I am a reader. It is the primary way that I stimulate my spiritual and personal growth. I have been intentional about reading a broad spectrum of authors. When I find an author that I like, I try to read as much from that author as I can. But I also read authors that I know I will disagree with. I need them to challenge my thinking and unsettle my perspective. Over the years, I have greatly benefited from being an intentional reader.
I was not always an intentional reader. As a young boy, I did not find reading easy, so I did not cultivate that skill. I had an unmarried aunt who lived with us. She was an avid reader and always tried to get her nephews to be readers. Sadly, she passed away before I embraced the joy and the value of reading. It wasn’t until I left Seminary that I began intentionally reading for both pleasure and enrichment. One of the tricks that I use to motivate myself is setting a goal to read twelve ministry related books a year, one a month. For some people, that is not a stretch. For me, it was a real challenge. I am happy to say that it has become a regular part of my life. Most years I go far beyond my goal.
I tell you all of this because today, while I was reading a particularly challenging section in a book, I realized a trap that I can fall into. I have been aware of this trap for many years, but this morning I became aware that I was standing on the edge of it again. I call this trap the chameleon syndrome.
Chameleons have the ability to physically adapt their appearance to blend in with their surroundings. Their ability to camouflage themselves in this way is a survival skill that serves them well. It is a skill that we as humans can develop, except the outcome is no so positive. We can become so skilled at adapting who we are to other people’s expectations, for the purpose of fitting in, that we can lose touch with who we really are.
As I was reading this morning, I realized again how I can unconsciously begin to adapt myself to the expectations of the author that I am reading or to the group of people I am trying to lead. It begins with a challenge to my current status quo. That in itself is not a bad thing. But it can quickly move to an attempt to conform to someone else’s image. As I look back over my life, I can identify many times when I tried to be a human chameleon. The more that I slipped into chameleon mode, the less awareness I had of who God created me to be. I found myself shifting my persona with every persuasive voice that was speaking loudly in my ear. The outcome was a very confused person.
The Bible often warns us against being double minded. We are to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us toward thinking godly thoughts and letting go of the world’s influence. But when we fall into chameleon mode, we are exhibiting hyper-double mindedness. In order to please everyone who comes across our path, we have to continually adjust to their expectations. This doesn’t have to be in the realm of worldly expectations. It can happen within the Body of Christ as we shift our outward actions to conform to each new voice.
There is a familiar passage in Romans 12:1-3 that can be applied to the chameleon syndrome. Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
As we yield our lives completely to Christ, we are to embrace a new reality. There are two key elements to becoming the person Christ wants us to be. First, we need to stop trying to conform to all of the outside pressures around us. Most of us can see how this applies when we look at the value system of the world. Most of us are blind to the pressure to become like our favorite preacher, author, or leader. This is especially true for pastors and other Christian leaders. We flock to the popular seminars, then go home and try to duplicate what was presented. This lasts only until the next book we read or the next conference we attend. Then we have to shift to conform to that.
The second thing we need to do is strive to gain a clear understanding of who God made us to be. God did not create us to be spiritual chameleons. God created each of us as unique individuals, in unique circumstances. He does not want us to be arrogant and over emphasize our uniqueness. He also does not want us to under value who He created us to be. If we have an inflated view of who we are, we expect everyone else to be like us. If we under value who we are, we try to be like everyone else. Neither approach is pleasing to God.
The antidote to the chameleon syndrome is discernment. We need to be humble enough to listen to what others have to say to us. We need to be wise enough to make appropriate adjustments that fit with who God made us to be. We have to have both the courage and the awareness to resist the temptation to conform simply to fit in with whatever the current popular trend happens to be.
It is time to shed our artificial skin of conformity and embrace who we really are.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ--to the glory and praise of God.