For a couple months I have been posting devotional material from my out-of-print book (2006), “When God Gives a Time Out.” Today’s post contains chapter 7, but you can read chapter 1 here: “An Introduction to Time Outs” and then catch up on the other chapters. Today’s chapter focuses on our compulsion to do things because of our desire to be highly esteemed.
The Esteem Rush
Our compulsion to do is not only driven by our quest for an adrenaline rush. We are also esteem-powered engines. Our actions are often chosen and powered by esteem. When we perform at a high level people take notice and praise us for it. We all prefer commendation to condemnation. This preference is normal and healthy. When we begin to do things to get that praise we start to become compulsive doers. Much like chemical addiction we start choosing what and how much we do based on the esteem rush it will bring. This tendency can be found in abundance in our culture. Why do boys put so much more effort into sports than academics? They receive a larger esteem rush from sports in our culture. Both boys and girls buy clothes based on the esteem it will bring or take away. And if you think you have grown out of looking for the esteem rush why does it bother you so much when your kids act up in the store? Aren’t you afraid people may esteem you less as a parent? Most sports and luxury cars are sold to adults because adults like the esteem of having a nice car – as if that has any reflection on them as a person. We may think that the esteem rush is something for teenagers but it is just as prevalent in adults, adults are simply more discreet. Children, at least, have an excuse. Children are trying to form an identity and are exploring what brings them self esteem and esteem from others. Children are testing to see if what they do has any effect on the people around them. In short, part of the maturing process for kids is to do things to receive esteem from their parents and from others. While a child’s need to receive esteem may be compulsive at times, it is a part of the process of developing independence and the confidence to one day live in the adult world. The problem is that many Americans never grow out of this phase. Many Christians are also stuck in this pursuit of esteem. We claim to “fear God and not man,” assuming that we don’t pursue this esteem rush, but Christians are not immune to the addiction to esteem.
King Saul was a God fearing Israelite who pursued the esteem rush to such a degree that by the end of his life his relationship with God was in shambles. When Saul was battling the Philistines, Goliath taunted the armies of Israel and the Israelites looked like fools as they ran and hid from the giant. It was a time of impending defeat and shame for the Hebrews. As you probably know, David took Goliath up on his challenge because he knew that God could easily defeat this giant using anyone He wanted. David was victorious and the Philistines fled. Instead of defeat, Israel had a great victory. One would assume that Saul was ecstatic that David saved his kingdom. Saul was actually displeased at the events. 1 Samuel 19:6-9 describes the episode in this way:
“It happened as they were coming, when David returned from killing the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments. The women sang as they played, and said, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.’
Then Saul became very angry, for this saying displeased him; and he said, ‘They have ascribed to David ten thousands, but to me they have ascribed thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?’ Saul looked at David with suspicion from that day on.”
Saul wanted the esteem rush from his people. When David received more esteem than Saul, Saul saw David as a fiend for cheating him out of his esteem fix. David received the king sized esteem rush that Saul deserved as king. This episode began a long story of Saul trying to kill David. Instead of being inspired by David’s faith in God and rededicating his own life to God, Saul let his desire for esteem separate him farther from God. Remember, Saul is a man who received the Holy Spirit to such a degree that the Israelites once asked, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” (See 1 Samuel 10:11-13) In the beginning Saul heard the voice of God and the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. By the end of his life, however, Saul was so deaf to God’s voice that he consulted a witch (1 Sam. 28) in a desperate attempt to reconnect with the supernatural. I am not saying that Saul’s need for an esteem rush was the only cause of his downfall. But it is clear that when David killed Goliath and Saul was jealous, Saul missed hearing God’s voice because he was so concerned with esteem. This need for esteem caused Saul to act in ways that were not within God’s will. That is the issue. It was not God’s voice, but Saul’s need for an esteem fix, that dictated Saul’s actions.
What Saul did on a grand scale, we Christians do in our own way. Our actions do not spring from hearing God’s voice but from our thirst for esteem. If this isn’t so, how can one explain the following common scenarios: The pastor who doesn’t put as much preparation into a sermon because he knows not many people will be in attendance that week. A church member known for evangelism is upset that he has been witnessing to someone for weeks but another member leads them in the sinner’s prayer. A coordinator is irate when left out of the “Thanks to . . .” column in the church bulletin after putting on a large church function.
In the first example, the pastor knows that he won’t get as much esteem as usual so his investment of effort is adjusted to match the return on his rush. In the last two instances, someone is being cheated out of esteem. Whoever is responsible for depriving them of their esteem rush is a fiend. This behavior is very similar to Saul’s in the biblical case study we looked at above. In all these cases, behavior, attitudes, and judgments are based on the esteem it yields. Again, God desires that our actions flow from our relationships – especially our relationship with God. If God is trying to cultivate an intimate love relationship with us and we are too busy playing to the crowd, we will not hear his voice. Saul was so concerned with the crowd that he became deaf to what God was doing through David. Are we so focused on what people say that we can’t hear God’s input? This deafness is one of the primary reasons God gives a “time out.”
I often had to give my children time outs because they became too silly when showing off. They couldn’t hear my voice because their focus was on getting esteem by making people laugh. Invariably, they did something they were not supposed to because pushing the envelope was always good for a laugh. In the end, Abbi or Isaiah did not hear my warnings and their actions were not a result of relationship but an attempt to gain esteem. That is why Abbi and Isaiah were given a time out and that is often why God puts their father (me) in time out too.
Why do we always feel the need to be doing something? Why do we choose to do the particular things we do? As the above examples show, perhaps it is because we want to get that rush of esteem. Instead of our actions being the outflow of a relationship with God, or a love for people, an examination of our motives reveals that we want the rush from being esteemed. In Matthew 6: 1-8, Jesus confronted the human desire to do things to be esteemed by others. He said,
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:1-8
Jesus said that if we do things for esteem that is all we receive. Instead of working towards a relationship with God and receiving a God sized reward, our reward is esteem from people that is based on show and is short-lived. From experience I know that instead of satisfying our desire for esteem, being noticed only makes us want even more esteem. It is like an addict thinking that his cravings will be satisfied when he finally gets a hit. Soon the cravings come back but this time the addict needs even more drug just to get the same rush as before. When we do things for an esteem rush we are in the same cycle. We feel good for a time; we believe what people are saying about us – that we are great. But people soon forget and we start wondering if we are still really that great. So we go back to the crack house of esteem. To save us from this bondage, and to save us to a relationship with Him, God will give us a time out. God will do what it takes to hone our ability to hear His voice and live out our love for Him and not our love for esteem.
Questions to Ponder
Do you choose your actions based on the esteem it brings or based on your perception of God’s will? How does your motivation affect how you view that task?
Can you remember a time when you got angry at someone for getting in the way of an esteem rush?
Have you ever adjusted your effort because you knew you would get more or less esteem than planned?
In what ways do you “practice your righteousness before men to be noticed by them”?
How does your desire for esteem adversely affect your relationship with God?