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A Servant God

The Lord said that he had come ‘not to be served but to serve’. Many people think of this as a temporary interruption of Jesus’ normal experience, which would be to receive service. In fact, serving is God’s business. …

Hawthorne writes that [reading Philippians 2:6 as ‘although he was God’] is to miss the essential point … In other words:

Your attitude should be same as that of Christ Jesus, who – precisely because he was in very nature God – did not consider equality with God to be grounds for grasping, but poured himself out, taking the very nature of a servant.

Jesus did not take on the ‘outward form’ of a servant. Paul uses the same term to describe both Jesus’ servanthood and his Godhood … When Jesus came in the form of a servant, he was not disguising who God is. He was revealing who God is.

I remember hearing a Christian speaker say once that pride is forbidden to human beings, but is okay in God because, after all, he is God. This is wrong. God is the Infinite Servant. God is the most humble being in all the universe. Jesus did not come as a servant in spite of the fact that he is God; he came precisely because of the fact that he is God.

From ‘The Life You’ve Always Wanted’ by John Ortberg (p.115) – italics original, bold mine.

This passage is from his chapter on pride and humility in which he helpfully describes humility as ‘healthy self-forgetfulness’.

We will know that we have begun to make progress in humility when we find that we get so enabled by the Holy Spirit to live in the moment that we cease to be preoccupied with ourselves, one way or the other. … humility involves a Copernican revolution of the soul, the realisation that the universe does not revolve around us.

He points out that pride is a ‘persistent problem for people who strive for spiritual growth … When I try to do something good, I am intensely aware of it. And I tend to think of other people who aren’t putting forth the same effort…’

One of the hardest things in the world is to stop being the prodigal son without turning into the elder brother.

He goes on to describe how the practice of Servanthood, as demonstrated by Jesus, is the only way to find true humility.

In his chapter ‘Refashioning the Clay’ Samuel Wells acknowledges the huge contribution the Big Bang and evolutionary theory have made to science, but cautions against turning them into theology, for “you get a single word answer: survival. The whole dynamic of history mutates into survival; and adaptation that enables survival is called progress. Conflict is at the heart of every encounter, and survival is the reward for those who win the battle.

“But Christianity has a very different answer.

“Christians believe the logic – the logos, or word – at the heart of the universe is not about survival. It’s about death and resurrection. The ultimate future doesn’t belong to those who have fought and prevailed, it belongs to those who have laid down their lives for others.

Samuel Wells, in Learning to Dream Again

AUGUSTINE on the Incarnation

Man’s maker was made man,
That He, Ruler of the stars,
Might nurse at His mother’s breast;
That the Bread might hunger,
The Fountain thirst,
The Light sleep,
The Way be tired on its journey;
That the Truth might be accused of false witness,
The Teacher be beaten with whips,
The Foundation be suspended on wood;
That Strength might grow weak;
That the Healer might be wounded;
That Life might die.

Adapted from Sermons 191.1 by Augustine of Hippo, author unknown.

And I like how this blogger continues:

…That the hungry may have bread,
The thirsty a fountain,
Those asleep, a light;
That the lost may find The Way,
The false may live in Truth,
The fools may astound the wise,
The worthless may find their worth;
That the weak may be strong;
That the wounded may be healed;
That the dead may live again.

Christmas Carol Mashup

Can you guess the 19 Christmas Carols in this mashup?

He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To be our sweet Saviour.
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing,
God with man is now residing,
Yonder shines the infant light
Born that man no more may die.

Joy! Joy! Jesus Christ was born for this
He hath ope’d the heav’nly door
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight
Guide us to Thy perfect light.

The stars in the bright sky
Looked down where he lay
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.
The angel of the Lord came down:
“Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
Let steeple bells be swungen,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.”

And all the souls on earth shall sing,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day,
The glories of his righteousness,
And wonders of His love.
Good tidings we bring to you and your kin;
Born is the King of Israel!

Printable version


If you only had one prayer to pray, what would it be?

In the 19th century Russian tale ‘The Way of the Pilgrim‘ a pilgrim journeys across Russia, seeking to practise Paul’s command to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17) by constantly repeating the ‘Jesus Prayer‘,”Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner“, an ancient confessional long-revered in Eastern churches. More recently, evangelicals became enthusiastic about repeating daily the prayer of Jabez“Oh that you would bless me indeed and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from the evil one.” (1 Chronicles 4:9-10).

Inspired by the pilgrim’s tale*, I pondered my own choices: if I had to choose a simple prayer to repeat constantly, what would it be? Not that I disliked the ‘Jesus Prayer’, but curiosity left me wondering if there was an even simpler option. Perhaps “Help me, God!” or “Come, Holy Spirit“? “Abba, father” or “Jesus, let your kingdom come“? What was the most basic, most fundamental prayer of my life? Certainly I would have rated all of these as fundamental at various times. But in musing on this question again recently, I came to a even simpler answer.

I want every prayer that I pray to acknowledge who God is and who I am. For I have authority and agency: what I do and say matters. Yet it is God who loves me, calls to me, rescues me, sets me on my feet, and sends me. It is his Spirit that gives me new life, his kingdom which compels me. How could a single prayer encompass so much? Was there a prayer that would reflect the most fundamental desires of my life: to live in agreement with how God has made me, and what he says about me, to be filled with the Spirit, and to submit my life to his purposes and kingdom rule? When I put it that way the answer seemed obvious: agreement and submission can be summed up in a single word.

I believe that the simplest, and most fundamental, prayer that I can pray is “Yes.”

“Yes” encompasses acceptance and invitation, agreement and obedience, triumph and celebration. It’s agreeing to try something new, and confirming a request. It’s answering the door, and accepting seconds of dessert. It’s admitting blame, and conceding defeat. It’s agreeing to marry! It’s the shout of victory, and the exclamation of an overflowing heart.

With a single word I can say so much. I want to say “Yes” to everything that God says about me; “Yes” to his love and his saving grace; “Yes” to the life of the Spirit and crucifying the old self; “Yes” when he calls my name and asks me to leave everything and follow him; “Yes” to everything he asks from me. I will declare “Yes” to Jesus as Lord and King, and a wholehearted “Yes” to every good thing he has for others. And along the way I want to celebrate everything that he has made and done and purposed with a resounding “Yes!”

Praying “Yes” acknowledges my authority and agency: God asks -not compels – me in all things. And yet by itself the word is meaningless – it is simply a response. In order to respond, there must be first a question or command. Thus with this simple prayer I can profess the reality of God as ultimate source and final question: all of creation must answer. My answer is “Yes.”

I am made to freely respond to God’s love. I am a free agent who finds peace only in surrender. I am an individual made for relationship. I have authority only in agreement. He loves me; I love him. He calls me; I answer. He sets me on my feet; I walk beside him. He gives me identity and purpose. Everything he says about me is true, everything he commands is because he loves me. I can only say “Yes” to him, because he first said “Yes” to me.

So, I was convinced. Simple, yet profound, “Yes” seemed a worthwhile prayer to spend time with – and the nervousness I sensed within me made me confident that it held plenty of potential for wrestling with deeper things. So, how would I go about using this simple prayer?

In a nod to the Russian pilgrim it’s my intention to use the prayer as a meditation during a pilgrimage of sorts. I am planning for this pilgrimage, which I expect to take some time, to take me on a journey through the various questions, statements and commands put before me in the Bible. As I consider each “Yes”, and I expect there to be many different kinds, it will be with the intention of understanding what God is saying or asking in a deeper way than before. As with the practice of the Jesus Prayer, my hope is to hear God’s voice. And I am certain that along the way I shall find many ways to say “Yes”.

Despite the simplicity of the words, and the familiarity of much of the territory I expect to cover, I don’t expect an easy journey – in fact I am sure it will be adventurous, challenging and occasionally scary. Though I remain confident of the value of an intentional journey with God, and in his capacity to surprise me.

Though on the face of it ‘Yes’ is an easy word, it’s often very hard to say. Submitting to authority can be hard; acknowledging responsibility is tough; following Jesus means leaving things behind. Part of me is deeply scared of this word. What parts of my heart are not in agreement with God? And what about all of the ways in which I’m not fully obedient to him? There’s no doubt about it: saying “Yes” to God requires trust. It’s not meant to be easy, but it requires a decision.

“Will you trust me?” he asks. It’s the first question. I take a deep breath. “Yes.”

 

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” JRR Tolkien, in the Lord of the Rings.

*I first came across this story – I think – in Philip Yancey’s ‘Prayer’.

oscarmuriuglsOscar Muriu is the Senior Pastor at Nairobi Chapel, Kenya and a passionate proponent for the raising up of young leaders. He was one of the most provocative speakers at the GLS conference this year, bringing a straightforward message that will have been difficult for many to hear. I doubt many leaders went away saying ‘I really must put that into practice next week’. This was hard teaching.

He presented his five convictions of viral leadership:

1. The size of the harvest depends on how many harvesters you have (Matt 9.37-38).

These harvesters are leaders who need raising up. Jesus didn’t leap into the field and spend all his energy harvesting – his strategy was to invest his time in 12 disciples. The first thing he did was find his leaders and grow them. ‘Who will continue your work?’ he asked us. If you want to measure the impact of your life, ask yourself this: how many young leaders are you growing? A wise question and a challenging one  – am I investing in younger leaders?

2. Live for the next generation (Ps 71.18).

His challenge to us was to pour out our lives for the next generation, not our own, and by this he meant those 20 years our junior. This is certainly seek-first-my-kingdom stuff, and the challenge to selflessly live for a time to come was one of the most difficult of the conference.

3. Find your 70. (Num 11.10-17.18)

His point from Moses’ story was that the 70 leaders were already there, because he appointed them all in one day. He challenged us to find the budding leaders who are right under our noses, to recognise potential and train it.

4. Instil the ‘five loves’ (Mark 12.30-33).

Remember these? Heart, soul, mind, strength, neighbour… Love God, love your neighbour – everything is summed up in this! He pointed to these five loves as a model for teaching young leaders: (a) Heart – character; (b) Soul – conviction; (c) Mind – comprehension; (d) Strength – competence; (e) Neighbour – compassion.  Nothing revolutionary here, but a excellent framework!

5. Never do ministry alone (Acts 4.13).

His challenge was to always have budding leaders around, in every part of ministry, at every opportunity. If you’re doing ministry alone, he suggested, it’s a wasted opportunity for teaching. This was the advice I thought most leaders would find the hardest to implement. It’s such a wise idea, but I can see plenty of concerns being raised about privacy and so on. However, people are happy to accept this same approach in a teaching hospital: younger doctors always around, listening and learning, offering suggestions, trying things out. What is so different about spiritual ministry?

GLS: BILL HYBELS on Courage

This is the first of a series of posts on the Global Leadership Summit that I attended in Newcastle recently. Even compared to the usual high quality of these conferences, this was an excellent year. We heard huge amounts of high quality content – teaching, encouragement and exhortation – over this two days. Blogging the sessions is a useful way to process everything.

Bill Hybels opened up the conference with a call for leaders to have courage.

Be strong and courageous. Don’t be fearful or discouraged, because the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1.9

Bill-Hybels-GLS-2013Courage to pursue the vision that God has given you; courage to face reality; courage to build a healthy culture in an organisation; courage to establish values; courage in the face of pressures; courage to finish strong. Be strong and courageous!

How many visions never make it off the starting block because of a leader’s fear? Our cowardice adds to the world’s suffering.

How many organisations suffer because the leader cannot face reality? Or let fear keep them from apologising, from modelling humility, repentance and forgiveness? How many leaders let caution and fear hold them back in championing values? And how many hurt their own organisations by not facing up to the succession question, or fearing reinvention? Be strong and courageous!

Typically excellent stuff from Bill Hybels, with plenty of practical encouragement (although his personal examples are always on a totally different scale!). This was a powerful reminder that courage is not an optional extra for a leader. As he says, courage correlates to every component of leadership. ‘Pastor Bill’ talked a lot about his need to declare the ‘Joshua prayer’ to himself – and to keep doing so – at many points during his years in ministry. Bill is a favourite speaker of mine, not least for his passion and total commitment to the significance of the local church. This is a man who loves Jesus and loves his church, and in listening to him I never fail to be encouraged and emboldened – both as a leader and a disciple. Be strong and courageous! Don’t be fearful or discouraged, because the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.