Skill & Significance
“Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.” -Proverb 22:29
I've been thinking about this proverb for months and seeing its application around every corner. Not long ago one of my daughters told me she wanted to be a famous singer. As soon as she said it my mind jumped to this proverb. I responded to her, "I love that you want to be a singer. Be the best one you can be. Strive to sing with all your heart and honor God with your voice. But, trying to be famous should not be the goal."
Order is everything. Reverse the order on the above proverb and you lose more than most realize. When a person strives for – works, endeavors, pursues – a life that will not result in obscurity, they become riddled with doubt, deflated in failure, and insecure about their future. When significance is the goal, significance is never found.
Years ago in a Vanity Fair interview the pop-icon Madonna famously said:
“I have an iron will. And all of my will has always been to conquer some horrible feeling of inadequacy. I’m always struggling with that fear. I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being and then I get to another stage and think I’m mediocre and uninteresting. And I find a way to get myself out of that. Again and again. My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. And that’s always pushing me, pushing me. Because even though I’ve become somebody, I still have to prove that somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.”
The 15-minutes-of-fame drive keeps daytime talk show hosts like Maury Povich and Jerry Springer in business. It catapults Reality TV to billions of dollars in revenue. It propels a people desperate to one-up the next guy and do next to anything to get ahead. No one is exempt from this sinful compulsion: pastors want to make a name for themselves; churches want to make a name for themselves; politicians want to make a name for themselves; athletes want to make a name for themselves. Against this fragile porcelain of an insatiable fight against obscurity comes the sledgehammer of Proverbs 22:29: “Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.”
Work hard. Do it because it's worth doing. Devote yourself to doing the best you can in whatever you do. Work with all your heart with the goal of pleasing God and honoring him with the tools he’s given you – your mind, your body, your craftsmanship, your skill, your time, your talents. When you do this you will be free from the pressure of “what will they think” and “will they notice?”
Fear of the unknown dissolves when you know God will use, for your good and his glory, those tasks/jobs/duties you set yourself to. No more doubt; only a humble confidence that nothing goes wasted. Fear of failure dissipates under the glorious reality that you can’t mess up God’s plan, even when that plan includes the lessons you’ll learn from failures you endure.
Not only will you find freedom from the future’s uncertainty and the fear of man, but God in his gracious providence may raise you to a place of recognition for your efforts. That’s the paradox! People striving for fame rarely find it and when they do they become crazed to keep it. God often (though not always) magnifies the efforts of people who are striving to please him and work hard.
Why does God do it this way? Because he will not share his glory with another (Isaiah 42:8). He wants and deserves the glory that comes from a job well done. The humble person faithfully gives honor where honor is do. The mental prowess, surgical steadiness, intricate craftmanship, and eloquent presentation all come from somewhere. They all come from some One.
When God uses your skill to place you in a position where the spotlight shines, deflect the light to where it belongs.