Monday, December 12, 2016

Guess Who’s Watching?

Early in my newspaper career I found myself watching veteran journalists, seeking to learn from them about professionalism. Some of them demonstrated high standards, not only in the quality of their writing but also in the principles by which they worked.

I also remember watching a highly strung, temperamental news editor who’d been assigned to groom me to replace him when he took a new job. What he “taught” me, however, wasn’t the best. Something would happen to spark his anger and he’d throw a tantrum – and sometimes whatever object seemed within reach. I remember thinking, “Is that the way I’m supposed to act? Do his angry displays show how much he cares?”

Eventually I concluded he was just a guy who got mad easily, and seeking to emulate his volcanic behavior wouldn’t help in advancing my career. The example of the more even-keeled, patient, thoughtful managing editor was a better model.

The truth is, if you’re a schoolteacher, you’re being watched. If you’re a parent, you most certainly are being watched. If you’re a business leader, who knows how many people are watching you? You don’t have to be a celebrity or famous athlete for others to be paying close attention to your actions, words and attitudes.

Have you ever considered that if you claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ, you also have people watching you? These might be mature believers, wondering if you have the qualities necessary for leadership responsibilities. There are younger believers, the ones still trying to put all the pieces together, wondering how a faithful follower of Jesus should act – and they’ve decided you’re the one to show the way.

Also watching might be non-believers, so-called seekers or “pre-Christians” trying to figure out what the Gospel and being a Christ-follower are all about, and for them you’re Exhibit A. Others might be the skeptics or even those opposed to the Bible and the message of Jesus – they could be watching you for even the slightest contradiction, the smallest instance of apparent hypocrisy they can point to for justifying their disbelief and antagonism.

That’s why I find it amazing when I read the apostle Paul’s invitation to Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Another translation states it this way: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” Who would be so brash as to say such a thing? Nobody’s perfect, right? And yet the apostle confidently invited others to “imitate me.”

Paul was so confident in his relationship with Christ that he also wrote, “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). Again he was saying, “follow me as I follow Jesus.”

Those are sobering words. Challenging words. Which of us would be bold enough to say the same to someone we’re investing in as a mentor, coach, or encourager? And yet, the Scriptures seem to tell us that’s exactly what we should do.

One other group is watching and, I believe, cheering for us in our faith journey. Consider: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1).

Who exactly is this “cloud of witnesses” surrounding us? Frankly, I’m not certain – and doubt anyone else is either. Some have speculated it refers to faithful followers of Jesus who have preceded us, setting examples themselves that we would be wise to emulate. That might be so.

Perhaps there’s a spiritual dimension we know nothing of, in which believers now with the Lord can observe what we’re doing and be our cheerleaders. I have absolutely no concrete basis for that conclusion, but who knows? What we do know is the Bible emphatically states we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses,” people who have served themselves as witnesses for Christ and, it seems, are witnessing the paths we take during the course of our daily lives.

Most of all, we know God is watching – by far most important. “For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (2 Chronicles 16:9). At times, we might wish to believe otherwise, but the Scriptures assure us God is not distant or aloof. He is very personal, knows us to the smallest detail, and takes great interest in how we live, how we interact with others, and most of all, how we relate to Him. 

So, when you hear the familiar words of the Christmas song, “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good…,” remember this isn’t true of Santa Claus. But it’s very true of our loving, sovereign, all-knowing God. As you proceed through this day, keep in mind: You’re being watched, in more ways than one.   

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