I had a job interview this year with an individual who I would have liked to work for, who is very much in the public eye, and I was asked if I was prepared to be living and working in the public eye. Especially on my personal social media, this would have been always reflecting on this public figure. The employer found someone else they wanted to employ more, and I am now working in a very different capacity which I enjoy and is a niche I am creating for myself.
The private and the public is a topic I think about often. The paradox of the private and the public is that what I do in private, when nobody else can see, proves my character, and overflows into what I do in public. My faithfulness, or my diligence in areas people can’t see, will always shine through without me speaking about it. Conversely, my private failings, will always eventually find me out.
Jesus spoke about this principle – don’t let everyone know you are fasting, fast to God alone and for God’s glory, not my own glory. Jesus also lived this out. He had a public ministry, but he never did anything in public at the expense of his private times with God, and private times of fellowship and teaching of the disciples. I have been reading and studying the gospel of Luke slowly with a close friend and we are reminded almost every week that Jesus guarded private times with God.
Daniel the prophet and visionary faithfully prayed at least three times a day to God in secret, he lived in Ancient Babylon and Ancient Persia at the court of 3 kings when it was illegal to worship anyone other than the king on the throne. His private devotion to Yahweh was noted and reported on by those wise men who were jealous of him and this led to Daniel being thrown to the lions.
Esther lived at a similar time as Daniel, married to the king of Persia. She had a secret identity and a public identity. She had the ‘right’, if you will, to keep her identity a secret. As an individual, any of us can behave in any way we choose. But if we honour God first, we relinquish our hold on the ‘rights’ we feel entitled to by the world, and live to please God first. This often leads to more community minded thinking, like Esther standing up for her community. She had to reveal her private secret in order to fulfil her public ministry. When I work to benefit and give justice to the most vulnerable people in my community, I am most myself.
Living even earlier, I love noting how God’s special shepherd king David dealt with the private and the public. We have a direct window into his private life through the Psalms – many of which were written by David, and started as private songs of worship, prayers and laments David sang to God in private which he later chose to record and lead people in public worship.
I suppose what I am saying, what I glean from the lives of these examples is the message that there is no such thing as a public life and a private life. I live one life, before God, the witness of all my thoughts and deeds. If I get into the habit of thinking about a private life and a public life, I am on dangerous territory. When my time is over, I want to be greeted with “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master!” That greeting will only be mine if I faithfully attend to my devotion to God in private, at the times nobody else is keeping me accountable. I was made to do this, and I access joy by faithfully doing it throughout my life.