I was first given the opportunity to offer the invocation at graduation the year that my predecessor had taken a different position on campus. I was asked to serve as the Interim Chaplain while the university conducted a search for his replacement. I felt led to apply for the position and by the time graduation came around I was notified that I was one of the finalists.
As I prepared my prayer for graduation I was very much aware that in a sense I was getting a "try out" for the job. Thus I spent nearly a month crafting my two-minute invocation. My goal was to mix eloquence with subtle inspiration. I rehearsed in front of a mirror. I planned when I would gesticulate for added emphasis. I even worked on the tone of my voice.
And when the big day came I glided to the microphone and performed my little prayer. I turned to walk back to my seat on the stage and was pleased to see the University President and the Provost who was in charge of the search smiling and giving me thumbs up. Well done!
I sat down and was suddenly convicted. I had forgotten that I was praying before the God of the universe. I was charged with invoking the Spirit and blessing this ceremony and five thousand graduates and my greatest concern was gaining the approval and affirmation of my boss. I was more concerned with my job and my reputation that I was with engaging my Creator.
I suppose awareness is the first step towards liberation. How can one ever be free if they can't even see their chains?
Performance and praise
I had lunch with a friend of mine who is a choir director and worship leader soon after and he explained to me that as a musician in church, he wrestles with remembering the difference between performance and praise. He talked about how some musicians can become enslaved by the music. What he means is that some are so concerned with sounding good and pleasing the congregation that they only perform and never praise.
I shared that I had felt that tension at times in the pulpit and how when I was invited to serve as a guest preacher I wondered whether they would want me back. I can even remember practicing my "run" at the end of my sermons so that I would be accepted as a "good preacher." I was performing. Insecurity not only can hinder us from not doing, but it can sadly motivate us to overdo for the wrong reasons.
I know a minister who once said that the most dangerous moment for a preacher is immediately after the sermon when he or she is shaking hands. It's a chain around the neck of the insecure minister.
My insecurity extended to my writing career. I can remember posting articles online or sharing them on social media sites and checking how many people read them, "liked" them, or shared them with others. I loved the affirmation but I'd be devastated by a disagreeing comment.
This was my chain: A need to be loved and affirmed. And love and affirmation are not bad things, until they become idols. Until they become chains we need and not gifts we receive with gratitude. We have to be able to see our chains before we can pick the locks.
Or lift them up for a Saving Liberator to unlock them for us.