[Well done good and faithful servant]
Well, it’s that time of year again. The rain has begun to fall, and the leaves will begin to take on their golden hues. This time of year always feels more like the start of a new year to me. I think about going back to school, even though I haven’t been making that trek for a couple of decades (+) now, and we don’t have any children of our own to send off. Okay, so we do have a pair of furry babies, but they’re homeschooled *ba-dum-ch*
I couldn’t resist. When I came across the pic above on pixabay.com, it cracked me up. Andrew doesn’t get it. He said it’s sad. Exactly! That’s why it cracks me up. Maybe my sense of humor is warped. I guess it’s kind of Eeyore-ish. By the way if you haven’t seen “Christopher Robin” you’re missing out. I love, love, LOVE this movie. It gets 5 stars from me.
Last year I started a series called “Back to School” as “God’s Kid Speaks” began to lift off, and my thoughts and words hit the page. I bought myself some new notebooks, and I was ready to hit the books hard: thoroughly examining God’s word, reading whatever material that He lead me to read, and anything else I could get my hands on that would keep me focused and in that learning mindset.
Looking back to my school years, particularly my elementary school years, my fuzzy perspective was always so incredibly deflating and discouraging. The lies that I believed about myself kept me constantly in that “I’m a nobody” mindset, and even encouraging words or deeds did very little to boost my confidence back then. I always struggled; I wasn’t athletic; and I didn’t make friends easily either. On the popularity scale I was right around the bottom; I was quiet and insecure, and my marks, depending on the subject, were poor to average. I still have some insecurities, but I’ve come a long way.
On two occasions through those years, however, I was presented with a certificate that stated this: ‘Most Improved Student.’ At the time, unfortunately, it wasn’t nearly as significant to me as it should have been. Being that it was so nonspecific–from my perspective at least–it felt more like coming in last place. (See what I mean by fuzzy perspective?) I would have preferred an award for excelling in Art or English, so when I didn’t receive that recognition for something I believed I had at least a fighting chance at, it confused me. Instead, my award felt more like it did when I received a participation sticker. Did any kid appreciate these stickers? Why didn’t they hand out ‘scratch and sniffs?’ Now that would have been a desirable consolation prize. I could have at least added that to my sticker book.
Our generation didn’t receive trophies for participating, by the way. Apparently participation trophies are a controversial subject. Some believe they promote narcissism and entitlement, while others believe that they teach children that trying their best is good enough even if they don’t win. I have to wonder, though: is this something they explain to the kids? (Here you go. You did your best and failed miserably; but this deserves a trophy!)
I didn’t really understand my ‘Most Improved Student’ certificates either, after all. For all I knew, this just meant that I didn’t do so hot the first half of the year, and in comparison to the rest of my peers, I managed to miraculously pull ahead and make up for my poor start the second half of that year. See, it lacks “pazazz” when you view it that way. Besides, I didn’t really want to hear that I’d improved. I wanted to hear what every kid wants to hear: that I excelled at something! Maybe being considered the “most improved student” is excelling at something; but, again, I had nothing to really gauge this upon. It’s rather relative isn’t it? I knew other students were far brighter than myself and had the top grades to reflect that. Based on that, it’s not difficult to see why I might see it as almost a ‘pity prize.’ However, now I view it as kind encouragement, and I do appreciate that.
Personally, I would have been embarrassed to receive a trophy for participating. Every kid knew that receiving Gold, Silver, or even Bronze was the thing for which to strive. Critics of participation trophies even note that some children don’t value these trophies. I don’t have any difficulty believing and understanding this.
However, participation has more hope in it to me now than it did back then. It’s at least somewhere to start, but it still isn’t the goal, so it will never be the finish line. As a follower of Christ, I strive for the prize, just as we did as children. It gave us something for which to aim. It kept us moving forward. It gave us hope and a purpose. Even if I did have very low self-esteem, there was always a greater goal. Being low man, woman, or child on the totem pole isn’t such a bad thing. What’s with this fixation on boosting self-esteem by lowering the bar? It really doesn’t make any sense to me. While I get wanting to protect a child from feeling like a failure, children are very bright; they don’t miss a beat, and they’re also very resilient given the right guidance. Depending on the nature of the child, I imagine a participation trophy can even send a very different message, even the wrong message.
Both arguments of the controversy hold some truth. Those children who don’t want to put the effort in may indeed have their self-esteem bolstered by receiving a trophy, but they may also learn that they don’t have to put in any or too much effort at all, to receive some sort of recognition (which is a lie), and they could very well grow into those entitled adults. Whereas, children who aren’t content with what they perceive as the ‘pity prize,’ may resent the participation trophy. Any attempt to boost this child’s self-esteem may even backfire instead. I don’t think the logic behind the participation trophy really works. I still think ‘scratch and sniffs’ are the way to go. 😛
While I couldn’t see my ‘Most Improved Student’ certificates as they should have been viewed—as proof that I was at least making some progress—the lies that I believed about myself continued to pull me in the other direction, keeping me insecure and struggling. I did however keep those certificates in my box of memorabilia for some time, so I guess I must have recognized that they were at least worth something. Eventually they were tossed out along with all the other items I decided I could eliminate. I thought I still had the certificate of recognition that I finally did receive from my grade 11/12 Art teacher for excelling in Art, but apparently I even tossed that one out too.
However, I was proud of that achievement—not proud as in ‘I’m awesome,’ but proud as in ‘I worked for that,’ and even more so because it warmed my heart to know that Mr. Leonard was pleased with my work. The thing I really respected about Mr. Leonard was that he didn’t grade you solely on your ability; he also graded you on your effort. In fact, he had zero tolerance for those who took his class believing that Art would be an easy or “free” grade. He made you work for it. He even handed out homework assignments. I can remember the day that he tossed out of the classroom two students who were clearly there for the free ride. Good for Him! I respected that. He not only dealt with those who had no respect for him and his course, he but also set a precedent for the rest of the class.
I wasn’t the top student in my class. In fact, I really admired a very gifted fellow peer’s stunning artwork. However, Mr Leonard saw something in me and encouraged that. He framed our art pieces and showcased them in the teachers’ lounge. One of the teachers even asked Mr. Leonard if I’d be willing to sell one of my pieces. It was a large rendering of the sketch below, done in full pencil crayon, unlike this rougher sketch. (I wish I’d taken a picture of it. I worked long and hard on that piece.) I agreed to the sale, and Mr. Leonard advised me that $50.00 was a fair price for a first time sale.
Looking back, I feel as if our Lord and Savior’s teaching style is similar to that of Mr. Leonard’s. He made it clear what he expected of us, and he didn’t tolerate anything less than our best effort. Jesus, too, won’t tolerate those who are lukewarm, and His instruction to His students is this: “You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” He’s set that bar very high indeed, saying to us, that it isn’t enough to love only those who love us. Questioning us, saying, ‘what reward do you get?’ We must do more than others, and our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, for as Jesus warns us, we will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless it does (Matthew 5:20). As God Himself does, we must even love those who persecute us; we must even pray for our enemies. This isn’t always easy. Some people are very tough to love indeed, but those are our instructions, and He expects us to do the homework.
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ –Matthew 7:21-23
As those two slackers discovered when they caused their own expulsion from Art class, if you’re heart isn’t in it, you don’t belong in the classroom. Jesus too echoes this sentiment when he says, “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:2). He also says this: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). These are hard words, but for a good and loving reason: plowing requires that you have your eyes on the task before you. To look back would cause your plow lines to become crooked. If we aren’t moving forward and committed to the task He’s given and if we don’t have our sights set on Jesus, we too become crooked because Jesus is the one who keeps us plum. He is the cornerstone of our faith, after all, and if we don’t have Jesus, we’ve gone right off course. Ending up on the sidelines only renders us unteachable, producing no reward at all.
From this perspective Jesus seems like a strict and tough teacher, but I respect that. He has to be. Sometimes the lessons are difficult and can even be painful, but that discipline strengthens our weak areas. However, our Teacher is also extremely kind, patient, merciful, compassionate, faithful, and forgiving; and He spends that time on us individually as my encouraging and very well respected (at least by me) Art teacher did. Jesus honors those who honor Him (1 Samuel 2:30), and He loves those who love Him. (Proverbs 8:17) How do we know if we love Him? We know that we love Him if we are willing to be obedient to Him.
“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” –John 14:21
There’s no place in heaven for those who aren’t willing to humble themselves before Him. You have to be all in. We can’t become God’s children without handing Him the reigns and allowing Him to reign in our hearts. Satan took up too much space with his big head and he got himself tossed out of heaven just as Mr. Leonard tossed from his classroom those who could care less. Jesus doesn’t care less. He cares more than you realize. He’s closer than a brother and even more faithful than a mother. There will be rewards and even awards for those who work hard and diligently seek Him. The greatest of all of them, in my opinion, at least, is to hear those wonderful words ‘Well done good and faithful servant.’
If I had viewed my “Most Improved Student” certificates as I should have, I would have viewed them much more as I view these words that I strive to hear from my Father in Heaven: the acceptance and recognition that I desire from Him above all, and to know that my Teacher and my Father were both pleased with the progress that was made. There’s something to be said about progress. God’s plan is for us to be changed by the renewing of our minds because a changed mind is a changed heart.
As we seek Him, we build a stronger relationship as we get to know Him. We learn to trust Him; we come to adore Him, and we can’t say enough about Him for the very fact that we do love Him. Our most valuable rewards then are His relentless love, His unfailing faithfulness, and His help and guidance along the way because it’s who He is that changes us. You can’t get to know Him (I mean really get to know Him) and not be changed.
Like my Art teacher Mr. Leonard, Jesus wants to see us do the work and do it well. He won’t tolerate those who think they’ve received their free ticket to ride, but He will also lovingly take those under His wing who are willing to trust Him, even exalting those who humble themselves (Matthew 23:12). He has given us everything we need for every good work: Himself; the gifts and comfort of the Holy Spirit; Scripture; and family in Him to support us and help lift us up when we’ve fallen. We have no good excuse not to excel.
While I didn’t fully understand the significance of my award back then, maybe it was for the best; becoming overconfident can apparently have its pitfalls and downfalls. [See: Untamed Hearts #2] This becomes a concern to me as I grow in Christ. I want to make certain that I keep my head as I grow in confidence; I want to strive for the right reasons, while staying true to the One who’s bringing me out of my shell, giving thanks for all that He’s done, always remembering exactly who’s doing that work, and praising Him for it as well.
I have no doubt that I’ll reach the finish line and claim what our Lord wants us all to have, only because I believe that His grace has us more than covered (Hebrews 4:16). I’m also convinced that He will, in fact, finish what He’s started (Philippians 1:6). I do want to be like my Savior, so I know that I have to keep my eyes on Him. How will we ever learn to emulate Him with our eyes elsewhere? How ever would we have come to know Him and love Him if we’d never shown up for class and turned our eyes and ears towards Him? Any headway we make then and any notable improvement we show will be the result of God’s great work in us. When We acknowledge that God is the One Who is recognizing our efforts with rewards and awards, we in turn acknowledge that He is the One from Whom all good things, including our progress, truly come. With that in mind, I’ll be crediting all my rewards and awards then to the One who’s making those improvements in me, a glorious work for which He truly does excel.
P.S. Practice what you preach. Practice makes perfect. (or purrrrrfect).
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for Your relentless love, and for all the rewards and awards You bestow upon us, both here and in heaven, Thank You, also, for the bright future that awaits us. Though we can never truly earn it or deserve it, You love us anyway. You want us to have every good thing You have promised, even exalting us and lavishing Your love upon those who draw near to Your throne of grace. ❤
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. –1 Corinthians 9:24-27
“Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. –Revelation 22:12
“Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.” –1 Corinthians 3:8
“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” –Philippians 3:14
“In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” –2 Timothy 4:8
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him”– 1 John 3:1
“Give praise to the LORD, proclaim His name; make known among the nations what He has done.” Psalm 105:1