Too much of Christian culture is oriented towards the limelight. The goal of the young Christian is to one day be in the lights on the stage too - to be known, noticed, celebrated, lauded as spiritual, wise and powerful. Somehow we have made it if we are in the limelight before people – ideally lots of them. If we are honest there is some (or a lot) of that in us too.
But Jesus and people throughout church history who were close to God and were used powerfully by him consistently chose to head the other way – to avoid the limelight! The limelight tempts us towards a false self – to embrace the lie that we are powerful and essential in ways that is only true of God. But out of the limelight we face our true self, our powerlessness, and our dependence on his love. These are the things which release transforming spiritual power in our lives because they lead us to need God.
In the same way that seeds are hidden under the soil to germinate, away from the limelight God’s life and heart has a chance to germinate in us. In this sense there is power in avoiding the limelight! If seeds constantly pushed to be above the soil, there would be no germination and nothing would grow. Our limelight-orientation similarly limits germination and life. Worse, it can mean our time in the limelight is not fruitful in kingdom terms, or even toxic.
For this reason, Jesus sought solitude and refused to be elevated to positions of worldly power. Monks and mystics headed for the desert, running for their lives from the fleshly compulsions of the world. And others closeted themselves away to pray and allow their hearts to be shaped in God. They happily forfeited glory from others in order to seek the glory that is from God alone. This is birthed out of the limelight in the secret places of the heart as the Spirit of God has opportunity to work there.
King David wrote: “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings…” (Psalm 17:8). There is safety in the shadow (the humble places of dependence and shelter in God). The limelight is there, and God may call us into it, but it is like open spaces where enemies can attack our hearts, steal our peace, and entice us to serve ourselves.
In Barefoot Revolution I have written: Jesus healed powerfully, was noticed and revolutionized the world, but he didn’t need to notch these things on his belt to ensure his peace because there were no unresolved ego needs bouncing about inside him. This formed the revolutionary power base of Christ’s life because it liberated him to find value, and therefore joy, in doing things that did not serve him, or that appeared by worldly perspectives to be a dismal failure, but served God’s will.
Jesus ended up in the limelight in a fruitful and life-giving way because the basic orientation of his life was to avoid it! The limelight is there but it is not sought, depended upon, or the basis for a sense of self or success.
The temptation of course is to then avoid the limelight as a technique for getting into it, but this is still different to the glorious freedom and soul-rest of truly seeking as our destination the shadow under the Father’s wings and leaving the rest to him.
As crazy as it sounds (because the limelight is linked with power in our culture), choosing to avoid the limelight by not orienting our whole lives towards it has everything to do with being close to God and having spiritually powerful lives in him – a power different to and deeper than the power of the limelight.