I wonder if it was hard for John the Baptist (JTB) to watch Jesus’ star rise while his own began to fade. The Bible accounts seem to indicate that John exhibited unusual graciousness as the crowds began to sway in their allegiance. “He must become greater; I must become less,” John (the Apostle) records (Chapter 3, verse 30).
Certainly JTB had moments of questioning whether his cousin was the One. But as time passes, and John finds himself in Herod’s jail, with few prospects of escaping alive, John seems to rest in the transition between him and Jesus. And, even before his dungeon sojourn, utters perhaps the most succinct statement of discipleship ever. The old King James put it this way: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Eugene Peterson’s, The Message, “This is His assigned moment to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines.”
Translation variations aside, the point seems clear: there is this moment of recognition when we should grasp that, for the Kingdom to be best served, the world must see more of Jesus and less of us.
I recognize some irony in making this assertion through a blog…a communication medium that seems oriented around “more of me.” But, hang in there. Because I am frankly befuddled by this challenge. It is very hard for me to turn people’s attention toward Jesus without, somehow, drawing some of that attention to myself. And…I suspect I am not alone in this.
Doubt it? Take a closer look at the contemporary (particularly Evangelical) church scene with its conferences featuring the Christian celebrities (another oxymoron candidate?) of the day. And its concerts…have you noticed the Christian bands named after their leaders or their T-Shirts on sale after the concert? The shirts usually don’t say, “Jesus, the way and the truth and the life!” They usually say, somehow, “Look at MY BAND!”
It is, needless to say, very hard to get the focus off of self and on to Jesus. He must become more; I must become less. Then there is the tendency many of us have to take this to the other, self-deprecating extreme. When complimented after a song or a message or a writing or a conference: “Aw, shucks, Ma’am; just give all the glory to Jesus!” [I can confess to having given a sincere compliment about someone’s ministry effort, receiving the aforementioned response and thinking, “It wasn’t the Hallelujah Chorus; it was just well done.”] Sigh. I know that I very often struggle to walk the line between the glorification of Jesus (He must become more) and the proper placement of self (I must become less).
It’s a conundrum. Phillip Brooks, a preaching master of the last Century, said that preaching was “communicating truth through personality.” If that is the case, isn’t much (maybe all) of the Christian experience “singing or serving or leading or picking up the kids for the children’s program through personality?” And if that is so, how can we do this thing? He must become greater; I must become less. And what does that actually mean in the day-to-day of the Christian life? What does pointing people to Jesus through (my) personality mean? Where is that line? And how do we walk it in this Christian life?
Buy my book and I’ll let you know…just kidding…I don’t have a book.
But I think it might be somewhere in here: If people need to see more of Jesus and less of me, then I have to see more of Jesus and less of me. I have to overcome my preoccupation (and really, fascination) with myself. I can be preoccupied in a self-glorying direction (I am, after all, exceedingly wonderful). I can also be preoccupied in a self-degrading direction (I am, after all, perfectly terrible). Maybe it’s in the adjustment with my preoccupations that there is hope.
If I can turn my attention, ever so deliberately, away from me and toward Jesus, then perhaps I will direct others’ attention there as well. What would my prayers look like if I was less focused on me? What would my conversations sound like if I was less focused on me? What would my writing sound like if it was less focused on me? How better would my songs refer people to the Savior if I was less focused on me?
I know; we hunger for prescription. “Practical Bible teaching with relevance for your daily life!” If I provided a prescription, it would undoubtedly sound simplistic, even though perhaps it’s just simple: More, more about Jesus; less, less about me. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” (Lao-Tzu) “unless you trip over the dog and fall when you get up” (Howard).
Multitudinous tomes offer advice on spiritual disciplines–ways to develop habits of mind and heart to enable Christians to focus more on Jesus and less on self. Many of those volumes are helpful; some are trite (tripe?). But what if it’s very much simpler than that?
Perhaps just this: train myself to ask this one very basic question before every ministry, nay, life endeavor: Where is Jesus in this? If He’s there (as in, the focus of the effort…I am not denying divine omnipresence), then I should look at and lean into Him. If He’s not there, I should move along until I find Him. Then, when people follow my gaze, they will see me looking at Jesus. And they will be too.