Thursday, February 26, 2009

RE-POST: DO YOU FEEL YOURSELF SHRINKING?

"And John replied, 'He must increase, but I must decrease.'" John 3:30 (NIV)

Do you feel yourself shrinking? Do you feel Christ becoming more and more "at large" in your life? I don't. If anything, I feel the opposite. Most of my day is filled with the pursuit of my wants and concerns about my needs, thinking about my plans, and praying about my dreams.

Jesus? Oh, He's there. But He's not taking over. More and more I'm starting to realize that I really want Him to take over. I need Him to take over.

What I need is for Christ to permeate my life. I need to sense his presence all the time. I need to hear his voice. I need to know his heart for people. I need to take His words to heart and start living them out in my actual life.

When you reach this point in your life, you begin to realize the simple power and wisdom of the Spiritual Disciplines. Suddenly the idea of fasting and observing silence and simplicity become things that your very soul craves.

To many of us, the idea of Spiritual Discipline sounds like a means to take away our freedom in Christ. A way to drag us down and force us to observe the Law. That's not what the Disciplines are all about.

Sure, some churches and more than a few leaders, have misused the Disciplines in the past. Sometimes we can allow others to place their expectations of perfection upon us and bind us up in the pursuit of an outward appearance of Holiness.

But, when a follower of Christ reaches the place where they realize that their flesh is much too weak, even when their spirit is most willing, the Disciplines become an escape route from the bondage of sinfulness.

The Spiritual Disciplines are like turning the spoon away from your own mouth and using it to dig a tunnel under the fence of sin and into the sunlight of freedom.

Jesus' parable of the Pearl Of Great Price (Matthew 13:44), where those who find a great treasure joyfully run out and sell everything in order to get it, is a great picture of what our attitude should be. We're not to worry about how much the pearl costs, we should be worried that we might not be able to sell things fast enough to get the money to buy that pearl.

When we truly understand just how utterly fantastic God's Kingdom really is, as compared to our own kingdom, then the idea of giving up time and food and money and worldly success is nowhere near as precious.

Jesus has some pretty strong words for those who call themselves by His name in Luke chapter 14, verse 27. He says "..Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."

Taking up my cross means my own death. It means the end of my personal kingdom and the beginning of His.

My prayer is that God would give me the strength to daily deny myself, take up my cross and follow Him. I want to go where He's going. I want to walk with Him.

What will it cost me? My car? My house? My dreams? My job? Great. What else? I want to kick my kingdom to the ground and dance while it burns.

I'm ready to follow Him now. "He must increase, I must decrease."

Do you feel yourself shrinking?

By Keith Giles

8 comments:

Lori said...

Those two verses, the pearl and Luke14:33, have been my memory verses for the past two weeks. It's a tough thing giving up all of you, in our case our stuff and our privacy, to follow God. But beyond worth it.

TMinut said...

The first time a door-to-door 'evangelist' came to my door, it went like this:
Him (excited and happy): How would you like to live forever?
Me: ?? Are you crazy?
Then I shut the door.

It took many years before I even asked YHWH for a reason that anyone would want to have this mess called life continue forever, ad nauseum, ad infinutum. Then he showed me. There aren't even words!

I still have to remind myself all the time though, of what I said to myself then, 'Don't ever forget this. Don't ever let yourself forget that you discovered it IS worth everything that ever has been and ever will be.' All the differing 'versions' of the kingdom make it rough, some celestial kingdom in the unknowable future has no real draw for me. Finding out that it's for NOW (at least part of it) makes it all worthwhile. But I still hide from it! The presence of the Almighty is overwhelming, too intense. The reality of it is what showed me that it's not about giving up material things, if that happens, it's the result of what happens INSIDE.

Ian said...

I have two adult daughters (18 & 22). I delight in their accomplishments and growing abilities to engage in life. They know that when they succeed in something I am right behind them, that I delight in the successes. My oldest is currently studying nursing. When it comes time for her graduation, I want it to be about her accomplishments, her hard work, her sacrifice. Not mine. And yet, when it comes to God ... the tables are turned and if we take this interpretation God is so insecure that it must be all about him. I think there may be an alternative interpretation. I think the comment relates to everything leading up to and including John the Baptist being superceded by freedom and identity in Christ. One interpretation leads to freedom and joy and self expression with a loving father, the other leads to perpetually minimising our unique identity.

Keith Giles said...

Ian,

I think you may be missing the real point here.

Have you read the book of Job? He endures suffering and confronts God about it. God's response is, essentially, "Were you there when I spoke the Universe into existence?"

It's not that God is insecure, it's that we're foolish if we believe we can even come close to His Glory, Power, and Holiness.

This is about admitting that without Him we can do nothing. It's about humbling ourselves before a Creator who is so far above us that we are beyond insignificant in comparison.

Now, does this mean that God treats us as subjects or worms? Far from it! In fact, the Scriptures are full of testimony regarding God's amazing goodness to us that we should be called the children of God, and also the very fact that a God so astounding would humble Himself and become like us, and come to serve (not to be served) and die in our place gives us even more reason to step back, bend our knees and acknowledge that there is no one like Him.

-kg

Ian said...

Yes I have read Job and it is a great story but to link his experiences with the change in identity that Jesus ushered in ... I don't see the connection.

You mention that I am "missing the point" and perhaps I am but I do have some experience in having tried a multiplicity of ways to to engage God, many of which were spiritual practices to minimize the effects of the flesh. The thing is is set up a false dichotomy between spirt & flesh and I never could quite do enough to obtain resolution / peace.

Today it just comes down to a very simple approach based around identity and knowing God's love which frees me up to engage in supporting and loving those I come into contact with.

I hope your endeavours towards living a spiritual life bring you fulfillment, joy and peace.

Keith Giles said...

Ian - maybe you could elaborate on the "change in identity" comment? I'm not entirely sure I get where you're coming from there but it sounds intriguing.

I think what I'm trying to point out is that it was John the Baptist who pointed to His Messiah and said, "I must decrease, HE must increase." - This was a statement of humility, of worship, and of clarity. He saw and understood that One who was greater than himself had come and his response was appropriate.

You do bring up an interesting thought, however, that my article didn't touch on and that is the fact that God hardly ever (and I'm struggling to find a reference if He ever did) exalts Himself at our expense.

In other words, it's not Jesus who says, "I must increase and you must decrease." If anything, it is Jesus who dresses up like a slave and washes His disciples' feet, but then He commands them to do the same for one another.

We're unbelievably fortunate to have a God who is good. That's just blind good fortune because He could just as well be a petty, evil, sadistic God with supreme authority and there's nothing we could do about it is there?

Instead, we have a God who loves us, who humbles Himself, who becomes one of us, who comes to serve us and not to be served and who suffers and dies in our place in order to make a way for us to be with Him forever.

Wow. That's awesome! God is amazing and I agree with John the Baptist here - He must increase and I must decrease. If anything I need to become more like Him! I need to take on more of the identity of Christ who humbled Himself and served and loved others sacrificially.

Of course, that's the whole point of Philipians chapter 2, isn't it?

Your comments, and your perspective are welcome here, Ian. I appreciate your thoughts.

Peace,
Keith

Ian said...

Keith,

First of all I want to express my respect for you and the difficulty in responding to transient comments from sources where there is little or no relationship and no guarantee of a continued discussion. You have put a tremendous amount of effort into this blog and I do not want to denigrate your comments in any way. Often conversations on the Internet are combative, I don't want to engage in that type of communication.

Before I launch off, yes I too love that passage in Philippians and your comments about Jesus' humility was a helpful insight, so thank you.

I understand, in part, where you are coming from. An intention to be wholly dedicated to God in mind, purpose and deed. That a life lived for our own purposes pales into comparison with life fully dedicated to God.

My comments relate more to my historical difficulties in achieving that end perhaps than in what you actually said. For me, religious pietism /ascetisim in order to somehow reach a point where my life is totally dedicated to God's purposes just didn't work. It was a zero sum game. I couldn't pray hard enough, fast long enough, spend enough time reading the scriptures, etc. Over time I just became terribly tired and despondent.

All my energies were directed to personal purity and avoidance of sin. To what end? My journey out of that particular world view began with Brother Lawrence's little book, The Practice of the Presence of God. I began to re-read the gospel stories concentrating on Jesus' example. There were many intervening steps but what I am now committed to is simplicity. Most of my theology and praxis is based on Jesus' summation of the totality of the law and prophets, to love God and love others.

My comments about identity in part relate to our relationship in Christ. We often say that we are "sinners saved by grace" but too often the emphasis is on sinners and not that we are saved, engrafted into a relationship with God through Christ, that we are sons and daughters of God, that we have been given a new heart, that we are living stones, that we are the goodness of God expressed upon the earth in Christ Jesus, that Christ is our brother, that God is our friend .... and that these things are operant now.

To my way of thinking, the daily, often mediocre, materials that make up my life are the primary way that I engage in relationship with God and those around me. As Paul said, when quoting a pagan poet, "in him we live and move and have our being".

This is getting too long so I'll finish. For me, concentrating primarily on sin avoidance was dangerous. In trying to avoid sin I actually thought about it all the time and got hooked up on performance. I just think that it is the wrong answer. Jesus example was always in bringing freedom to others at his own expense. I'm finding, and I'll be honest this is still new - early days, loving others in practical ways, eschewing looking after my well being as a primary concern and willing to appear foolish and unlearned at times is bringing me to a place that is just so different from all my previous striving.

I hope the above doesn't seem idealistic. I still have my share of difficult life circumstances which need to be worked through. It's just that there is now no more persistent feelings of not measuring up to some benchmark attributed to God.

Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

Keith Giles said...

Ian,

Wow. I'm glad I took the time to dig a little deeper into your response.

Thank you for sharing this. It's beautiful and honest and, frankly, I wish more people would hunger and thirst for God and intentionally rearrange their lives to seek Him and please Him and obey Him they way you have.

Blessings to you, my friend, and my brother.

Peace,
Keith