I've got to be me!
Authentic living in a character-crippling world.
So the question is: how does a person become and stay authentic in this character-crippling world? I don’t think the answer is to list all our cares to everyone we greet. The grocery clerk doesn’t need (or want!) to hear about your cat puking on the carpet. But it’s okay to say you’ve had a rough day. You can be honest and real without complaining about everything. It’s not so much what you say, but how you say it. Don’t fake it ’til you make it. Be your real self. Take some notes from John the Baptist.
John the Baptist was the epitome of authenticity. Unique and individualistic, he marched to the beat of the Holy Spirit. In Matthew 3, I am struck by the remarkable life of this man. He was not influenced by other’s opinions, yet his uniqueness drew others to him. His confidence did not waver.
John was related to Jesus as his cousin. Elizabeth, John’s mother, had a close relationship with Mary, Jesus’ mother. God told Zechariah, John’s father, of John’s coming, though Elizabeth was unable to have children. Yet John’s life path was described to Zechariah before his birth. God paved the way for John’s unique impact on the world. (Read Elizabeth and Zechariah’s story in Luke 1.)
John grew up with the knowledge of his prophesied birth and life. So he prepared for his mission by living in the wilderness. He was gifted with the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17) but he did not try to mimic Elijah. Unabashed by local custom, he survived on honey and locusts. He was viewed as a fanatic by many around him.
But John lived a life that reflected his faith. Don’t take this for granted—his faith had to be big. He knew what was said of him—that he would prepare the way for the Messiah—but he had yet to see it happen. We now know how his life played out, but as he was living it, he couldn’t see the future. John had promises, predictions, and prophesies, but no outline or step-by-step life plan. This blows my mind. How do you live up to such expectation? Surely only with God can this be possible.
John lived his life to the fullest. Each day his purpose was to prepare his followers’ hearts to accept Jesus. Passionately, he preached repentance, uncertain when his mission would be complete. Many found their Messiah in Jesus because John pointed the way. We was even privileged to baptize Jesus. This was culmination of John’s ministry.
As Jesus’ influence increased, John faded to the background. Was there an inner struggle here as John’s fame diminished? Perhaps, but we don’t know. His ego had to die; he had to accept this was not about him. Charismatic by nature, he had to give that gift over to God, in a breathtaking act of faith. But he did not escape the human propensity to doubt; we know his faith wavered as he sat in jail, and sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He really was the one John had been preaching about. Jesus pointed to the evidence to assure them He was. (See Matthew 11.) Soon after that John was beheaded.
John’s example screams across the millennia to all Christians. It can never be about what you get. It is not to be about your fame. It is not about feeling good about yourself; it’s always about following
Now think about this. What if John had waited? What if he thought his life’s calling wasn't worth the locusts and honey or social rejection? What if he had said “I’m not sure. Let’s just see how things work out?” If he had been tentative he may have lived longer, to be sure. Risk involves a price and John paid a high one—the ultimate one. I imagine, however, he lived joyfully to the end with no regrets.
Following Jesus is not safe. But it is not about your comfort. It’s about building the Kingdom. (Matthew 28:19) You've probably heard the popular platitude, “The safest place is in the center of God’s will.” This is true for the spiritual self, but not necessarily the earthly self. John ended up in prison, on the wrong side of political favor, and eventually on the sharp end of the guillotine. None of that sounds even close to safety to me.
But was it worth it? I think John would say it was.
So what does that have to do with you and me? As far as I know, no angel showed up at my conception to announce my grand impact on humanity. It is pretty clear I am not called to wear camel hair. I could handle eating the honey but locusts are out of the question. But I know God has a plan for me, the real me. And one for you, too. The real you.
Find out more about authentic living and mentoring in Leslie's book Legacy. Click here to purchase.