You can’t ignore a neon sign. Bright and vibrant, they demand your attention whether or not you want to give it. If you’ve ever been to Las Vegas, you know this to be true on a whole other level. You can’t go anywhere in that city without a bright, flashy, multicolored light display enticing you towards whatever it has to offer. “Come over here! See what I have! Look at me!” A neon sign will grab and hold your attention.
When we become Christians, we take on a new responsibility. Our lives aren’t just for us (if we ever had the illusion that they were in the first place). The expectation is that we’ll share the joy and wonder we’ve found in Christ and most of the time the most efficient and ready way to do that is through ourselves. I’m not talking about being perfect or unfailing (we’ve all had more than enough time at this point to figure out that’s not a realistic expectation). What I’m referring to here is how we reflect Christ.
But with that territory comes the temptation towards self-importance. We’ve been saved (yay!). We’re forgiven (yay!). It’s a good thing that we want to tell others all about all the good things God is doing in our lives. The problem is that all too often what starts as giving God the glory soon becomes a “Me Monster” of telling everyone how well we’re doing and how great we are. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve fallen into this trap I’d probably have enough money to start bragging about my wealthy accomplishments and the whole cycle would start all over again. So how do we do it?
There’s a figure in the bible who’s absolutely amazing at this very subject: John the Baptist. Thrust into an incredible mission of preparing the way for Jesus, John led a life that had more than a little public attention. By the time Jesus started his ministry, John had flocks of people coming to him for baptism. And then Jesus shows up, the Messiah John has been telling everyone to get ready for, and people start flocking to him for baptism instead. Of all things, John’s followers get legitimately upset and come complaining to him saying: “Rabbi, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you identified as the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him instead of coming to us.” (John 3:26)
If John had been living his life for his own betterment and self-importance. This story would have had a very different outcome. Maybe he would have swum over to the other side of the river and asked Jesus exactly what he thought he was doing. Or maybe he would have stomped out of the water and disappeared somewhere to sulk in the knowledge that not everyone was coming to him anymore. At least, that’s probably what my instinct would have been.
Mercifully, John the Baptist didn’t have some petty reaction to the shift in followers. He instead turns to the worried men and tells them something incredibly profound: “No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven. You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’ It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the bridegroom’s friend is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” (John 3:27-30)
John got it. He understood that he was in a place of prominence, but not all defining importance. That was someone else’s job, and he made himself more than happy to be part of the story. He didn’t get an inflated sense of self-importance and spend all his time trying to convince people how much good he was doing. And at the same time, he didn’t abandon his mission or throw a fit when someone came along who could complete the work he was only able to describe to people. John knew what part he had to play. He had no interest in being a neon sign that boasted his own accomplishments. He chose to be a road sign.
In a world full of neon signs, be a road sign. You can’t ignore a road sign either when you’re searching for it but for much better reasons. They aren’t bright and flashy like the neon signs of the world. If they have a light at all, it’s just a little one so that travelers can still access their information at night. They’re not there for show, they’re there to tell. A road sign’s purpose is to tell someone who’s searching exactly where they should be going. They are a service to travelers, not a spectacle to gain more attention.
God is going to do a lot with our lives, but it’s up to us how we choose to present ourselves. Do we flash and blink in our own exuberance, spending all our energy on telling others how great we’re doing and what we have to offer? Or do we use our precious platform to make sure others are able to make it to their destination? Do we use our small impact to make sure other people know the valuable information we’ve been helped by?
The choice is always going to be up to you, but either way, you have a part to play. A life spent earnestly trying to serve God is not going to be filled with the accolades the world will try to promise you, and that’s ok. It may be that the best attention you ever receive in your life is the kind of attention that gives you the chance to immediately point someone towards Christ. John the Baptist boldly declared that he needed to become less, and he served the kingdom to unfathomable purpose.
So live your story and your purpose boldly for others to see (because they are watching), and embrace the life of guiding others to something even greater. No neon required.
Let’s find some joy,