Sometimes when I’m grabbing a bite to eat in the dining hall, I can’t help but overhear pieces of the conversations around me. Nibbling my breakfast the Wednesday of New Vision Week, I absentmindedly tuned into the conversation of two students seated at a nearby booth. One of the young women mentioned that she was planning to skip chapel that morning. Having earlier listened to the visiting speaker, Mick Veach from Mosaic Midtown Church in Detroit, she wasn’t interested in hearing more from him. To her, his message seemed more like a rehash of personal achievements than encouragement to follow the Lord’s call to missions. The two friends at breakfast regretted that Mick Veach and New Vision Week seemed to glorify people in remarkable missions rather than remembering God’s work in the mission fields of everyday life.
My initial reaction to these opinions mingled disappointment with self-righteousness. If these students disagreed with Mick Veach or with his speaking style, I thought, they should listen more to understand his perspective. I would not skip chapel because the speaker rubbed me the wrong way. Besides, who were these students to decide whether Veach’s message was prideful self-glorification or an honest recounting of God’s work through him?
However, maybe my disappointment over their concerns was the result of recognizing my own doubts reflected in their words. Truthfully, Mick Veach’s stories unsettled me. He told of his passion in his early Christian years for sharing the Gospel, of leading a classmate to Christ, and of this resulting in his peer’s testimony being printed on the front page of a newspaper. Veach told of serving in a Muslim country, of the impressive growth of Christianity during his time there, and of establishing a multiracial church in the “hood” of Detroit. These stories of Veach’s faithfulness, passion, and willingness left me struggling not to view him as arrogant in his success.
I have always struggled to define the thin line between boasting in personal success and honestly sharing about God’s work in me. In high school, I became so concerned about boasting that I would not even tell my parents about my earning an “A” on a test or scoring a goal in a soccer game. Thus, Mick Veach’s stories of his success in missions struck me in a tender spot. Veach’s approach of openly relating his accomplishments clashed with my instinct to remain silent about success to avoid boasting. But can I say that Veach’s method of sharing his missionary achievements was wrong?
Scripture offers a helpful perspective on boasting. 2 Corinthians 10:13-18 says: “We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you…But, ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’ For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” Believers should boast in the Lord, in the service to which God has assigned us. This seems to be what Mick Veach did during New Vision Week. He told about his work within “the sphere of service” to which God assigned him. Perhaps Veach boasted, but he boasted in the Lord and in God’s accomplishments through him. According to Scripture, Veach’s boasting in the Lord is better than my silence which fails to acknowledge God’s work in the world.
The difference between boasting in ourselves and boasting in the Lord is a matter of the heart. I cannot judge the humility of Mick Veach’s heart or say whether, in his heart, Veach commended himself or acknowledged Christ’s commendation. However, I can examine the humility of my heart. When I share about my service, I know if I’m boasting in myself or in the Lord. I cannot always ensure that others will correctly judge my boasting or my heart’s attitude, but I can leave that up to God. I can only know the source of my own boasting, and I can only give Mick Veach the benefit of the doubt and the grace to assume that when he boasts, he boasts in the Lord from a humble heart.
Abigail is a sophomore majoring in writing and art.