“He must become more.
I must become less.”
John the Baptist’s followers were amazed by their leader’s statement about Christ’s increasing popularity and John’s decreasing fame. “What’s wrong with him?” they wondered. “Doesn’t he realize this is bad for him?”
Deep down, their concern was about themselves, not John. “What about us?” they might have been thinking. “This is not good for US. We were disciples of the popular guy. We were up and coming, well-known. But this guy is cornering in on our market, and our résumés are suffering.”
Confession: I am so very guilty of this. Every time I submit a magazine/Web article or post a blog, there is at least a hint of selfishness. Underneath the good desires (I hope others are encouraged by my journey; I hope my work honors God) are seedier ones. Will people like it? Will this make me better known? Will this lead to bigger writing assignments and opportunities?
I long for completely pure motives, but I know that on earth I’m simply not capable of them. My old nature will always taint my motives, and I have to constantly face this truth. I recognize the selfish motive, acknowledge it to God in confession, ask for His help, and move on–until selfishness creeps in again. It’s a never-ending battle.
At times I get tired of it, sometimes so tired I want to give up: I want to stop submitting, stop posting.
But I feel called to persist, and John the Baptist’s words encourage me to keep fighting. John said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” He didn’t say, “He’s great; I’m not. That’s it.” A process is implied in his statement. The Amplified version adds these words: “He must grow more prominent; I must grow less so.”
Now I know John the Baptist was a prophet. I know there is a prophetic sense to these words: they are referring to Jesus being lifted up as the Savior of the world and of John being seen as Christ’s servant, His herald. Perhaps John wasn’t speaking about a heart process at all but merely the actual events that were about to take place. He may very well have been so in tune with God’s plan that he wasn’t referring to his own selfishness at all.
But when I say them, that’s exactly what I’m referring to. I’m a lot more like John’s followers than I am like John. Though I know and understand more and more the overwhelming majesty and greatness of Christ, the reality is that I lose that viewpoint all the time; I feel that I should be the center of attention. THAT’S my battle, and the process hinted at in John’s statement encourages me to keep fighting it: “Christ must grow more prominent. I must grow less so.”
So I can GROW in decreasing (that’s a cool paradox). Exalting Christ can become greater and greater in my motivations. I can become less and less. Like Paul learned contentment, I can learn this.
I have a personal teacher who helps me with this very difficult lesson. In Colossians 1, Paul tells the believers at Colossae he continually prays that God will fill them with the knowledge of His will through the wisdom and understanding the Spirit gives so (they) may live lives worthy of the Lord, please Him in every way, and bear fruit.
I know God’s will for me as a writer; it is for HIM to be exalted through my writing.
And the Spirit, my teacher, is not only able to sanctify my motives, the Spirit is also fully capable of using my writing to exalt God at the same time!
The Spirit will enable me to please God with my pen and keyboard, to bear fruit through my words,
AND to “live worthy” as a writer.
Now THAT is Good News!
*Here are a couple of stanzas from the hymn “Holy Spirit, Truth Divine” by Samuel Longfellow (brother of the famous Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) that perfectly express the ideas in this post (and in far fewer words—oh, to be a poet).
Holy Spirit, Truth divine,
Dawn upon this soul of mine;
Word of God and inward light,
Wake my spirit, clear my sight.
Holy Spirit, Love divine,
Glow within this heart of mine;
Kindle every high desire;
Perish self in thy pure fire.
At this morning’s first church service, I read the Scripture passage for the Advent: “John 10: 10-18, ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.’” Man, I have a good reading voice. “’I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.’” I wonder if anyone out there is thinking, “What a nice reading voice she has?”
Seriously, it happened. Maybe a bit more subtly than the way I wrote it above, but it happened. Darts of pride and self-awareness were shooting at me—and not from outside—from within! I had suddenly become the enemy.
I used to watch middle-aged-and-up women (and oh-my-word, I’m one of them now) in church and think: They have it! By it, I meant that they had “arrived,” that they had conquered sin habits and lived in a state of constant peace and faithfulness.
Well, if my own journey is anything to gauge it by, that’s not the way it works. I heard a preacher say recently (Rick McKinley at Imago Dei Church in Seattle) that Christians in their twenties haven’t yet discovered how truly sinful they are.
It’s true! In my twenties (and a little beyond) I remember taking stock of my sin problems and thinking it was only a matter of time and maturity before I had them licked—with God’s help, of course! I would add.
That makes me laugh now! With every passing year I discover more darkness within my own heart. The image I get is of roots going deep into the ground. I dig and dig—and find more and more, tiny tendrils (or not so tiny!) shooting out in all directions, growing faster than I can chop them off, going down into depths I can’t even see.
But I’ve made another discovery lately, this one far more hopeful: every sin root I find is an evidence of—and an opportunity for—GRACE!
I am often shocked by my sin. Seriously! I didn’t just think THAT! Maybe Satan planted that idea in my head; maybe I saw something that triggered it. That couldn’t come out of ME!
But it does, and God’s reaction to my sin is very different than my own. He is not surprised by it. He also doesn’t have my false levels of what is ok and what is not. He does NOT say what I sometimes imagine He does: You did what, Jen? That may be the last straw for you. That’s a new low!
No, He’s not shocked. In fact, He knew about it all along and is revealing it to me at just the right time. Last year a good friend told me, “I’ve learned to thank God when I recognize a sinful pattern in myself because it’s an area where He is leading me into growth. I can’t grow if I don’t see anything wrong or lacking.”
He knew about it all along (so it’s evidence of His great grace—loving me even though I’m far worse than I ever thought I was), AND He wants to use this new recognition I have of my sinfulness to help me to grow, i.e. OPPORTUNITY!
I limit and demean God’s grace when I am shocked by my sin AND when I try to deal with it on my own, wielding my trowels, shovels, even pickaxes in self-powered attempts to dig out the new roots I’ve discovered. Contrary to that, there’s great freedom in saying, as God gave me grace to do this morning, “Wow, Lord, You can see what I am wrestling with here. I confess that I’m struggling with some pretty nasty pride. I confess that it comes from me because I’m just as human as anybody else, and this is who I am in my human state. I’m so grateful You’re not blindsided by this, and I admit I need Your help to chop this root out. I know this won’t be accomplished immediately or even quickly—because it goes a lot deeper than I can see—but I ask for Your help in turning to You again and again when it pops up.”
This allows me to keep going (in this morning’s case, to keep reading) because I realize that my guilt-wallowing doesn’t accomplish my sanctification. I’m NOT saying I shouldn’t acknowledge my sin OR that I am not responsible for turning from it. Scripture uses strong language regarding sin in the lives of believers; “Put them to death,” it says”(Col. 3:5-8). But when I wallow in guilt, I resurrect the sins. I do the same when I try to pull the roots in my own power (oh, that awful “I got this” mentality). I choose either guilt or independence because it feels like I’m doing something, but both are counterproductive. I’m actually giving life to those sin roots.
So how do I pull them out/separate them from a power source? Well, God didn’t say to “put them to death” by myself. He wants me to cry out to Him. He WANTS to help me. And I have to acknowledge that I CAN’T to do that.
The battle is really a constant “setting aside” of self-sufficiency, a “putting on” of dependency that involves a deeper and deeper knowledge of who I really am without Christ.
Again, it’s paradoxical. Growth does not necessarily mean I struggle with sin LESS; it means I see more of it and I bring it to Christ again and again. As I do this, I grow more aware of my inability to deal with sin on my own.
And I also understand more deeply how God loves me—just as I am AND with a commitment to my growth.
“6And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you” Philippians 1:6 (Amplified).