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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.

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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’.

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We sow a thought and reap an act;

We sow an act and reap a habit;

We sow a habit and reap a character;

We sow a character and reap a destiny.

Attributed to Charles Reade.

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i am here.

i’m in this place, waiting for you.

i’m waiting like those wise men,
following a star like a fool.

i’m waiting like jonah
covered in the slime and scale of the sea,
deep in the belly of darkness
hoping for a rescue.

i’m waiting like your mother
pregnant with fear and love.

i’m waiting like our first parents
in the stillness of the garden
listening for your footsteps.

i’m waiting like you did
on the day I was born and
you spoke my name into the world
and said I was good.

what a surprise to find you
already here
so quiet–
waiting for me.

From the Animate booklet, part of the Animate series on Imaginative Prayer at Woodland Hills Church. These look like great resources.

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…to help someone in need, a good work may sometimes be left, or a better undertaken in its place. For in so doing, the good work is not lost, but changed for what is better. Without love, the outward work is of no value; but whatever is done out of love, be it ever so little, is wholly fruitful. For God regards the greatness of the love that prompts a man, rather than the greatness of his achievement.

Thomas à Kempis, Imitation of Christ, ch 15.

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This brings us to the first of two golden rules at the heart of spirituality. You become like what you worship. When you gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at something or someone, you begin to take on something of the character of the object or your worship. …

 So what happens when you worship the creator God whose plan to rescue the world and put it to rights has been accomplished by the Lamb who was slain? The answer comes in the second golden rule: because you were made in God’s image, worship makes you more truly human.  You discover more of what it means to be fully alive. …

 Conversely, when you give that same total worship to anything or anyone else, you shrink as a human being. …when you worship an idol—you may well feel a brief “high.”  But, like a hallucinatory drug, that worship achieves its effect at a cost: when the effect is over, you are less of a human being than you were to begin with. This is the price of idolatry.

NT Wright, Simply Christian, 127

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Within the large, capacious context of the biblical story we learn to think accurately, behave morally, preach passionately, sing joyfully, pray honestly, obey faithfully. But we dare not abandon the story as we do any or all of these things, for the minute we abandon the story, we reduce reality to the dimensions of our minds and feelings and experience. The moment we formulate our doctrines, draw up our moral codes, and throw ourselves into a life of ministry apart from a continuous re-immersion in the story itself, we walk right out of the presence and activity of God and set up our own shop.

Eugene Peterson puts it plainly – and strongly – in his book ‘Subversive Spirituality‘ (p.5)

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