It’s not about us

I confess that as a writer, I live in a constant tension. Most of the time, I can ignore it and just lose myself in my work. But every once in a while it surfaces again; it never completely goes away.

I write because in some ways, I have to. Not for money; Lord knows I’d starve if that were the case. I have to write because sometimes the words burn inside me until I get them out.

But that’s not the tension.

It’s this. Part of me wants what the world tells me to want: fame, recognition, accolades. And part of me knows that I can’t pursue that path. To some extent, that’s just realism: not every kid who dreams of being a sports hero gets to play professional ball, let alone be the one whose image gets plastered all over the media.

So I don’t expect to ever write a bestseller. But here’s the thing: would I also be satisfied with knowing that just one person had read something I’d written, if it made a difference for God? Even if it meant hours and hours of clacking on a keyboard?

The answer has to be Yes. That’s the tension. Most of the time, it is Yes, but No is never far away.  I just know, deep down, that I would lose something precious if I started writing for my own glory.

It’s not about me.

And it’s not about you.

I’m reminded of this as I ponder Peter’s comment to the gathered crowd. Earlier, he and John had encountered a man who had been lame all his life, begging at the entrance to the inner court of the Jerusalem temple. Peter healed him to the amazement of all. And after the temple services were finished, as Peter and John walked back to Solomon’s Portico, the man went with them. The crowds came running to them. They stared at the man, and at Peter and John, waiting for an explanation.

So Peter gave them one:

You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you. (Acts 3:12-16, NRSV)

What are you staring at? he asks. What do you think is going on here? We didn’t do this by our own power, and it’s not because of some amazing holiness on our part. It’s not about us. It’s about God.

And in case someone hasn’t yet gotten the point, he tells them which God it’s about: the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors. It’s an echo of how God introduced himself to Moses at the burning bush (Exod 3:6). That God (Our God, remember? he seems to say) glorified himself through Jesus, whom Peter calls God’s servant, creating another link back to ancient prophecy (Isa 52:13 – 53:12; see also Acts 3:18, 26). Indeed, Peter will have much more to say about the prophets in his short (and rudely interrupted!) second sermon. It’s as if to say, Don’t be so surprised. This story has been going on for a long time. And you’re part of it.

In the next post, we’ll look more closely at the finger-pointing accusations Peter makes against the crowd. But notice how he rounds out the passage quoted above: It’s not about us, it’s about God, Israel’s God, our God. It’s about what God has done through his servant Jesus. It is through faith in Jesus that this man has become strong. It is through faith in Jesus that this man stands before you in perfect health.

“Perfect health.” Some scholars believe that the word is meant to suggest an unblemished sacrifice. If that’s the case, then Peter’s meaning may be: Jesus is the one who made it possible for this lame man to enter the inner court, to come near the holy.

That’s what I want to remember as a writer, and as a believer. That’s what I want all of us to remember as believers. It’s not about us, or what we accomplish in our own power or piety. It’s about God. Because it is only by what God does through Jesus that we are able to approach the holy.