Many of you know that my husband pretty much live our lives out on the road. We drive a big rig and we deliver Broadway shows all over the USA. Sometimes, we cook in the truck using a slow cooker and a microwave, but mostly we eat out. We try to eat healthy, and often have to do so quickly, so we gravitate to one particular fast food restaurant that foots the bill (my husband jokes that I must be part rabbit, since I cannot go a day without a nice salad). And, our favorite place to go is Chick-fil-A. They have great salads, and grilled chicken – both of which fits the bill for my tastebuds, then coupled with their fresh tangy lemonade, we leave there full and refreshed. Chick-fil-A is a Christian based restaurant, and while dining there you will hear the melodies of contemporary Christian music playing through the sound system. The employees are pleasant, and they alway tell you that it’s “my pleasure,” after you tell them thank you. Standing in a Chick-fil-A two weeks ago, while waiting for a refill on my favorite lemonade, I noticed a plaque on the wall. This particular plaque had multiple name plates engraved with the names of employees who had won the “I Am Third,” award. Hmmm, “I am third,” I had to ponder this plaque. Just what did “I am third” mean?
In our world, the phrase I am third is not associated with winning, sure in the Olympics third place gets you a bronze metal, but not much else. Let’s face it, most people want to be first. After all, first place gets all the recognition and rewards thereby associated with the honor. We love our first place teams, we love the first place blue ribbon for best of show, we make the biggest and shiniest trophies for the first place finishers. Almost no one remembers the third place winner, after all they may have been good, but not good enough. Nope, I concluded, not very many people want to be third.
So why would my beloved Chick-fil-A have a plaque on their wall, engraved with the names of their workers that are recognized for being third? I asked one of the managers about this plaque, and she told me a story. Chick-fil-A’s founder S. Truett Cathy, once attended a Bible camp, where they gave out “I Am Third,” awards. She went on to explain that this particular Bible camp gave out “I Am Third” award to their campers. It was a great honor to receive this award, and the impact of this particular award stayed with Cathy for the remainder of his life. To achieve this honor, the recipient successfully demonstrates a selfless view which is counterintuitive to society. First – Jesus. Second – Others (or serving others). Third – Self.
And, that conversation immediately brought me back to a similar lesson that I once learned about joy. It was presented around a campfire one weekend.
J = Jesus
O = Others
Y = Yourself
Our Christian life calls us to turn around the popular misconception that we are important above all others – that we should be first. Jesus showed us a different way. He never placed himself first – and as the Son of God, He above all others would have had the right to insist that it was all about Him. But, He didn’t. Jesus gave us the right model. God first, others second, us third.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30, ESV)
Chick-fil-A’s simple plaque on the wall, serves as a tool to have conversations with those who are curious enough about the meaning of the “I Am Third,” award. And for me, it was a gentle reminder to be sure that J-O-Y remains as the primary focus in my life.
“I Am Third,” or J-O-Y to all of you, may you spread it around.