There’s a great deal of ego bound up with Christian ministry today. And all who labor for the Lord can fall prey to it. But impressing people isn’t the name of the game. Today’s heroes are tomorrow’s zeroes. The story of Paul and Barnabas in Lystra teaches us this lesson in spades.
The story is found in Acts 14:11–19. In the space of nine verses, the same people who set out to worship Paul and Barnabas were ready to send them to their deaths.
What changed their minds about the two apostles so rapidly? The “evil report” (rumors) leveled by Paul’s detractors in Pisidian, Antioch, and Iconium.
Such is the nature of fallen mortals.
With that in view, here are some things that will help us keep perspective about who we’re actually serving:
Make a decision to live unto God rather than unto humans. Seek to please Him alone. As difficult as it is, lay down the desire to be a “human pleaser.” If you live to please humans, you’ll have your reward here and now.25 Learn the lesson of Lystra. Some who will sing your praises today will end up condemning you tomorrow. There is only five minutes between the compliment and the insult. As Kipling once put it in his poem If, triumph and disaster are two impostors that should be treated the same.
Ambition to become something great in the eyes of your fellow Christians and ambition to please the Lord are two very different things. True servanthood demands neither help nor attention. Deny the carnal temptation to impress mortals. Don’t worry about doing great feats for God. Instead, focus on taking steps to respond to Him in obedience. Those steps will add up eventually.
If you see someone doing or saying something that inspires and encourages you in the Lord, let them know about it. You don’t know what difference it could make in their lives. It may be a needed word given at the right moment. One of my spiritual disciplines (practices) is to express gratitude and appreciation to those who have touched or enriched my life in some way. I try to never let that slip.
An exhortation from one beggar to another: keep sacrificing. Keep losing. Keep laying your life down. Keep loving your enemies. Keep blessing those who despise you. Keep refusing to return fire upon those who bad-mouth you. Keep pouring your life into others, even if those people never acknowledge it and even if others never notice. Keep faithfully serving your Lord without looking back. Why? Because there is One who is watching. And only His opinion matters.
J. Hoff put it beautifully: “It matters not if the world has heard or approves or understands … the only applause we’re meant to seek is that of nail-scarred hands.”26
Notice how Jesus connects having faith with seeking God’s approval alone:
How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?27
To lose sight of this is to live on the human level where numbers, praises, and applause determine your happiness.
Learn to live before an Audience of One. May this be the hallmark of your life.
Mary knew this lesson well. And Martha eventually discovered it.
So from this brief narrative, we discover several features about Bethany.
In Bethany Jesus Christ is completely received.
In Bethany, our chief priority is to sit at the Lord’s feet, hear His word, and respond.
In Bethany, our service flows from our communion with Christ. This is the source from which we receive His direction and draw upon His strength.
In Bethany, women are given the same privileges and the same status to be disciples as men.
In Bethany, our temperaments, dispositions, and motives are exposed, and transformation occurs.
In Bethany, we live for an Audience of One.
The Lord’s call for all of us in this hour is simply … be a Bethany.
Yet there are more lessons bound up in this little village …
Adapted from God’s Favorite Place on Earth from Frank Viola Author.