Perry Emerick – Mesa Campus Pastor
For many years I was a worship pastor here at Central, first with students and later with adults. On quite a few occasions I would meet someone who was interested in playing/singing with the worship team, and they would begin by telling me how good they were and all the great stuff they had done musically. Early on, I would be impressed and sometimes without even auditioning them, would invite them to play/sing only to find out they did not have the skills they perceived they had, or at least sought to lead me to believe they had. Today, when I encounter someone like that, someone who needs to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to convince me of their greatness or significance, I have learned to temper my expectations significantly.
I have often wondered why some people feel the need to convince others that they are what they aren’t, and what I have come to recognize is that it is an issue of identity, or at least a need for some to be identified as someone. And this is not just with musicians, but really in all aspects of life. There are 2 aspects of this identity problem. There are some people who are in a certain role but feel insecure about their abilities or identity in that role and are overly sensitive about any kind of criticism or scrutiny. Then there are those who strongly believe they should be in a role or have an identity, even though they don’t possess the skills, but spend all their energies convincing others that they are, and even when presented with the truth that they are not what they believe about themselves, they almost seem incapable of accepting that.
The truth is that people who are secure in their abilities don’t need to convince others that they are good at something. They also tend to be teachable, striving to learn and grow even as they excel in what they do. They tend to have a humble confidence in themselves and their identity in a role. But those who are not feel threatened when challenged, get defensive, attack back, and do all sorts of things to protect themselves and their fragile egos. This is actually the case of the Apostle Paul, who before he encountered Christ, actually sought to imprison and kill people who he perceived as a threat to his Jewish and Pharisaical identity.
In Philippians 3, Paul reluctantly lists the pillars of his former identity…the very things that compelled him to be an accomplice to the killing of the first martyr for Christ, Steven, and to hunt down and imprison so many others thereafter. But after encountering Jesus Christ, he follows up that list with these profound words:
“I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him…”
So many of us are carrying an overwhelming burden of shoring up a false and ultimately meaningless identity, perceiving that our value is based on peoples perception of our abilities and capabilities. Yet it was Jesus himself who said,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matt. 11:28-30
The offer of Jesus, which Paul discovered and gave himself fully to, is to find our identity, and ultimately our security in Christ and in him alone. This isn’t to say that pursing excellence and stewarding well the gifts, opportunities and positions that God has allowed us is meaningless…quite the contrary. What it means is that our pursuit of those should be a result of our identity being in Christ, rather than achieving significance in the eyes of others. You see, when we seek to shore up our identity by things other than Christ, we are slaves to the opinions of others. Put another way, we need others to serve us in the form of platitudes and strokes. But when we find our identity fully in Christ, we are free to truly serve others as Christ did. Let’s close with these words of Paul from Galatians 2:20:
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Don’t get caught up in defending the wrong identity; embrace the one you have been given!