Four years ago, my husband, Tim, and I attended a press trip where, tucked into our swag bag, we found an info packet that listed all attendees by name, website, and number of followers. Flipping through the list, I noted some bloggers, another couple, with a reach of over 500,000.
A few hours later, when we rode the elevator down to an opening night reception in a room at our hotel, a smiling woman introduced herself and I immediately connected her to that bio and the numbers I’d seen. What would have otherwise been an ordinary meeting became a meeting with a person who’d impressed me. She was somebody. And while the experience of esteeming people by blog readerships may not be relatable to everyone, the experience of esteeming people by something is. Whether we do it by our children’s accomplishments, our career developments, our physical appearances, our connections, or our social media followings, we naturally tend to give each other ranks.
What We Value
As a mom, I notice it every time I’m with other parents and we start comparing developmental milestones: Is your baby crawling yet? How long will you nurse? What percentile is he in? As a writer, I hear it in questions about bylines, book sales, and endorsements, or, as a blogger, when I’m asked about page views: You were published where? How many copies did you sell? How big is your site?
While the questions themselves can be nothing more than small talk, the value we give the answers reveals our hearts. Oh, you got what award? Oh, you paid how much for your house? Oh, you were noticed by them! While we add up details in our minds, we tally invisible points in our heads, creating our own little scoreboards of who is important and why.
But this is not the way our heavenly Father works.
Behaving Like Pharisees
In Luke 16, Jesus tells his disciples a parable that concludes with the instruction “you cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13), and the Pharisees, “who were lovers of money” (Luke 16:14), ridicule him in response. He introduces them to a revolutionary value system, one where being humanly rich — or powerful or popular or successful — is not what matters most, and they laugh. “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts,” he responds to them. “For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).
Whether we’re talking about who has the bigger bank account or whose baby started sleeping through the night first, when we look at the things that are exalted among men as measures of our worth, we are behaving like the Pharisees. We are exalting what God doesn’t exalt. We are valuing what he doesn’t call valuable. Instead of anchoring our identities on him and the fact that he, the God of the universe, loves us, we are seeking to justify ourselves before men. But God knows our hearts.
What God Esteems
In contrast to our shrewd ambition on earth, our desire to rank highly with resumes, readerships, or skills, consider these passages that reveal what God calls worthy of esteem:
His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. (Psalm 147:10–11)
“For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9)
“For those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed.” (1 Samuel 2:30)
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:27–29)
“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
Because I know Jesus, rather than wasting my energy trying to be impressive, I want to spend my life seeing and savoring him. I want to abandon the need to rank highly among men, and choose instead to fear him and hope in his steadfast love. I don’t have to fight to be heard, strive to be noticed, or work for position. I don’t have to ask a new contact to coffee to see how she can help my career; I can ask her for coffee because she’s a human being made in the image of God, and freely delight in our exchange regardless of how helpful she is to me vocationally. When someone is interested (or disinterested) in me because of things the world esteems, I can remember Jesus doesn’t look at me or value me that way.
Loving Jesus frees me to take such pleasure in knowing him and the thousands of ways he reveals himself to me. The rankings of the world no longer matter. What, after all, are human positions compared to him? Who is impressive in the presence of the one who made all things? Knowing the sovereign God means knowing what it means to be unimpressed by what society says is worth pursuing. There is nothing and no one more valuable than him.