To hear the world tell it, it’s all about me.
Being true to myself.
Doing what makes me happy.
Following my dreams.
Living my best life.
Speaking my truth.
Becoming the best version of myself.
Listening to my heart.
It’s pretty clear: the world’s loud, incessant voice tells me that in order to be happy, I need to spend more of my time, money, and attention on myself. You’ve probably heard the same message about your need for this, as well.
But knowing the human heart as I do, and correlating that to what the Bible has been telling me all along, it’s also pretty clear that for true fulfillment in life, we actually need just the opposite. In most ways, we don’t need more of ourselves. We need less.
Less need for approval. Less dedication to self-indulgence. Less striving for self-actualization.
Less of ourselves. But oh, how hard a concept this is. How difficult to adopt this lack of expectation in everyday life.
Two thousand years ago, before he was sent to prison for speaking truth to power, John the Baptist was very popular among the people. So popular, in fact, that he repeatedly had to remind and convince his adoring public that he was not the promised Messiah: “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’” (John 3:28)
I can see John now, standing beside the river on the dusty ground … weathered skin, tangled hair, a wry and gentle smile on his face: “People. This is about Jesus. This is not about me.”
Or in his own, more eloquent words: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) In this he speaks for all of us.
What does it mean that we, as Christians, must decrease so that Jesus can increase? It’s easy to see the “why” of this statement when the person speaking it is a rock star like John the Baptist. (Think: a celebrity preacher, or a wildly popular Christian author, or an internet sensation.) When the focus is too much on a particular person, they become an idol for their fans, followers, or parishioners and the focus strays from Christ. And sadly, the person who has tasted fame, even through promoting Jesus, can become addicted to the positive rush of their own self-importance.
Now, the vast majority of us are not rock star Christians. Yet we are susceptible to the very same temptations of focusing too greatly on satisfying our own desires, receiving applause for our God-given talents, and maintaining sovereignty in our own little Kingdom of One.
John tells us that we must decrease, and that’s so hard for us to do … yet Jesus himself goes even farther. He minces no words: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23–25)
How do we decrease? How do we lose our lives for Jesus’ sake?
Over the years that I’ve been a Christian, I’ve earnestly sought answers to these questions. As I reflect on my own life (saved as an adult by the grace of God, after many years of living only for myself), I realize that Jesus has done great things for me, and he has done great things in me, but it doesn’t stop there. My “decrease” and my “losing my life” mean that he also wants to do great things through me. And these great things most often don’t match up with the world’s definition of “great.”
In the eyes of Jesus … caring for a sick or dying relative is a great thing. Showing and speaking love to a not always 100% lovable spouse, day in and day out, is a great thing. Spending what could be your “me time” raising children for 18 or more years is a great thing. Taking a lower-paying job in order to serve others or to be in closer proximity to someone who needs you is a great thing. Redirecting some of your income toward those in need is a great thing. Using your time and energy to serve those inside or outside the church is a great thing. Thanking God for your gifts and then using them to benefit others, giving glory to Jesus, is a great thing. Shifting the focus from yourself to Christ, whether outwardly or inside your own head, is a great thing.
Far from being confusing or unclear or too difficult to accomplish, there are so many ways, every single day of my life, to decrease for Jesus’ sake. To allow him to not just do things for me, or in me, but through me. (That sounds painful, and frankly, quite often, it is.)
And so when I contemplate these challenges that the prophet John and my King Jesus have put before me, what can I conclude except that
… my marriage is not about me.
… motherhood is not about me.
… the work I do is not about me.
… the money I earn is not about me.
… church is not about me.
… my life, in fact, is not about me.
It’s all about Jesus—his name and his glory. His will for me is why I’m here. His plan for me, even as I decrease, promises greater fulfillment than I could ever create for myself, and greater joy than I could ever imagine.
Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay