Slaying the Thirst for Recognition

“I want the voice of honest praise
To follow me behind,
And to be thought in future days
The friend of human kind,
That after ages, as they rise,
Exulting may proclaim
In choral union to the skies
Their blessings on my name”[1]

I wish I could say those words didn’t describe me. But they do. Count Zinzendorf’s life motto of, “Preach the gospel. Die. Be forgotten,” might accurately portray a few pious souls, but I’m not one of them. At least not yet.

Being the pensive soul that I am, I wonder: Where does this thirst come from? Why the hunger for recognition? For me (and this is embarrassing to write publically) it stems from a desire to be admired, to be well-thought of. Sadly, I want you to think I’m amazing . . . at everything. The thirst for recognition arises within my heart when I’m not satisfied with all that God is, and has promised to be for me, in Christ Jesus. In the ongoing battle of dying to self and progressively being conformed into the image of Jesus, I will always be tempted to find my identity in things that are infinitely smaller than him. Without wanting to sound judgmental, I know you’re the same way in some area of your life. I know this because you’re a lot like me. You’re a sinner. So, how do we fight this beast?

Slaying the Dragon

Realize that this is idolatry. If I’m not receiving the adulation and recognition that I think I deserve, then I’m going to be upset. But I can’t stop there. No, we need to look beneath the surface to identify what the problem is. The underlying cause of my frustration stems from the fact that I’m not getting something that I want; that is, a demand is not being met. When a desire (either good or bad) has become a demand, you know it has become an idol. In that moment, we must renounce that demand and ask God to help us find all of our security, joy, and fulfillment in Jesus Christ alone. Want to identify the idol(s) in your life? Use the formula, “I will not be happy unless _____________________.”

At one point in his career, Parker Palmer was asked to become president of a college. Although he was excited about the opportunity, he decided he needed some insight from his friends before he accepted the position. After they were gathered together in a room, one of his friends asked him, “What would you like about being president?” He answered, “Well, I wouldn’t like having to give up my writing and teaching. I wouldn’t like the politics of the presidency. I wouldn’t like . . .” The same friend asked once more, “What would you like about being president?” Palmer stumbled about and said, “I would not like giving up my vacations. I would not like having to wear a suit and tie all the time. I would not like . . .” Finally, Palmer had to confess to his friends, “I guess what I’d like most is getting my picture in the paper with the word president under it.” Perhaps you’re intoning to yourself sanctimoniously, “I would never think such a thing!” Dear friend, you’re more like Mr. Palmer than you care to admit.

Trust that God knows you better than you know yourself. Perhaps right now you think it would be pretty sweet if God would rend the heavens, and immediately endow you with all the abilities you’ve ever desired. That might sound like a blessing to you. But God knows better. In fact, even unbelievers know this. For example, the Roman stoic philosopher, Seneca, noted that many people “are choked by their own blessings.”[2] If God gave you what you wanted, it might bring even greater heartache into your life. And God loves you too much to say yes to all your prayers. When God doesn’t grant you your desire to succeed in a particular venture, or if you never get to fulfill that dream of yours, pause and thank God for knowing you better than you know yourself. New Testament scholar Don Carson asks a profound question: “Am I so tied to my dreams that the destruction of my dreams mean I am destroyed as well?”[3] When we’re tempted to answer “yes” to that question, we should consider the fact that “99 times out of 100, our dreams are false prophets whose heresies indicate the need for something external to take over and give us real life.”[4]

Embrace the gift of limits. The thirst for recognition often leads us into uncharted territory. We envision ourselves scoring that winning touchdown, so we try out for football even though we’ve always been gifted in another sport. We take on more than we can handle to prove ourselves to people. This is often linked to inflated views of ourselves mixed with a splash of narcissism.[5]

Look, I hate to burst your bubble, but it’s a myth that you can be anything you desire. It’s a myth that the truly “authentic” life is found in self-fulfillment and self-discovery.[6] Trust me, I learned the hard way. For years I tried to play basketball like Michael Jordan. To this day, I can barely reach the net when I try to slam dunk. In high school I wanted to wrestle like Dan Gable. I tried for two years and never came close. (In fact, words cannot describe the fullness of that disaster.)

Author Peter Scazzero writes, “Maturity in life is when someone is living joyfully within their God-given limits.”[7] God has gifted each person in a unique way. You are called to be a good steward of those gifts. In turn, you are to use those gifts to serve others and glorify God in the process. As you seek to live this out, prepare the fight of your life. Idols always topple begrudgingly. Keep fighting, keep praying, and keep repenting.


[1] John Quincy Adams, “The Wants of a Man,” in Poems That Live Forever, ed. Hazel Felleman (NY: Doubleday, 1965), 316.

[2] Seneca, On the Shortness of Life (trans. C. D. N. Costa; NY: Penguin, 1997), 3.

[3] Don Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 142.

[4] Ethan Richardson, This American Gospel: Public Radio Parables & the Grace of God (Charlottesville: Mockingbird, 2012), 35.

[5] For more on this point, see Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (NY: Free Press, 2009), 18-19.

[6] Andrew Potter, The Authenticity Hoax: Why the “Real” Things We Seek Don’t Make Us Happy (NY: Harper Perennial, 2010), 14-15.

[7] Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship that Actually Changes Lives (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 144.




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