Work for the Applause of One

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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In the 1970 Tony Award-winning musical Applause, the Broadway cast sings: "What is it that we're living for? Applause! Applause!" The song is repeated periodically throughout the play, leaving no question about what motivates these characters.

God has wired us to long for his love and acceptance. Yet as with all human desires, sometimes our wires get crossed. Instead of trying to please God, we try to please and impress others. Yearning for an audience to watch and applaud us, we treat the world as a stage. We begin to measure our value by the size of the crowd that turns out and how loudly they clap. As one who frequently speaks to groups, I know firsthand how easy it is to fall victim to these earthly measures of success.

A few years ago, I was invited to speak to a new crop of MBA students at Indiana University. There were four of us on the guest panel, all representing coveted employers, so the student turnout was impressive. I was invited to speak first and suddenly felt led to begin with a quote by Frederick Buechner about being called to the "place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." That set a unique tone for the panel discussion, and surprisingly, the other panelists followed suit. The dialogue was rich and thought-provoking.

During the Q&A period, a young woman referred back to my quote and asked how she might discover her deep gladness. I suggested that she look to her past, identify those times when she felt "in her element" and her heart sang with joy, then try to discern common threads in those experiences. I shared an example from my own life about a consistent theme of thriving in the midst of change.

At the end of the session, the students applauded long and enthusiastically. It was a heady experience—until the young woman who asked the question approached me with tears in her eyes. "I need to be a teacher," she cried. Suddenly it didn't matter how many people had shown up or how loudly they had clapped. The only thing that mattered was that somehow a heart had been touched—perhaps a life even changed—as God had worked through this cracked vessel.

After the Indianapolis Colts won the 2007 Super Bowl, team owner Jim Irsay's first words to the press were: "Now there's an awful lot of glory going around . . . but we're giving it all to God, because that's what got us here." In front of 75,000 spectators in Dolphin Stadium—and millions more around the globe—Jim and his team reveled in the beautiful gift of human praise but reminded us that ultimately we play for an audience of one.

There's only One whose applause really matters. And that's what we're living and working for.