Bragging rights

Masterchef-junior-logoMy wife and I love to watch MasterChef Junior, a competition for home cooks between the ages of 8 and 13. Some of them can barely see over the kitchen counter. Personally, I’m no slouch in the kitchen. But with their sophisticated palates and skills, these pint-sized chefs make me look like a junk-food junkie. They turn out amazingly beautiful, imaginative dishes.

And some of the kids are just so doggone adorable.

It’s sad, though, when they have to leave the competition. They’ve been working so hard to achieve their dream, trying to keep their composure. Then Gordon Ramsay gently (yes, gently) tells them it’s time to go, and their faces crumple, eyes filled with tears.

The judges give them all the same encouragement, and the kids take it to heart. Maybe you didn’t win, but the fact that you’re here at all means you’re one of the best junior cooks in all of America. So keep wearing that MasterChef apron. It gives you bragging rights.

Our parents probably taught us that it’s not polite to brag. If they didn’t, other kids might have when we stepped out of line. But that didn’t necessarily make us humble of heart. We still want bragging rights — if we can get the attention and approval we crave without having to be too obvious.

Boastfulness was part of the world and culture of the New Testament just as it’s part of ours. But the apostle Paul didn’t tell people not to brag. Instead, drawing on the prophet Jeremiah, he said, “The one who brags should brag in the Lord” (2 Cor 10:17, CEB; cf. Jer 9:24). As we saw in the previous post, this basically means taking pride in what God has done, with a sense of gratitude and privilege to be used as his instrument or messenger within a particular sphere of influence.

Personal confession: I sometimes struggle with this as a writer. I have no doubt that God has made me to teach through the written word, and I could no more stop writing than stop breathing.

But then come the questions of how to mark success. In academia, people look at whether you’ve published with more highly esteemed and influential journals and presses. In the marketplace of books, people look at popularity and sales figures. On the Internet, people trade in the currency of “views,” “likes,” and “follows.”

And there’s a part of me that can’t help looking at the numbers. (For some of you pastors out there, admit it: you get a surge of satisfaction just from knowing that attendance is up.)  What if the numbers are lower than I hoped? Do I find some way to promote my work?

Or would it be enough to know that just one person was positively influenced in a way that honors God?

I know. It’s not either-or. Every ministry must legitimately struggle with how to extend its sphere of influence. But if the truth be told, I must regularly tell myself that what truly matters — the only thing that matters — is that God is glorified through whatever influence he’s given me.

It’s not about my bragging rights, but seeing God work, and rejoicing to be allowed to be part of it, whatever the numbers might be.