Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Then God said, “Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:26-27
I recently heard a podcast where the speaker talked about becoming the “best version of yourself.” His intention was not to say that we should become anything we feel like becoming, but rather to become the best version of who God created us to be. This is an important distinction, because in today’s society, it seems that we are continually told that the “best version of ourselves” is really anything we want to be. So, if society tells us that the best version of ourselves is rich, we start obsessing about money. A “society” of friends in college may tell us that the best version of ourselves is to live life to the fullest, and encourage us to be drunk and fun-loving. A “society” of our peer group may tell us the best version of ourselves is to have children that are successful athletes and students who can get into the best college. And then the children of this “society” will have it ingrained in them that you can’t be the best version of anything without the right college, the right sport, the right car, the right handbag, etc.
It seems that society’s message to us is that the best version of ourselves is either a) whatever society is telling us is right “this year” or b) whatever an individual thinks is right, right now. The message we are receiving speaks nothing of God, and His desire for us to be the best version of who He created us to be, which would include using our talents and caring for others.
God calls us all to use our talents to serve others and honor Him. In this way, we are all the same. Our individual talents and how we use them to serve others and honor Him varies from person to person. There is no “best talent” or “best way to serve.” Rather, we are to do our best with what He has given us. When we do the best with what we have been given by God, in order to serve others and honor Him, then we are the best versions of who He created us to be, the best versions of ourselves according to His measuring stick.
Our present challenge is that our society tells us be anything we want to be, do anything we want to do, even if it is at odds with what God tells us. As if the greatest authority now is ourselves, rather than God. Our individual challenge then becomes how to be the best version of who God created us to be in a society where it’s all about ourselves. It’s hard to stick close to what God wants when it seems that everyone is trying to direct us away from that.
Encouraging others to be the best version of who God created each of us to be is part of esteeming others highly. Many people think respect is accepting people just as they are. Respect, however, is really encouraging people to be the best version of who God created them to be. As an example, take a teenager who doesn’t like studying and spends all his time playing video games. Society might send a message that this teenager is academically challenged and that it’s okay to play video games all the time, if one is so inclined. To affirm that message is actually disrespectful to this student. The right message is to be more focused and more diligent about studying. And if one is so obsessed with video games, perhaps he should get the proper education so he can design games in the future. Real respect, really esteeming others highly is not to placate them for whoever they want to be but to encourage them to be the best they can be.
Today’s verses of Scripture remind us that we are ALL created in God’s image, regardless of our talents and our differences. We all are created in the same image, in the image of God. So when we honor one another, when we esteem one another highly, we are honoring God through the image of another. And when we are the best versions of who He created us to be, we are honoring His image in ourselves.
Lord, thank You for the gifts and talents that are unique to me (list them). Thank You for the opportunities that present themselves to me because of my talents (list them). Provide opportunities for me to serve others and in so doing, honor You this day. Open my eyes to see these opportunities. Give me the strength and the wisdom to be the best version of who You created me to be. Help me inspire others to be their best versions of who You created them to be. Amen.
Encourage one another to be the best version of who God created us to be!
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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