eve took the bait, humans would be easy targets for him to manipulate, and as long as he could manipulate humans he would have a measure of influence through them.
What got Lucifer into trouble? He wasn’t content with his God-given identity. He had already been given significant gifts – power, beauty, authority, and a place in the heavenly council – but he wanted more. He knew God’s power but he didn’t know his heart. Lucifer was the archetypal orphan – never content, never at peace, always scheming, always having a point to prove. He wouldn’t rest until he was the ruler of the whole of creation. Blinded by his lust for power, he only succeeded in ensuring a miserable future for himself and all those who believed his lies.
Jesus was God’s only-begotten son, every bit as beautiful and powerful as Lucifer, but with a different spirit. He willing accepted his Father’s invitation to come to earth and bring salvation to the human race, knowing the decision would be painful and costly. In the beautiful account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, there is a very significant statement which is a key to understanding how Jesus saw himself.
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:3-5)
Jesus knew who he was, where he had come from and where he was going. He knew he had a secure place in his Father’s affections and a crucial part to play in fulfilling his Father’s purposes. It’s no accident that when Satan attempted to divert Jesus from his mission, he did it by attacking his sense of identity, by saying “If you are the Son of God, prove it”. But Jesus, unlike Lucifer, didn’t have a point to prove. He already knew he was the Father’s beloved Son and he needed nothing more. He would not act independently or get ahead of his Father’s plan, but would do only what he saw his Father doing.
As I look back on my life I realize how much I have been driven by the need to be assured of my own worth. If you’re honest, you’ll probably admit that the same is true of you. As long as I am trying to fulfill that longing for significance outside of God’s freely-given and unearned acceptance in Christ, my efforts only serve to block the flow of God’s grace and mercy, because even when I am doing good things I am doing them as much for myself as for others or for God’s pleasure. But when I get the truth in focus – that I am accepted as God’s son and heir because of what Jesus has done for me, that I am significant and dearly loved by my Father, that He has given me a unique set of gifts and abilities, that He has valuable and fulfilling work for me to do in His Kingdom – then I can enter into rest and become fruitful by allowing His grace to work in me.
Over to you …