Several years ago, I came across an envelope of letters that I'd written to my parents from camp. I spent my first (and only) week of horse camp, the summer after fifth grade, learning to ride and care for horses; yet judging from these letters that I found, I spent far more time at camp being prideful and appallingly self-centered than actually learning about horses.
You see, I'm a pretty good singer. I've come to a point in my walk with God that I can accept the talents He's given me without being prideful, because I know that I'm only good at anything because He allows me to be. All of my talents as well as all of my weaknesses have been offered up to Him to use as He pleases. For His glory. And this has freed me to embrace them, without guilt, for what they are.
But I did not feel the same way in fifth grade.
What happened at camp was this: I took every opportunity that I could find for other people to hear me sing. I always got recognized and applauded when people, both adults and peers, listened to me; it was where my self-esteem came from back then, and it felt good. My goal at camp quickly shifted from horseback-riding to ego-stroking, as I was repeatedly asked to sing throughout the week, ending with a solo of "Wind Beneath my Wings" at the closing ceremony.
And while life could have just moved on with no mention of my youthful egocentricity, I chose to document each and every prideful thought in letter form. To my parents. In scrupulous detail.
I was appalled when I found them years later, once I had turned the corner of self-centeredness and had entered the next phase: talent denial. During these years, in my early twenties, I was so fearful of relapsing in my tendency toward sinful pride that I stopped singing publicly altogether. I spent years sitting in the sanctuary fighting with myself, knowing that I had something to offer the worship service, something to offer to God, and yet not feeling able to do so. It was only when I surrendered my talents completely to Him that I was able to discover His plan for the talents He'd chosen for me.
God pursued me for a solid year before I finally relented and turned in my application to the worship office. With the constant nudging from the Holy Spirit, I assumed that He must have had some big plans for me, but God didn't ask me to be a soloist or a worship leader...He asked me to join the praise team. I must admit, I was surprised. You can't even hear the praise team at our church unless you're listening online, I thought. This is how God wants me to use my talents?
Within a few months of singing on the praise team, however, it became really obvious what God was doing. There I was, belting out these songs, microphone in hand, knowing that hardly anyone in the service could actually hear me. I was singing for God alone. He was teaching me to sing for Him, not for other people, and before long the strangest thing happened: I began to love singing on the praise team. I was free from the pressure of my youth, the constant wondering of what other people were thinking, and I could just sing for Jesus.
Since my praise team days, God is now entrusting me to sing for Him in front of other people in several different capacities. I feel so incredibly blessed to be allowed to serve Him in this way, in a way that I love, and yet I have to be very careful to keep my focus on Him. Singing is one of those areas of service where people don't hesitate to give glowing compliments, shifting the focus from Christ back to the individual. The best compliment you can give someone who is serving God - whether delivering a sermon, scrubbing a toilet, singing, or rocking a screaming baby in the nursery - is to thank them for allowing God to use their gifts! Tell them that God has blessed you through their service. Keep the focus on Him.
I refuse to sing for myself or for others in an attempt to find my self-worth in this world. My self-worth was established when I was fearfully and wonderfully made in God's image, when He sent His Son to die in my place, and as He continues to love and guide me every day of my life.
I only ever want to sing for Him.
The pathway of pride is dangerous, but equally sinful is the refusal to use the gifts God has given you. He's given us talents to use for His glory, not to hide away and not to use for our own gain. Is there something that God is asking you to surrender to Him?