Selfless Theater: It's Not All About You: Part 2
Editor's Note: This is the second post in a series on the idea of selfless theater. If you haven't read the first post, read it now: "Selfless Theater: It's Not All About You: Part 1."
While attempting to perform before crowds selflessly, I was pridefully unaware of my own dependency on Christ for the very talents that made those performances possible. How can I stand to talk about pride and talent in the same breath? They aren’t contradictory statements though. Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John that we can do nothing without him. We are completely dependent on him for everything we produce. And yet we do produce!
John 15:4–5 says, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
Humble dependency on and love of Christ was the answer I sought and yet didn’t find until years later. I’d come to learn of God’s complete sovereignty, but it hadn’t occurred to me to apply that to performing.
In 2015, my husband and I visited the church we attended in college. The pastor excitedly told us of his daughter’s new found interest in theater. I cringed and, with bitterness in my voice, spoke of how hard it is to perform without becoming self-centered. He simply shrugged and said his daughter would learn. Many things in life are hard.
As we drove home, I looked back on the past seven years I’d shirked theater. A single thought replayed itself in my mind, “What have I done?” I had purged my life of something that had once been a passion and a vessel for God’s glory. Regret settled over me, but by the grace of God, not for long. A week later I emailed a local community theater and was invited to join the chorus of The Music Man after I’d missed auditions.
I had forgotten that my righteous acts are like a filthy garment (Isa 64:6). Remember that in this life we’re continually being perfected through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, knowing all the time we’ll never fully achieve perfection until we’re united with Christ in glory (Eph 5:27, 1 Pet 5:10, 1 Thes 5:23, Phil 1:6, 2 Cor 3:18).
Matthew 5:48 tells us to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Why does the Bible say that if perfection is impossible?
Paul writes in Philippians 3:12, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” In this verse, Paul is putting emphasis on continually pressing on toward perfection regardless of our imperfect state because Christ has already adopted us. His perfection is imparted to us.
As Christians, we’re justified but not yet glorified, striving for perfection that we cannot attain in this life, and exhausted by the fight. And do we cut off the hand when sin overtakes us? There are times when the answer is yes. Absolutely. But take care, performer, that you don’t throw away the fruit––and the future possibility of fruit––because you fear the battle against pride that will inevitably ensue. The fruit you bear isn’t primarily a good performance, but the fruit of the spirit.
The fruit of humility is two-fold. One side is self-reflection: knowing your place in relation to God and man––identity in Christ along with a temporal struggle with sin in this life. The second is what Timothy Keller calls the freedom of self-forgetfulness: considering others more than you consider yourself. For the performer, it’s loving Christ by loving your audience and prioritizing their good.
This may look like choosing not to put on or participate in certain shows that don’t honor God. A director of mine once said that we put darkness on stage so that we can shed light on it. But unless you do that in clear and obvious ways, the audience will fail to see the light. Take time before or after a show to speak openly with the audience (and the performers!) and shed the light of the gospel into the darkness on stage. Another method of shining light would be to dedicate part of the program to applying the truth to the specific show you’re putting on.
For the individual performer, the most practical way you can strive for humility is to preach to yourself. While in the midst of auditions, preach to yourself to do your best and be happy that others do the same. While reading the cast list, preach to yourself that just as every part of the body of Christ (the church) is important to the edification of the whole, so is every part of the cast. While standing on stage in front of an audience receiving praise, preach to yourself that all you do is through Christ who strengthens you, who nourishes and feeds the branch that produces fruit. You can also take joy that your success is not the glory you receive but in the way you successfully glorify God by helping others see the light through your performance.
You will do this imperfectly. For now, let that strength of Christ fuel your feet in the race for humility.
In Philippians 2:12-13, Paul says, “. . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.” This harkens back to John 15. It is God who’s working in us, giving us the endurance to keep running, to keep fighting. Because we abide in him, we will bear much fruit!
The often misunderstood and misquoted quote by Martin Luther, “Love God and sin boldly,” will shed some light on the relationship between sin and growth:
If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God's glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.
In this letter, Luther says that the more we understand the weight of our sin, the more we understand the grace God has given. He never intended to make light of sin. Instead, he meant only that as sinners, we add nothing to our own salvation and eventual glorification.
Only abiding in Christ and his word can produce the fruit of humility in the face of an adoring crowd or other performers who are more talented than you. But do not despair when the curtain falls and, once again, humility has eluded you. Keep running. Keep praying for help. There will come a day when we will walk the roads of a new earth and our pride will be but a memory.
Marian Jacobs lives near Houston, Texas with her husband and three children. She occasionally finds time for photography and writing stories about monsters and magic. Her work has been featured at Desiring God and Speculative Faith. You can find more about her and her work at her personal website.