It’s scary to admit how much we do to impress others—what John Ortberg calls “Impression Management.”
We shake our heads at the pressure teenagers are under to act a certain way to be accepted—or at least not rejected or made fun of—by their peers. But I’m not sure we ever get past that; it just changes forms. Why do we wear what we wear? It’s not mere comfort and warmth . . . we choose them to make an impression.
What people think of us influences what we drive, where we live (and how it’s decorated), how we talk and walk, everything. We keep it to ourselves, but we want to shape what people think of us: we’re smart, savvy, pretty, stylish, athletic, successful, well-read, funny, kind, or whatever. Impression management.
It even affects what we do religiously. There’s pressure at church—pressure to talk and dress and act a certain way so that we fit in, so other religious people know we’re part of the Christian “in” crowd. It shouldn’t be there, but it is, and always has been. Jesus warns us about it here:
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven (6:1).
Everybody at the front of the church building feels the pressure, of course. The preacher wants people to like his sermon, and the song and prayer leaders want to impress with their leading. But it’s happening in the pew as well. Ever found yourself wondering—just for a second—if anyone noticed how beautifully you were harmonizing in that last song? Ever hoped that people might find out how much you give to the church? (They might be impressed)
Have you ever gone to a church event because you were afraid of what people would think if you didn’t?
Ever picked out a dress for church and hoped that people noticed it?
Ever cooked a meal for someone and hoped word got out?
We probably need to hear these words from Jesus again. What we do religiously needs to be motivated by gratitude for what God has done for us, not to make people think we’re good or holy or righteous.
It’s amazing how quickly spiritual things can become self-centered, isn’t it? In fact, religion becomes negative when it stops being about God and starts being about us.
This would be a good prayer theme for today.
Lord, help me to obey you because of you. Help me to follow Jesus because of Jesus. Help me not to be merely religious, but to be you-centered. Create in me a heart that is concerned about what you think but doesn’t obsess over what others think.