Am I trying to be a painting or a mirror?
I think this question is tremendously important… So important, in fact, that I think the future of Christianity hangs on this question.
For most of my life, I’ve tried to be a painting.
Paintings are beautiful. They capture the attention of others and often invoke emotion in the hearts of those who gaze upon them. Millions of paintings have been painted over the course of history, some even lasting for centuries and centuries.
I think people want to be paintings… Especially the more ambitious of us. We want complete strangers to look at our lives and stand in awe of our accomplishments. We want every person we encounter to think to him or herself, “Wow… So-and-so is one remarkable person. He’s so talented, gifted, selfless… I wish I could be more like him.”
People everywhere, especially young evangelicals, are challenged to stand out. To be a remarkable painting. To live a life worthy of recognition and honor. To stand at the front of our peers and be more bold, humble, gracious, compassionate, patient, kind, ambitious (fill in the blank!) than everyone else.
So many of the choices I’ve made over the course of my life were made in response to my desire to be the most beautiful painting around.
I didn’t want to have more followers on social media than So-and-So… I wanted to have the most out of everyone I knew… To be the most beautiful painting. I wanted to have the greatest reputation as a leader and all-around-good-guy among everyone I knew… In pursuit of becoming the most beautiful painting. I wanted to live the greatest life and accomplish the most under the illusion that I was doing it “for God”… when in reality I was really doing it for me… In pursuit of standing alone in the front as the most beautiful painting there ever was.
But I’ve realized something incredible recently… It’s completely flipped my perspective.
The people I admire most… The people the world admires the most… The people who are lifted high as examples for living the greatest lives… Are not paintings.
The people who make the greatest impact on the world aren’t the ones who spent every ounce of their time, money and energy in pursuit of making themselves the most beautiful painting…
They’re the ones who choose to lay down the paintbrush and pick up a mirror… reflecting the glory of something (or Someone) greater than themselves.
While paintings say, “Look at me!”,
Mirrors say, “Look at this!”
Mirrors don’t add anything new or special to the image of the person looking into it. They simply reflect everything that’s already significant and worthy of remark the person looking into it already possesses.
I could name any number of people over the course of history whose lives served as mirrors… Billy Graham, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln… but the most significant example of this life is found in the life of Jesus.
Christ, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6-8)
Casting aside the opportunity to take glory, fame, recognition, power or credit for Himself, Jesus spent every single moment on earth reflecting the unmatched, unlimited, incredible glory of His Father… His example shows us where the greatest joy in life is found!
And for driven, motivated, competitive people like you and me, the temptation to live our lives as a painting rears its head practically every single hour of every single day… But we must get such a clear image of the wonder and life of Jesus in our minds and hearts that we don’t reluctantly become mirrors.
Quite the opposite… We jump at the chance to do so!
I think that if young believers like us become more preoccupied with working on our individual paintings (whatever that may look like for you or me), outsiders to our faith will cease to see the magnificent grace, the tremendous power, the “love like an ocean” of the God who saved our lives.
We must resolve to be the clearest, purest reflections of the grace, love, power and love of the God whose glory is best reflected, not challenged.
A mirror reflecting the Sun is still a million times brighter than even the brightest, most beautiful painting.
What a privilege it is to be a “mere” mirror!