However, as I began to dig deeper at this man who almost everyone claims as the best ever, I didn't see a man who I wanted to emulate. I saw a man who struggled with insecurity, and a man who struggled with the need to be accepted and proved over and over again.
He has often talked about how he could shut down Lebron James, the current face of the NBA. He said he could score 100 points in a game if he played in today's version of the game. There are numerous stories of him challenging younger, promising players from the team he owns to games of 1 on 1, completely owning them as he goes up against them. And now, he's talking about returning to the game nearly 20 years past his prime.
I don't claim to know his heart. But the warning signs are there. In an article on ESPN.com, it said that he became intensely driven to prove himself due to numerous snubs. One was that he felt like his father was prouder of his brother (when he was younger). Another was when he was cut from his high school team early in his high school career. The hits kept coming... and he was driven to prove them wrong. He was driven to prove that he was the best... that he could amount to something. Dare I say that he was driven to be the best so that he could earn the love and respect he so desperately wanted?
Again, I'm not Michael Jordan, and I don't know his heart. But the facts that I see lead me to believe something that's true not only of him, but of people in general. We're desperate to have glory, because we think it will bring us some sort of security, love, and acceptance.
Think about it. Why do you strive so hard for whatever it is that you do?
I remember my senior year in high school when we did our musical production of Honk, which is just a glorified version of the Ugly Duckling. For years I wanted to be the star of the show, the main lead. But I wasn't drawn to the part of Ugly because it was a "great" part. I mean, if I'm really being honest, as much as I loved being in the musicals and as much as I loved to sing, being the Ugly Duckling was not exactly on my career aspirations list as an actor. I wanted it because I wanted to be the top billed guy, because I was desperate to have people see that I was worth something.
When the cast list came out, I was devastated because I didn't get the part of an ugly duckling, rather I got the part of the Bullfrog. Forget the fact that I was much better suited for that role (and I got to wear a pretty fantastic green tuxedo), I was devastated by not getting the role that would lead to my glory. My motivation for the next two years after that was to prove that I could make it as a lead man. I was so driven that I chose to major in theater at Muhlenberg, hoping one day I could go back and prove everyone wrong... that I was worth something.
What's crazy, is that same motivation continues to pop up in almost every area of life. Work? Yep. Athletic competition? Yep. Ministry? Uhh... definitely. This blog? My marriage? Hobbies? In every single area of my life I see a frequent pull to prove myself as worthy. And yet, the great deception is that even if I achieve what I want and get the "glory," it will never be enough.
If I make the game winning catch in a pick-up frisbee game, I'll be tempted to think how I need to repeat my efforts. If six guys come to a bible study, the next week I'll be tempted to think its only a success if it grows further. If I give a great sermon or talk, it only serves as a launching point to how I can speak to growing audiences, give better illustrations, and gain more acclaim from the Christian Culture. If I'm working on a project, I want everyone to recognize it's awesomeness, and if they do, all I can think about is how I need to do that much better on the next one.
It's like being a hamster on the exercise wheel. You expect to arrive and be satisfied, and yet the need to be approved and glorified never ceases. All we do is tire ourselves out.
Why do we do this? Well, if you know what this blog is all about, you probably know what you're about to read: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. " (Romans 1:18) The passage goes on to say that though we know of God, we don't honor Him or give thanks to Him, and that God actually allows us to walk away from Him. It's God's 'passive' wrath, because we say "we don't want to know you," and He says, "Ok." He lets us go if we want nothing to do with Him.
"But how are we suppressing the truth?" You might ask. "I just want people to like me, there's nothing wrong with that!" And on its own, you're right. It would be a hard life to have no one on your side. But is that really what's going on? Or are you worshiping the approval of other people more than the approval of God?
This is the deception of self-glory: we get glory from our friends and our peers, only to realize it does nothing to quench the ongoing thirst of our souls.
If we're deceived, then what's really true?
1. We're more insignificant and broken than we realize - Here's our problem. We argue that we matter to feel loved, but the truth is that we DON'T matter on our own. Look, I'm 26. I've got maybe 50-60 years to live if God wills it. Maybe I'll preach some great sermons, maybe this blog will become a hit and I'll be able to write a book, maybe I'll have a thriving ministry. Guess what, who's going to remember the name Zack Gugenheim in 100 years? 200 years? 300 years? Probably no one. Death comes, which is the ultimate reminder that I'm broken, sinful, rebellious, and all together not that important. And that fact bugs me, and it bugs every single one of us. It's why Michael Jordan feels the need to get back on the court at 50. Because, while people remember his greatness 20 years ago, people growing up now are saying that Lebron or Kobe is the best player ever. He's itching to remind people that he is the best player to ever play the game. But in the end, regardless of his six rings, multiple MVP's, All-Star Games, etc, he will never matter enough to people, because he's ultimately broken, just like the rest of us.
2. We're loved more deeply than we can possibly imagine - Jesus is the great exposer. You see, we shy away from Him because He exposes our petty attempts for glory as what they are... desperation to mean something. But he doesn't just expose our thirst... he comes to satisfy it. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has placed eternity into a man's heart... and yet we see on our own accord that we can't reach eternity. But Jesus changed that. Not only does He give us a hope of eternal life, He gives us a hope of a deep, eternal, lasting love that is big enough to satisfy the deep void of love in our hearts. When our hearts cry out for the need for approval, what we need is not the approval of man, but rather the overwhelming approval of God. And Jesus proved God's love for us by reversing the curse of sin and death by dying for our sin on the cross, setting us free from the bondage of having to prove ourselves to the rest of creation.
So how do we escape the temptation of self-glorification? A couple of practical steps:
- Fill up on Jesus - Regardless of how many "good" things you do in life, you're going to do them for the wrong reasons if you're not connecting with Jesus. He is the only one who can make our motives and hopes pure.
- Question your motivations - It's easy to assume that you're doing things for the right reasons. Ask yourself why you do the things you do, and be honest with yourself (Ex: why am I trying to give all the answers in bible study? Why am I staying up all hours of the night to finish this thing for work?)
- Repent and Believe the Gospel - When you see how you seek glory, repent and ask Jesus to help you to trust in Him instead. He's the only one who can actually satisfy our hearts.
- Do the things you love for the sake of Glorifying Jesus - The point of this is not to make sure we stop the things we love doing because we're glorifying ourselves. Rather, the point is to take the things we love to do, and use them to share with others the amazing power of the Gospel through our words and our very lives. Think how you can use your work, ministry, or other talents to bring glory to Jesus, rather than yourself.