If you like “The Amazing Race” or “Survivor,” you might be interested to know that so-called reality TV had its beginnings in old black-and-white programs like “Candid Camera.” These were unscripted shows with hidden cameras and microphones designed to show people reacting to practical jokes. One episode showed a new secretary at a desk with drawers that kept popping open. Another featured a telephone that sprayed into a person’s ear when the voice on the line sneezed. Another stunt involved an elevator that traveled sideways and deposited its surprised passengers 32 feet to the left of where they got on. Viewers howled as the surprised victims were told: “Smile, you’re on candid camera.”
Reality TV has come a long way since then, and some people obsess about being on such a show. They view it as their ticket to fame and fortune. Several years ago the magazine Psychology Today studied why people watch reality TV, and the results were surprising. “The attitude that best separated the regular viewers of reality television from everyone else,” said the magazine, “is the desire for status. Fans of the shows are much more likely to agree with statements such as ‘Prestige is important to me’ and ‘I am impressed with designer clothes’ than are other people.”
The magazine continued: “Reality TV allows Americans to fantasize about gaining status through automatic fame. Ordinary people can watch the shows, see people like themselves and imagine that they too could become celebrities by being on television. It does not matter as much that the contestants often are shown in an unfavorable light; the fact that millions of Americans are paying attention means that the contestants are important.”1
A Self-Centered Society
Many people live as if they were constantly starring in their own personal reality shows. We’ve become a self-obsessed, self-focused, self-centered society. Our driving interests are whatever makes us happy. But automatic fame and instant fortune are poor predictors of happiness. Self-obsession is counterproductive. We think we’re happier if others notice us when we walk into a room. But self-absorption doesn’t bring joy. Nor does self-indulgence.
When veteran missionaries Bobby and Geneva Poole first arrived in their field of service, they were taken back by the debauchery of the local “Carnaval” season. There was unrestrained nudity, drinking, drugging, and indulgence. Opening the newspaper one day, Geneva saw this slogan in an advertisement on the front page: “Carnaval with many women, little clothing, and no happiness.”2 How true, she thought. Lots of “pleasure” but no real happiness.
Where do we find genuine joy?
The Simplest Secret
I’m going to give you the simplest secret to cheerfulness you’ll ever hear: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John the Baptist spoke those words in John 3. John’s preaching had taken Israel by storm, and great crowds assembled to hear him. They came to discuss his ideas. They came to be baptized. But when Jesus arrived, the size of John’s crowds decreased. People began flocking around our Lord, and John’s disciples were frustrated. “Rabbi,” they said, “He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified—behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him” (John 3:26).
John was at peace. He thought of himself as the friend of the bridegroom, not the bridegroom himself. His fulfillment didn’t come from being the star of the show, but by being the servant of the Lord; and he put it in simple terms in John 3:30, saying: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
The Bible constantly points us in the direction of serving. Biblical love is finding and meeting the needs of someone else for Christ’s sake. Philippians 2:3-5 says, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”
It’s a life-changer when we learn to reverse our thinking to focus on others for Christ’s sake. It removes so much pressure. We don’t have to worry about our status or prestige or even about what others think of us. We just put our energy into serving Jesus and helping others.
Samuel Logan Brengle was one of the greatest writers and evangelists in the history of the Salvation Army movement. His sermons and books touched thousands of people. But his beginning with the Salvation Army was rocky. Brengle graduated from Boston Theological Seminary and received offers to pastor several large Methodist churches. But he felt God calling him to work with the Salvation Army. Traveling to England, he met General William Booth and volunteered his services. Brengle wasn’t prepared when his first assignment was to black the boots of other workers.
Brengle found himself in a dark little cellar with eighteen pairs of muddy shoes and a can of blacking substance. One by one, he began cleaning the boots, applying the paste, and polishing them. All the time he was asking himself, “Lord God, am I burying my talent? Is this the best they can do for me in the Salvation Army? Am I a fool? Have I followed my own fancy 3,000 miles to come here to black boots?”
But as he toiled over his task, an impression formed in his mind of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. He who had come from the highest heavens was bending over the feet of uncouth, unlearned fishermen, washing them, taking on the form of a servant.
“Dear Lord,” said Brengle, “Thou didst wash their feet; I will black their boots!” With new enthusiasm he went about his work. Later recalling that incident, he said, “I had fellowship with Jesus every morning for a week while down in that cellar blacking boots. It was the best training I could have had…. My new prayer was, ‘Dear Lord, let me serve the servants of Jesus. That is sufficient for me.’ And do you know that experience put a key in my hand to unlock the hearts of lowly people all round the world.”3
The Servant of All
As devotional writer Andrew Murray wrote: “There is nothing so divine and heavenly as being the servant and helper of all. The faithful servant, who recognizes his position, finds a real pleasure in supplying the wants of the master or his guests.”4
Reverend Brinley Evans was a representative of SIM (formerly Sudan Interior Mission). One day he went on an errand to an upper floor of a downtown New York office building. While there, a loud bell went off. It was a fire alarm, and people started scrambling toward the exit. Soon the smell of smoke was detected. Evans began moving to the exit, but a clerk detained him. The man seemed to need to talk. He engaged him in conversation, and Evans focused on the man, giving him his full attention even as pandemonium reigned around him.
The clerk finally said, “You’re the coolest man I’ve ever seen!” He was impressed with the fact that even in an apparent emergency, Evans was able to focus all his attention on the man wanting to engage him in conversation. Evans replied that his calmness was the result of his faith in Christ. He shared his testimony with the man. Imagine Evans’ surprise when the man said, “Ever hear of Candid Camera? You’re on it!” The entire episode was an outrageous stunt to see how someone would respond to being detained by conversation in an emergency.5
Few of us will be on Reality TV, but many people are watching us all the time. Our lives are under observation; and nothing impresses the world more than those who get their minds off themselves and onto the needs of others. It’s a life changer.
Ask yourself: What small task can I do for someone right now? How could I be of service today to someone I love? What can I do for Christ’s sake? Learn to say with John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
1Steven Reiss and James Wiltz, “Why America Loves Reality TV” in Psychology Today, September 1, 2001.2Geneva Poole, Sharing God’s Grace: 50 Years of Missionary Service in Brazil (Nashville: Randall House, 2010), 39
3Clarence W. Hall, Samuel Logan Brengle (Atlanta: The Salvation Army Supplies and Purchasing Depot, 1933), 73-75.
4Andrew Murray, Humility & Absolute Surrender (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005), 2.
5Leslie B. Flynn, Your Influence Is Showing (Nashville: Broadman, 1967), 26.