All of us have an appetite to be known and given approval and even acclaim. When notice and awards are being handed out we long to hear our name called. Ask young people what they dream of being some day and the most common responses are that they want to be a baseball player, football player, soccer player, basketball player, actor, singer, dancer or something of that ilk. You may encounter one on occasion who wants to be a marine biologist or an animal trainer, or if you go young enough they might want to be a fireman. But more often than not the responses are in the athlete or performer category. Why is that? In part perhaps it is because it involves activity that young people enjoy. We all know that sports, acting, singing and dancing are all more fun than accounting, middle management, sales or being an actuary. But there is another aspect of that desire that we must note. The athletes and performers are the ones who get noticed. They get the acclaim. If the athletes only performed on fields far removed from the bright lights before audiences consisting of a handful of family and friends, would the young people really dream of doing that when they grow up? Same is true for the singers, actors and dancers. The kids long to be noticed and affirmed. They want to hear the applause and the affirmation. We all do.
The problem with this is that it can be dangerous. One need only look at how the applause so often distorts those who are in the public eye. Why is it that so many child stars in Hollywood go severely off the rails in later years? Why is it that many athletes struggle so badly when they are no longer in the limelight? It is because that constant diet of affirmation can warp our thinking, and as I said earlier, it is addictive. It can cause us to make all manner of bad compromises in the effort to get the acclaim and affirmation that we long for.
Our appetite for being known and acclaimed will never be satiated by the applause of human beings. Ultimately it is such a vast desire it can only be satisfied by the infinite, by God himself. So we must always remember to make him the audience for our lives. John the Baptist provides a sound model for us. When people came to him all upset because Jesus was drawing people away from the “John the Baptist Crusade” and attendance was dropping, John said of Jesus “the one who comes from heaven is above all” (John 3:31). “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). John did not have his head turned by the applause of the crowd. He kept his eye on the truth that he wasn’t on the planet to become known, but to make Jesus known. Good reminder for all of us, I think.