Surely you have heard of those people called An-onymous, those “No-names.” They have penned numerous well-known quotations, poems, and anecdotes—incognito. I wonder if they suffer sometimes, as I do, from an identity crisis.
As a writer, I think, pray and then work hard to convey my thoughts. When my writing pleases an editor and he or she chooses to publish it with my name as author, my heart soars! But other articles I write are assigned by my “employer”—a Christian mission. They include letters to the constituency who support the work, web articles about other people doing good works, and brochures attracting new recruits. My name is not included on such pieces—a minor “ouch.”
One Christian magazine that solicits articles from women in missions, omits all bylines on articles published. This protects authors living overseas in dangerous places, they say. Why is it so hard for me to decide whether or not to submit an article to that periodical? It’s a struggle to accept anonymity.
I felt mild disappointment too when, after spending twenty years of my life on a Bible translation team, our names were not published on the finished work. Usually, only the publisher’s name is given. “Give credit where credit is due,” so the maxim says. Our pride always expects credit and sometimes even waits for a standing ovation.
Satan tempted Jesus by playing pride’s card. “Turn the stones into bread, jump off a high building,” he said, coaxing the Lord to use His powers selfishly or to tempt God (Matthew 4:3). And Jesus’ brothers said, “No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world” (John 7:4).
The Pharisees and Sadducees also came to Jesus and tested Him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven (Matthew 16:1).
Jesus’ response embraced humility and often anonymity. He told those He healed not to tell others about it (Matthew 8:4). When Peter declared Jesus the Christ, Jesus told him not to announce it to others (Matthew 16:20). Jesus also instructed His disciples as they came down from the mountain where He was gloriously transfigured, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (Matthew 17:9).
And when Jesus did preach, teach and do miracles in His hometown, they questioned His wisdom and authority because He was a “nobody” from Nazareth (Matthew 13:54-58).
What does this gentle Teacher and yet Lord of all the earth teach us about anonymity? When we give money to the poor, pray, or fast, we are admonished to do it secretly. We should not even let our left hand know what our right hand is doing. For then, Jesus says, “your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:3-4).
The incomparable Apostle Paul, who called himself “the least of all God’s people” (Ephesians 3:8), teaches us about anonymity in the body of Christ. Some parts seem weak, but are indispensable. Some seem less honorable, but are treated with special honor, and parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty (1 Corinthians 12). We believers are working, moving parts of a whole. Some of us were created, obviously, to serve in anonymity, in secret, away from the eyes of the world.
Accepting anonymity demands great humility. Many of us balk at imitating Clark Kent, working hard as a mild-mannered news reporter. We would rather rush to the famous telephone booth, shed our ho-hum image and reveal ourselves as Superman—or woman—receiving adulation from upturned eyes.
Michael Card, well-known Christian performing artist and songwriter, probably regrets any such adulation. He gives this advice to aspiring music artists: “Never cease praying that you will not become a star or celebrity” (Scribbling in the Sand, p. 163, emphasis mine).
God calls some people to serve Him before a watching world. He calls many others to serve anonymously. And, once in a great while, He allows my name to be published at the top of an article.
This prayer from the NIV Worship Bible has become my own: “Teach us to obey you, Lord, whether you wish to use us seen or unseen, known or unknown, for both our glory and our protection lie in our submission to your perfect will” (page 451).