At the bottom of a broken marriage, a shattered family, or a forsaken friendship you will always find stolen glory. We crave glory that does not belong to us, and we step on one another to get it. Rather than glorifying God by using the things he has given us to love other people, we use people to get the glory we love. Sin causes us to steal the story and rewrite it with ourselves as the lead, and with our lives at center stage.Paul David Trip, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands
Most of us know the feeling of having something taken from us or the sense that something very precious and sacred to us was trampled in the dust. We have sat in meetings, conferences, and classes and heard people take credit for achievements or brilliant thoughts that they didn’t fully earn or come up with on their own. We read book forwards, blogs, and emails that convey one thing, when reality says someone else deserves the recognition. We listen to conversations around us and hear how people are used for the advancement of others. It’s in our families, among our friends, and in our churches. And it’s in us.
We do it to the people we love. And we do it to God.
We are glory thieves.
2015. It was the end of yet another hot, dry summer. The trees were burning out earlier than normal, the sumac was blood-red in some areas, and the lakes were green and sticky with algae. It felt like the end of the road for me. My soul had been dying for over a year by the time August came. Any joy left in my heart was fabricated and fake. Every day I struggled to get out of bed and yet, I slept rough every night. Tiredness was my closest friend. But I couldn’t stop. By August, I knew something had to be done or I would be stopping for good. There was a massive thing hanging onto my thoughts and clutching my heart that I knew had to be resolved. Driving up the winding, secluded roads to the retreat center, I audibly sighed. There was a tangible peace that these three days were going to set everything right and I would emerge a new person.
And yet. In those days away, the people and things I thought would fill my prayers and the pages of my journal never even saw the light.
In between walking the silent trails, sleeping for hours at a time, crying, and praying, I read. And read. And thought and journaled about what God was revealing to me in what I was reading.
One of the two books I read in my few days away was Matt Papa’s book, Look and Live. Sitting on the hard, wooden bench facing one of many crosses, I read. And cried. That book was one of my first huge looks at my sin and struggle with the idol of people-pleasing. How deeply I wanted people to like me and find something in me that was worthy of loving. I couldn’t stop, couldn’t rest, couldn’t quit, because finally my life mattered for the things I was doing. The only thing is…it’s never enough. Good, right things have a way of becoming twisted and distorted into ugliness. Though it would take me a long time to see this, the truth of it was that faithfulness to Jesus wasn’t enough for me.
Over that past year, the story God was writing had softly become more and more about myself. Only I couldn’t see the true character I was portraying in that story. I was the thief. A common robber. Someone who was consistently stealing something that was never mine in the first place.
“Thief! Thief!” the pages screamed at me.
But that book and the gospel didn’t leave me with a simple acknowledgement of my status as a people-pleasing glory thief.
As I read deeply in the book of Hosea, I both saw myself and I saw my Savior. Sadly, I easily resonate with the people of Israel and their persistent rejection of God as they choose their own glory over his. They trade a deep relationship with their God for the empty pleasures of sin. Over and over, God pleads with them to return to him, and again and again, they run from his arms. They chase after their own glory And yet, God in his compassion wounds them in order to heal them (Hos. 6:1).
Throughout the pages of Scripture, God consistently reminds them (and us) that our approval-seeking, selfish desire-chasing, glory-thieving are not normal. This was never how it was supposed to be. We are broken creatures with broken identities. We trade worship of Jesus for worship of self. We love the approval of others more than our Father’s smile (John 12:43). We fear the judgment and condemnation of others, while giving no thought to having a right fear of God (Prov. 29:25, Is. 2:22).
Our Beautiful Savior
The words of Scripture diagnose our sickness, but God is a good physician who also provides the healing for our sin’s illness. God does not give us a medicine bottle and a spoon and simply tell us to take this concoction and we’ll be fixed. No, because the treatment for glory thieves is not a “one-and-done” remedy that cures what ails us. We don’t need more man-made medicines or man-centered treatments. What we need is a look at our Savior. From the days of Moses in the wilderness, God has been commanding his people to look at him and live (Num. 21:8). In Isaiah 45:22, the prophet is speaking for the Lord, calling the world to “turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!” In Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, he compares himself to the bronze serpent in Numbers 21 and tells Nicodemus that he will be lifted up just like that snake, so that everyone that looks on him and believes may be saved (John 3:14-15). For the snake-bitten people in the desert, God appointed a bronze snake for them to look up at for their healing. Look at the curse and be healed from the curse. In the same way, we must look at the One who became a curse for us, so that we can be healed (2 Cor. 5:21).
Our broken identities and blurred visions will only be healed by turning away from ourselves and looking at our beautiful Savior. We must look long and often at this Jesus. We must look at him until we see his beauty and the treasure he is. We dare not tear our eyes away from his face until we can say with Mary, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18). We must plead with him to open our eyes to see him in his word—to see him as the all-satisfying Savior and King he truly is. We must beg the Spirit to give us eyes to see Jesus for who he truly is. We must look to live.