Friday, February 26, 2010

If I'm an Example, It's Not Because of Me...

My life is an example to many,
because you have been my strength and protection.
That is why I can never stop praising you;
I declare your glory all day long.
—Psalm 71:7–8 NLT

     You know you’ve survived something when a scripture like this speaks to you.

     What a profound thought exists in that first line. My life is an example to many. It is a strong reminder that we don’t live this life to simply please ourselves. Now, we might try to focus only on ourselves. Many people make excellent efforts to do exactly that, and nothing else—living lives of selfish narrowness in their efforts to please themselves. But this scripture reminds us that no matter how much effort we make to be selfish, we still have an effect on the people around us. Even if we don’t plan it, and frankly, even if we don’t want it. We simply don’t live in a vacuum. We’re always an example of something. And people see it.

     Personally, I think it’s good—wonderful, actually—that we live connected to and influencing other people. God designed our world to function best when we are in healthy, loving relationships that bring truth and light and joy and warmth to our lives. Those relationships give us room and sun and water to grow, and I’m glad for that.

     But this scripture also reminds me to take my responsibility. I am an example, whether I plan it or not. So, isn’t it a good idea to put some planning into it, and see if I can make myself the best example I can be? Isn’t it mature and wise to know people are watching me, learning from me? I want to be an example that people admire and want to imitate, not an object of derision that people want to avoid following at all costs.

     And yet…

     And yet, the rest of the sentence in Psalm 71:7 reminds me of the vanity of thinking I can turn myself, by the force of my will, into a valuable, admirable example…at least, not without help from outside of me...because it is God who puts the strength in me to accomplish whatever it is that makes people stand up and take notice. That’s what David is saying. David…who wrote hundreds of songs, a talented musician, skilled at war, a man who became king over a nation. He had so many bright gifts inside him that could make him an example to people. But ask him what makes him someone people can imitate, and he answers: God, who gave me strength. He is humble and smart enough to know he can’t do it all alone.

     This idea speaks to me so strongly right now, because I’ve been through a lot recently. In the course of a month, I lost a brother, suffered a major problem with my apartment that forced me to move, traveled to Nairobi for work when I barely had time to pack for the trip, got sick while I was there (typical traveler’s illness), and then returned home to begin thinking through some decisions I know I have to make this year.

     What I’ve been through makes me realize that if I’m an example to anyone, it’s because God has strengthened me. I don’t know how I would have survived the four weeks of January 2010 without Him. His help came through many avenues… the Bible, music, family, friends, coworkers… So many people have lent me their strength in so many ways, and so much of what they gave was at their own initiative because I was too tired and overwhelmed to even know what to ask for.

     I stand here, still amazed at how loved I feel, because of all these people. I know that God brought those people to me at the time I needed them most. I’m so thankful. I fully expect that as the days, months, and years of my life unfold, many people will be able to find something good, encouraging, inspiring in what I’ve been through. And when I am that example, I’ll repeat what David said in Psalm 71:8—“Don’t give me the credit. It was God that strengthened me. It was God.”

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