Saturday, October 10, 2015

He Must Increase, but I Must Decrease

The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

I've always thought of this passage in the way I think it was (mainly) meant to be thought of. In context, John the Baptist, whom Jesus said was the greatest prophet, was speaking about the coming of the Messiah ... his friend and cousin, Jesus Christ. He realized that once Jesus had been publicly identified, he must begin to step out of the limelight, to fade back, to let Christ take center stage.

But recently God has been doing some things in my life and heart, some difficult things, but some good things. And as I was reflecting on those things and read this passage, I suddenly saw it in a whole new light.

No, I'm not going to "reinterpret" John's message here. I agree, he was speaking primarily about stepping back and letting Jesus take center stage. God must get the glory! John knew that he had been appointed as the forerunner, the one who "made straight he way" for Christ's coming. Once Christ had come, his job was now primarily to simply get out of the way. In fact, very soon he would be going to a damp, dark, prison cell; and then he would be beheaded at the request of Herod's daughter. He had run the race, and he finished well.

But to me, this is a great example of how God sometimes speaks to us through His Word, using a familiar passage to convey new truth to our hearts directly by His Holy Spirit.

Struggling With Pride

Quite frankly, I have been struggling with pride issues — mostly related to my professional life. For 22 years I've had a good run at World Vision, and God has used me there to pioneer a number of new things which have been very successful, starting with our internet program which I began in 1997. I also began our most successful online product (online child sponsorship), and launched our online Gift Catalog (which has also been very successful). I launched our first corporate intranet; helped our international office bolster its web presence and start an emergency communications extranet called "WVrelief"; and launched most of our social media platforms. Finally, most recently, I've been involved in a number of re-iterations of our web presence; in search engine optimization and usability testing; in creating a web and social media presence for World Vision's (now-defunct) public radio program; and in helping improve our media relations division's web presence and social media and blogger relations. And currently I am a member of the corporate social media team, where I am doing some innovation activities, including managing our social media platform communities, creating a "social listening" strategy, assisting with social content and analytics, as well as "other duties as required." 

In most cases, after getting a new program up and running, I moved on to something else and let the people who were good at fine-tuning them and truly making them successful have at it. That's just kind of how God wired me, to be that bleeding-edge pioneer, to start things that others could then run with.

In all this I recognize that God could have (and certainly would have) used anyone else available if I hadn't been there. There's nothing particularly special about me in all this; in fact, most of the people I work with are far better trained and more talented in the specific aspects needed to manage and operate all these technologies and processes. I work with far better technologists, content marketers, and program managers than I am. I am a journalist/writer by training, and while I use that skill in my work, somewhat, it's not primarily what has caused all these things to happen. Honestly it's just a matter of "right place, right time" ... in other words, it's something God has done and I've been blessed to be a part of it.

But as I suppose it always happens, while we are tempted to live in the past, our glory days become eclipsed to some extent by the here and now. Now that all these programs have been up and running smoothly (thanks to the hard work of others), I find I struggle to a certain extent with pride issues! My "flesh" wants to be recognized and lauded for all "I've done." I want to be treated special. Now if someone at work says or does something that doesn't feel like respect, rather than just chalking it up to oversight, I'm tempted to grumble about being "put out to pasture" or "kicked to the curb." It's pretty ugly at the heart of it. So I'm trying to repent and let the Lord deal with it.

And the way the Lord deals with our pride is to humble us. I don't know about you, but I don't like being humbled. It hurts!

A Raging Battle

I know (in my head) that my value lies in what Jesus has done for me, not in anything I've done for Him (or others). My identity, my legacy, should be God's grace and not the various ventures He's allowed me to be a part of. My treasure is Jesus ... not my resume!

But unfortunately my heart doesn't always agree with my head. This was the mental battle raging between my head and my heart when we entered into our annual Day of Prayer on October 1 this year. World Vision does this the first day of each new fiscal year, and it's always a refreshing and challenging time, and God always uses it to shape me in ways that I badly need to be shaped. Our theme this year was taken from Exodus 33:14-15 ...
And he (God) said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he [Moses] said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.”
The first speaker for the day drew a very distinct line between "working for God" and "being with God." It's the old Mary / Martha dilemma; you can be so busy working for God that you neglect to be with God. In this passage Martha missed the presence of Jesus and the opportunity to sit at His feet and be changed by Him because she was too busy hosting Him! In fact, Christ tells us that there are those who will devote their entire lives to doing amazing things in God's name, and in the final judgment, He will say to them: "Depart from Me, for I never knew you." Jesus called these people "workers of lawlessness." But they were working for Him! But the true and primary work of God, the first requirement of the Law, is to "love the Lord Your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength." You can't love someone without seeking their presence.

It was in this context, wrestling with these thoughts, that God suddenly used John 3:30 to speak truth to my heart. "He must increase, but I must decrease." If we want God's presence to increase in our lives, then we must make room for it. And the only way to make room is by "lightening the load" of our pride, throwing some of ourself overboard, as it were.

The Relationship Between Humility and Seeking God

Someone has said "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking less about yourself." I am too self-absorbed, too self-focused. To seek God's face (which in the Hebrew is synonymous with His "presence") is simply to stop thinking so much about myself and my own interests and my own dignity and the respect other people should be paying me; and to start thinking more about God and what He wants and who He is and how I can draw closer to Him.

When we begin thinking less about ourselves, and acting in accordance with those thoughts (which is true humility), we allow God to tip the balance toward His glory. He increases as we decrease. He becomes present in an ever-more-weighty (and "weightiness" is the key concept behind the Hebrew word for "glory") manner.

This idea (being rewarded by God's presence if we set ourselves aside and diligently seek His face) is not a theoretical or isolated concept in Scripture. It's repeated over and over again in both the Old and New Testaments. For example, witness Jeremiah's prophetic words to the Israelites who had been disciplined by God through exile:
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord ...
It's a promise! And God is always true to His promises.

How do you make more room for God in the midst of your own busy life? Do you ever struggle with pride issues, and if so, how is God dealing with this area in your life?