Carefully Cultivated Reputations


I wrote this missive a rather long time ago while I was supposed to be writing a paper for college. I left it in my journal and never intended to publish it via this medium. I have felt directed to do so now, with very slight editing before sharing it publicly. As with much of my writing, everything in this little essay is not from my perspective (even if I assume the first person). Or if it is from my perspective I’m not necessarily feeling all the emotions I might portray to convey a point or deliver a message (like in “He Is Pure,” I have never felt “stripped of my glory,” nor “robbed of my happiness,” but it resonates with what others feel so I speak for my listeners’ hearts. I hope you get the point). So without further explanation, feel free to look over my shoulder and read.

November 24, 2017

A. W. Tozer once said, “The cross will cut into where it hurts worst, sparing neither us nor our carefully cultivated reputations.” Any brief glance at history and you will find ordinary people whom God called to do extraordinary things — things that did not win them popularity in their day. He gave them tasks and assigned them responsibilities that were cause for concern among their superiors. He laid out paths for them to follow that were ridiculous — courses of action that made no sense to the people they loved the most.

Often when I think of the price of following Christ, or the cost of being abandoned to God’s will, I think of some arbitrary group of people that might look down on me or think of my decisions as poorly made. Very rarely do the faces of my closest friends or images of my family come before my mind when I think of those who will misunderstand my intentions. Yet, these are exactly the people that Christ had in mind when He told us to take up our cross.

I wonder how Mary felt after she accepted the weight of responsibility to bear God’s Son. Scripture is clear that the one she loved the most misunderstood her the deepest. There is no question in my mind that the friends with whom she once felt safe raised an eyebrow at her appearance after the news had spread across her small village. And Tozer’s words plunge to the core again, “The cross will cut into where it hurts worst, sparing neither us nor our carefully cultivated reputations.” Yet at the end of the story, it really didn’t matter what Mary’s family or her friends or her distant acquaintances thought of her. She was merely an instrument used to accomplish the Grand Design planned before the foundations of the world. The young couple carried a certain stigma the rest of their lives. But when the part they were asked to play was over, their personal pain became very insignificant.

I grip two clinched fists around my heart and ask Him to spare it. “Not that. No! Please, not that. I have watered and weeded and wept so long. This has my name attached to it. Not that. Take my health. Take my things. Take my money. But please, don’t touch my reputation.” Christ’s words ring out again, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple… Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

“But this isn’t what I asked for! I brought you everything I had… I thought you would use me in a different way… I thought you would make me into something great, not lay me at your feet as a living sacrifice.”

His subtle response silences my protests, “I’m not calling you to self-defense. I’m calling you to be dead” [2].

My fingers loosen. I release my grip. My hands fall to my sides. “Even this you may have. Do to my reputation what will bring the most glory to your name.” I lay my body down on the one thing that lifted Christ up to bring men to him (John 12:32). I spread my arms across a wooden beam and let sharp nails of humiliation be driven through my wrists. I quit resisting and with anguish, succumb to the terms of a vanquishing Master. It is only through the lifting up of my mangled remains, my flogged future, my shredded hopes, only by the raising of my dead corpse that men will see past me and to a risen Savior.

“Even so, cut me as deeply as you must. Cut away until nothing remains of me. Bring me low. Humiliate me. Vanquish my spirit. It is only by my death that you may live. It is only by my disgrace that you are seen.”

“Leave me empty though I once was full
Leave me broken where I once was whole
But, Jesus, sweet Jesus,
Don’t leave me unusable” [3]


1. Image

2. Paraphrased from David Spivey (2011): “He’s not calling us to self-defense. He’s calling us to be dead.”

3. And yes, my song “Unusable” will appear on my next album. :-)

Merilee Barnard1 Comment