Till My Trophies At Last I Lay Down

trophy240
When I was in elementary school, I accumulated half-a-dozen or so trophies. I used to keep them lined up precisely, left-to-right from tallest to shortest, on top of my dresser. I can still remember what each one looked like, and what I had accomplished to merit each. (Please remember, this was back in the day when you actually had to earn a trophy – you didn’t get one just for showing up!) I can definitely say that these trophies were a source of one of the worst possible sins in my young heart – the sin of pride.

As the grade school years turned into junior high and high school, trophies gave way to ribbons, pins, certificates, and plaques. Even as an adult, I have been the proud recipient of awards such as these in the workplace. I was looking through a box of old things from the garage the other day and came across some of these types of tokens from the past. I don’t remember what exactly it was that I found, but it reminded me of those childhood trophies I used to line up on top of my dresser. That night, I remarked to my wife (regarding the winning of trophies), “When I was a kid, I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. I thought it meant I was good, and worthy.”

Wired That Way
I suppose that it is part of the human psyche to desire approval and recognition. But, that innate desire can easily be twisted into something that is downright unhealthy. When the desire for approval from others becomes the motivation for what we do, we have seriously gone off track. And when we buy into the idea that our accomplishments make us worthy of receiving love from others and from God, we totally misunderstand the foundation of these relationships. What a sad and pathetic idea! I cannot make myself worthy of God’s love by my accomplishments.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
– Romans 5:6-8 (ES

Why do we covet the approval and acknowledgement and respect of others? How does that become a motivating force in the life of a child? Why do we set these trinkets on our furniture and hang them on our walls so others can see them and hopefully admire or envy our prowess? Isn’t this the height of vanity?

The Idol of Self-Worth
Whenever we look to something else to supply what only God can supply, we have made an idol of that thing. And so when we look to earn approval through our accomplishments, we create and then serve an idol.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing our best or seeking to excel at what we do – with two caveats:

  1. The thing we seek to excel at should be intrinsically meaningful and worthwhile. (Excelling at playing a particular video game, for example, has no intrinsic worth or meaning.) Seeking excellence for its own sake is idol worship.
  2. Our motivation for doing our best should be to please our Father and glorify Him, rather than to please people and glorify ourselves.

    And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men
    – Colossians 3:23

    When we seek fulfillment in the approval of others, we are seeking a satisfaction that only God can give. Whenever we do that, we make yet another idol to worship.

Letting Go
As I was thinking about trophies, the refrain from the old hymn “The Old Rugged Cross” came to mind:

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
and exchange it some day for a crown.
– “The Old Rugged Cross”, music & lyrics by George Bennard, 1873-1958

Mr. Bennard evidently understood the idea that our accomplishments must be laid down at some point; but I think he was a little off the mark concerning the purpose and timing of this relinquishment. The hymn seems to indicate that we are to lay down our trophies at death; but Scripture says this is part of the transformational process that should be happening in us now:

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…
– Philippians 3:4-9, ESV

In other words, Paul says that although he is immensely righteous based on his worldly accomplishments and qualifications, these attainments are actually rubbish (dung in the KJV). He connects the act of letting go of his worthiness with being enabled to know and to gain Christ and experience His true righteousness.

When looked at in this light, why would we hold on to our trophies (and the pride they cause) one more minute? If letting go of our own self-worth is a necessary prerequisite for us to go deeper in our relationship with Jesus, why wouldn’t we want to count all our attainments as loss?

I like the way the Jason Gray song Everything I Own says it (I have bolded the lines that came to mind):

Everything I Own
David Peightal

What would I give to be pure in heart
To be pure in flesh and bone
What would I give to be pure in heart
I’d give everything that I own
I’d rid my whole house of its demons of lust
And open the windows of trust
And out of those windows all fear will have flown
I’d give everything that I own

What would I give for the words of God
To come tumbling from the throne
What would I give for the words of God
I’d give everything that I own
I’d open my head and they’d roll right in
When I opened my mouth they’d roll out again
And uproot the weeds of the deeds I have sown
I’d give everything that I own

Now what would I give for my children’s strength
On the day that they stand alone
I mean what would I give for their strength to stand firm
I’d give everything that I own
I’ve wasted my life in accomplishing things
Ignoring the giver of wings

So Lord teach them to fly to the foot of your throne
I’ll give everything that I own

All I’ve accomplished, the titles I hold
My passions, position, possessions and gold
To God they must look like a thimble of foam
And it’s everything that I own
Dirty rags are all that I own

So I stand before God with my stubble and hay
He just laughs, but says there’s still a way
Because “Father, Forgive” are the words Jesus moaned
When He gave everything that He owned

So what would I give to be pure in heart
For the known to be made unknown
What would I give to be born again?

I don’t know where those childhood trophies are today. Maybe they are in a landfill someplace, or maybe they are in a box at my parent’s house – I really don’t know. I’d like to think that I have let go of the sense of pride that they created in my heart. But I do know that I still love to receive praise for the things I do – “Thanks for that blog post!” or “That was a great sermon!”. I pray now that I can let go of that need to hear praise from the lips of others, and find my satisfaction in the knowledge that God loves me not for what I have done, but in spite of it.

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