The Glory of Insignificance

Keith KettenringBible Insights, Christian Living12 Comments

You’re on a roller-coaster-like journey teeming with concealed twists, turns, and plunges permeated with exciting mystery. Sometimes you cry out with tears of joy and/or fear. On the best of days, the spiritual adrenaline rush satiates your soul. On other days, the ride paralyzes you in dread and anxiety, debilitating your very being. Though this “in-Christ” life is yours to live into and enjoy, you find yourself unable to experience its fullness due to your own limiting brokenness, faulty thinking, and emotional jitters. If not for the transformative resources of the Triune God, you would have no hope.

For you, in particular, the journey of self-emptying continues to captivate you. The reality is that you’ve never before made such efforts to know Jesus Christ as you are now beginning. “Effort,” not in the sense of trying harder but in the sense of prioritized focus, quiet diligence, and consistent commitment. You thought you were making progress when you had a deep desire to know Him, certainly a necessary element in the knowing process. Yet, desire proved to be just the beginning.  Truth is, you didn’t know what you didn’t know.

A life lived in union with Christ means experiencing Him in unknown ways including ways uncomfortable to you and unfamiliar. You can’t foresee the twists and turns let alone control them. It’s a fearful thing to plunge into the unknown.

For example, the Great Apostle discloses (Phil. 2.5-7) that to have the “mindset” of Jesus Christ means to know what it is to experience self-emptying. He describes it this way:

Have this mindset in you that is available to you in Christ Jesus

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God

a prize to be held tightly,

but made himself insignificant, 

taking the form of a servant…

————–

Literally, He “emptied himself” –

he became nothing: of no importance.

he became unknown: of no reputation,

he became feeble: of no effect.

You usually don’t think of Jesus in these terms – unimportant, unknown, ineffective. In fact, if pressed, you’d probably deny such a Jesus existed. He was no “boy wonder” or child prodigy making headlines for his miraculous accomplishments as a child, teen, or young adult. Insignificant! You are to do the same. You are to become unimportant, unknown, ineffective: empty, of no reputation, weak…have this mindset in you.

Discover the glory of insignificance. Acknowledge the value of emptiness. Participate in Christ’s nothingness. It’s a thrill ride of divine proportions.

Contrast this mindset with your own of the past few decades. You worked hard to develop a reputation for spiritual uprightness when in reality you developed an insidious self-righteousness. You fancied yourself as theologically astute and biblically grounded when in reality you were doctrinally dismissive, relationally contemptuous, and piously pompous. You put on a good front but inside you were eaten up by smugness.

As a Christian leader, you had to be the strong one, blazing a trail of faith so others would know the right path. Weakness and ineffectiveness were not viable options. Success, impact, and accomplishment proved that God was with you and that others should admire you for your sacrificial service. You learned to hide this deeply entrenched, covert self-importance behind ostensible words and moralistic behaviors that only increased your self-deception. Self-emptying was not for you even though it was clearly spelled out in Christ’s example and scriptural teaching.

Thankfully, for reasons mysterious and unique to you, your darkness is being enlightened; the scales are starting to fall from your eyes. You’re seeing yourself more clearly as you struggle with your pride. You’re learning self-emptying vs. self-expression; self-denial vs. self-satisfaction; self-sacrifice vs. self-interest.

Do you think that you’d be asked by God to do something that wasn’t for your good and wasn’t ultimately glorious? You are to develop a self-emptying mindset like Jesus. Do whatever it takes. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it. Don’t talk yourself out of it. Make no excuses. Persevere in the effort.

But, how? What does self-emptying look like? You can explore that in your next post.

 

12 Comments on “The Glory of Insignificance”

  1. I love the depth of the biblical insight contained in this post. It seems you have experienced this first hand, or are experiencing this first hand. I am risking something here, but why not write a few more sentences of linking this with your own soul for the readers. This would make the powerful words of this post break through into reader’s hearts, someone has walked this road and deeply understands the journey. It takes courage to do this…to make this personal for the readers. Thank you, Keith.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts, Sally. As one unfamiliar with this (self-emptying) aspect of the journey, I am not sure I can authentically share my own soul. I hope you and other readers are able to glean what they can from my reflections and benefit from them. As God continues to work in me – and as I open myself to this work – perhaps some depth of soul can be mined. I am weak and in need of your prayers. Blessings to you! Keith

  2. Thanks, Keith, for acknowledging your shadow self. Shame is like a vampire; it lives in the dark and sucks our souls. But when it is struck with the light, it’s destroyed. We cannot do this Christian life thing alone, and I’m glad we are on the journey together.

    1. Amen, brother! Glad we’re in this together, as well. Thanks for faithfully shining the light. Keith

  3. I have a friend who retired recently from four decades of holding “C-suite” positions in several corporations. He started a Bible Study and invited his former colleagues. Over the years, a number of them have professed Christ. Those who haven’t, still attend the weekly study. They call one another “PIP’s”. And their meetings as: the PIP’s Bible Study.

    Previously Important Persons.

    1. Interesting, Dave! A good thing they all aren’t Mennonites or they might be called “PIMPS” = Previously Important Mennonite Persons. Sorry!! Truth is, I’ve never been an important person…just thought I was. We’re all important to God which is all that matters. Glad to hear from you. Hope y’all are doing well. Keith

  4. Love this theme, Keith. Kenosis. Meekness. Self-emptying in order to allow oneself to be filled with the only thing that matters. Definitely a counter-cultural concept. Always has been. But it’s the only way to fulfillment. There’s a poem I’ve long loved called ‘The Empty Boat’, attributed to Chuang Tzu: https://thedailyzen.org/2015/05/27/the-empty-boat-by-chuang-tzu/ . It is an approach that appeals to the wisdom of few, across time and space, and difficult to obtain. The unique beauty of Christ is that He takes the emptiness and fills it with infinite value and abundant life – for those who have eyes to see it. Thanks for redirecting our focus, brother.

    1. Thanks, Doc! Self-emptying allows one to be Christ-filled. Thanks for your thoughts and encouragement. I quote, to me, the most telling phrases from the poem:
      “He will go about like Life itself; With no name and no home. Simple is he, without distinction. To all appearances, he is a fool. His steps leave no trace. He has no power. He achieves nothing, has no reputation. Since he judges no one, No one judges him. Such is the perfect man: His boat is empty.”
      This is the life in Christ we cannot see let alone experience unless we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. Easy to say. Apart from Him, impossible to do. Love you brother! Keith

  5. Thanks, Keith. Emptying will not be an easy task especially as we age. So easy to fill ourselves up with so much over time. In your response to Dr. Tom I couldn’t help thinking of those who earned the title of Fool for Christ. I want to be ready, I hope I am ready. Pray for me as I pray for you.

    1. Hi Mary. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. The self-emptying journey is certainly a challenge. I do not know how full of darkness I am. I don’t even have the sight to see it. “Enlighten my heart and mind, O Lord!” I think the Fool for Christ truly knew self-emptying. You’re right – the poem seems to describe them well. Thank you for your much-needed prayers. Praying for you as well. Keith

  6. Raised in a solipsistic environment, I am increasingly challenged to be poured into. Thank God. I recently read Gerald Manly Hopkins advised giving alms. Perhaps a deeply fundamental Lenten practice is truly soul lunges, PT of the heart for simple seed change. I must be in need to be a vessel of Mercy, receiving His Mercy and giving it. All of You in all of me, Lord.

    1. Hi Tamara. Almsgiving is indeed a wonderful practice, given more intentionality during Lent. May God’s mercy guide and fill your humble efforts. Keith

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