Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ”. They asked him, ”Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, ”I am not.” ”Are you the Prophet?” He answered ”No”. Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ”I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’.” John 1v19-23
A friend texted me this morning as part of a running debate over whether he is ‘a prophet’ or not. Its really a bit of a joke… I have been teasing him, because I don’t want this dear man of God, soft-hearted and full of integrity, to rule himself out of being able to hear God and speak His word into situations. So I think he was amused to discover John here in v21 when they asked him ”Are you the Prophet?” answering ”No”! and his text said, ‘so if it’s good enough for John the Baptist its good enough for me!’. Very true, Martin, John is a pretty good role model – apart from what happened to him in the end!
The problem with that is that John was wrong about himself! Because what Jesus later said about him is that he actually WAS Elijah, the Prophet who was expected before the Messiah came (see Matthew 11v7-14 and Malachi 4v5). John had only partially identified who he was and under-estimated his own greatness… probably because he wasn’t interested in his own greatness! He didn’t really care about his own identity at all except as one pointing the way to the One who was coming. He knew the Scriptures and it was enough for him to identify his call with Isaiah’s ‘voice in the wilderness’: His total focus was to prepare the way. So, with our modern pre-occupation with issues of identity, John does have a lot to teach us – about its importance and equally its lack of importance.
I suppose it is quite usual for others to see us more clearly than we see ourselves: maybe that is partly why Jesus asked his disciples, ‘Who do YOU say I am? Objective witnesses always see us more clearly than we see ourselves – that is why accountability and inter-dependance are so important to keep us on track. The encouragement and sometimes admonishments of those around us do so much to forge our characters. Without that kind of input we can become impossibly vain and independent – or discouraged and lost. To know that we have a part to play, a unique significance and contribution, brings security, energy and joy, deep affirmation. The part John played in the story of the Messiah was total fulfillment of his destiny – despite its great cost. His piece of the jigsaw fit right next to Jesus’ own!
But we can get so worried about our role and our labels that we totally miss the point! I know this so well: over the years I have lost count of the number of times I have had difficulty answering that awful question, “So what do you do?” I was reminded of this yesterday, while trying to explain to a new friend what my life is like with no 9 to 5 job to fill my days. It happens whenever I have to fill in an official form with my ‘occupation’: I have a choice of answers, from ‘housewife’ to ‘self-employed'(my favourite, though not financially true) to ‘company secretary’ of Dyer Straight Consulting Ltd (true! its a part-time position!) to ‘Professor’s PA’ (social secretary and general dogsbody) to itinerant preacher (very part-time) – all of which I am uncomfortable about declaring!
What we do IS who we are… NOT! But people will always ask because they want to box us, understand our lives, work out where we fit into the scheme of things. If someone is a doctor or plumber or air-traffic controller you think you automatically know something about them. We do it with church too: ‘I’m a church leader’ ‘I’m a worship leader’ ‘I’m a Baptist’. (I’m a prophet! Ah no – I had better take a leaf out of John the Baptists or our friend Martin’s book there and wait for others to say that!) And of course I really want the security of those sensible labels for my own sake too, because its all about significance and worth. I wince to remember that one of the most insecure times in my life was when I had to give up leading the worship team in church in Redhill (through exhaustion) and lost that precious label. What an opportunity for growth that was!
Now I have entered a new phase I suppose I could now say with integrity I am a ‘carer’. Actually, I would also quite like to call myself a ‘writer’! But it doesn’t really count if you don’t get paid for it… This writing – which is stretching but enjoyable and fulfilling, using my gifts and experience – could easily take 5-6 hours a day if I let it – feels like ‘work’ to me. But what is it worth? What is it for? What am I trying to say? Really creativity has to be its own reward: any encouragement of other people in the process is a bonus! I’m also aware that in just this past week I have veered all over the place in subject matter and that I hop from Bible teaching to family stories, popular songs to contemplative thought, prophetic perspectives to poems and photos… well done if you can keep up! But all these things are part of who I am, and who I am is all I have to offer: who I am is simply Sally Ann.
Back in March of this year, while praying, I had the sense that the Lord was unzipping me down the front, peeling back a covering, a coat, and that the lining was embedded with many jewels of different colours and shapes. I felt that all these treasures of darkness, out of my heart and history, were somehow going to come out into the light and be individually revealed in all their diverse beauty. Soon afterwards I remembered that some years ago a visiting Texan, Dale Gentry, prophesied this over me:
“…collect those things that I have been speaking to you. Put them in a bundle. Hide them in your heart. For there shall come the moments when you will know ‘Now is my time’ and you shall declare what I have declared to you in the past…. So continue to gather and collect. There shall come that release, there shall come that dispersal, that time to say, ‘Now I know that what God has put into my heart is to be released’. And my word that goes forth out of you, my daughter, says the Holy Ghost, shall not return void, but it shall accomplish what I have called it to accomplish. So now posture yourself, prepare yourself, and continue to collect those things I am making deposit into your life. For there shall be those that shall make withdrawals and they shall draw from you…”
‘Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom treasures old and new’. Matthew 13v52.
In the end who I am doesn’t really matter – but who He is does. However, knowing my part in pointing the way to Him is quite helpful!