He sat, staring at his hands and rubbing his feet absentmindedly in the hot dust. The sun beat down on him without mercy, his cracked and peeling skin absorbing the heat and responding with rivulets of sweat. He was completely unimpressed with himself. He was actually quite sick of himself. He was sick of the sweltering heat, the itchy camel hair, the stinking bugs, the sickening sweet of honey day after day. He struggled every day to minister in the midst of hardened hearts and ridicule. John folded his fingers over his palms, placed his head on his fists and wept. His heart was torn afresh. There were not many who sought the Lord, not many who cared for John’s message. They all came to ogle and scoff. For God’s glory, John lived in a daily humility he could hardly stand sometimes. When the Spirit was on Him, it was easy. He felt in every part of himself that this, this self-deprivation and humiliation, was exactly what he was created for. He knew the sacrifice he paid was necessary. His death to self, the eating of locust and wild honey, the camel hair wrap, no place to lay his head. No comfort ever … it was all for a purpose. He could not possibly handle the call of God living in his flesh. But the dying was a daily thing, and the pressure wore greatly on John. He lived in a glorious tension of both hating and loving life.
This is what I imagine John the Baptist must have thought and felt in his lonely moments. We know that at one point, he was so depressed, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah or if there was another. John must have sometimes doubted the work he was doing for the kingdom. What John never heard was Jesus’ praise. He was absent when Jesus said to the crowds, “Among those born of women, there is no one greater than John.” And the daily derision of the crowd had to have hurt in those moments of weakness. John was, after all, still human.
Yet, the truth remains that John had been called, and he had been called to discomfort. He had been called to a life of denial and humiliation. He was not destined for greatness as the world saw it. He was considered demonic by the vast majority of the church, and really only accepted by the outcasts of society. There was little to no comfort in his life. His clothing was strange and most likely, he didn’t smell to great. He probably only ate when the hunger overwhelmed him, considering locust and wild honey was the only thing on the menu. He was a very strange, repulsive kind of man. He didn’t win people because of his good looks or money. He didn’t win people at all, really. But his message was so attractive, people pressed in to hear it. And they flocked to the desert to drink in the words that John was preaching. They walked with him into the water to display the purifying affect of the message the Spirit of God had burned on his lips.
John did not demand attention. His message did. And it wasn’t accomplished with tons of money. It was accomplished through an obedient self-denial and sacrifice. How was John able to submit to this life and calling?
I recall a verse in the Bible that could explain: “for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. (John 12:43” This is obviously not true of John the Baptist. If he loved the praise of men more, he would have never submitted to that life. He would have run from it. He would have run from the call. When Jesus publicly praised John, it was a foretaste of what awaited him in Heaven.
There are many opportunities for us to seek the praise of men in this life. Sometimes, we even insist upon it, pushing ourselves into positions of acknowledgement and the limelight. But at what cost? I’ll tell you … in Matthew chapter 6, Jesus said that when you do things before men to be seen by them, you forfeit your reward from the Father. When you seek the praise of men, or jockey for it, you give up something so much more fulfilling and precious: the praise of God. That’s a hefty price to pay just to impress fickle people. The honest truth is, there is no person on earth who will unequivocally approve of you. So you may as well, whatever the cost, live for the praise of God because He can and will approve without reservation. Whatever the cost. This is burning in my heart today. Whatever God calls you to do, do it without reservation and He will praise you for it. Maybe not in this lifetime, but you are storing up treasures in Heaven. And it’s gonna be worth it.