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November 26, 1998

Growing Beyond Karaoke

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When I look at the Christian leadership landscape I see men and women leading from the strength of their unique voice. But I also see, in growing numbers, folks who see the success of other leaders and pattern their own leadership and voice after them. We see ministry success, or professional success or even family success and we immediately believe they’ve unlocked the secret.
Authentic Christian leadership, however, must stem from an individual’s uniqueness. This isn’t just a quaint axiom; it’s a biblical idea. When God formed you and I in our mother’s wombs, he did so with a specific plan. Do you think God would make a plan for you and not equip you for it? When we read David’s poem, otherwise known as Psalm 139, we discover a God who doesn’t just make carbon copies from a template. Rather, we find a God who personally weaves each one of us with care and wisdom.

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
You have searched me, LORD, and you know me.

If King David was right, if God took such tremendous care in crafting the unique wiring of each of us, shouldn’t we take just as much care in how we make use of that uniqueness? Before we do that, though, we have to understand “You are the only you God made… God made you and broke the mold”, says Max Lucado.
So, what’s your life signature? What’s your unique voice among a sea of voices all clamoring to be heard?
If you aren’t sure, it’s easy to be overwhelmed and even confused by the idea of developing a unique voice. In reality, however, it’s just about discovering the original life we were intended to live. This does not require a mystical experience. It simply requires you to turn around, look at your life and evaluate the road you’ve traveled thus far. What makes your heart jump? What do you find pleasure doing? What specific tools has God equipped you with? Where do you seem to thrive?
When we finally step into the answers to these questions, we find our voice. And when we do, the confusion and the blur reorganize and clarify. When I personally began to understand my unique signature, I began to see things differently. For one thing, I began to understand competition in a more healthy way, no longer seeing it as a vindictive play to put someone else down so I could get ahead. Finding your voice also helps with real humility. Richard Foster, the wise pastor and theologian, in his book Prayer, says that to live with a humble heart means to live with eyes that see truth: truth about yourself, truth about others, and truth about the context you’re in. CS Lewis adds, “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less .”
When I understand the truth about myself, I see myself as God sees me. This gives me supreme confidence in my identity. Likewise, when I understand the truth about others, I see them through God’s eyes as well. Seeing these two truths gives me the ability to discern—I can see people in the creatednesss (how God sees them) and I’m not threatened by their work, projects, or status. When I understand the truth about my context I see life as an opportunity to honor God and serve others in every situation. Humility, you see, does not mean that we roll around in the mud pretending as if we are completely bereft of any talents or worth. It is not about having a low opinion of yourself and a high opinion of others. That is, at best, false humility. True humility is having a right opinion of both parties, and most importantly, of God. Again, C.S. Lewis captured this desired state wonderfully in his classic work, Screwtape Letters:
[God] wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. [God] wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbor’s talents – or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognize all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things .

In short, humility demands that we see the world with wide-open eyes; that I serve others from a state of confidence in my own identity.
Additionally, when I began to understand my unique voice, ambition finally made sense to me. Rather than a misguided pursuit of self, ambition became a desire tied up in my createdness and in my relationship with Christ. When Paul uses the concept of “ambition” in the New Testament he is referring to the less noble version, and he does so in a clearly negative way. Does this mean that ambition is always a bad thing? I don’t think it does. Paul’s use of selfish ambition, however, is an important corrective and helps keep ambition in its proper place. Paul defines selfish ambition as “empty glory,” and equates it with vain conceit. While ambition can be motivated by the very strong human desire for glory, Paul warns that such glory is empty when we strive after it to satisfy our own desires.
In contrast to this selfish ambition, are those desires that are correctly oriented. When I take on a new project or business venture and God remains at the center of my vision, establishing and guiding my ethics and my ultimate goal for that particular venture, then ambition starts feeling like a God-thing instead of a Steve-thing because it begins in and is rooted in my relationship with him.
I think too often people miss the idea of uniqueness. They think that to be unique you need to differentiate yourself from the pack, that you need to make some kind of big splash in your industry, that you need to get a great degree from a top tier school. But that stuff is all just window dressing. Being unique is really about discovering and remaining true to whom God created you to be. Sometimes we all need to be reminded of our createdness. It’s easy to drift from that center and when that happens it’s a tough journey back. But the beauty of being a child of God is that even that hard journey can be part of cultivating your unique, your strong voice.

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