Become More by Becoming Less

Scripture Focus: John 3.27-30
27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.” 

Reflection: Become More by Becoming Less
By John Tillman

The messages we are surrounded with at the turn of the year are consistent and insistent: become more.

Become more fit.
Become more wealthy.
Become more appreciated.
Become more sexually fulfilled.
Become more powerful.
Become more free.
Become more you.

Our culture is radically expansionist. It is not just our economy that must achieve growth at all costs. As individuals, we are pressured to justify our existence. “You aren’t enough the way you are now. Become more.”

Goals can be pursued sinfully or in purity. Paul tells us, “physical training has some value.” (1 Timothy 4.8) Even things that aren’t “physical fitness” such as becoming a better leader, or partner, or working more efficiently have value. But in at least one area, Paul was told by the Spirit, “my grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Corinthians 12.9)

It can be difficult to discern whether we are succumbing to societal pressure to “improve” or following a spiritual imperative to “press on” (Philippians 3.12-14) or “spur one another on.” (Hebrews 10.24) Being “normal” or “satisfied” is a sin in a culture of maximalism and extremism.

No one would call John the Baptizer “normal.” John was an insider who became an outsider. His birth was announced by an angel in the Temple but he left the Temple system and traditional ministry to became a vagrant, desert-dweller, offering harsh words in a harsh environment.

John rejected the gains others thought valuable and became less. He rejected the norms of earthly kingdoms to become more according to God’s kingdom.

Even John, and especially his followers, felt pressure to “become more!” As the crowds swelled around Jesus, they slimmed around John. John was comfortable becoming less. Are we?

Becoming less doesn’t mean physical or spiritual laziness or apathy. It means evaluating things according to a different, kingdom oriented, metric. Ask yourself, “Why do I want this? Where is this pressure coming from? How am I expected to achieve this?”

Through prayer seek guidance on areas in your life where settling for less actually means gaining more. Also, there may be areas where physical training and improvement can have double value by helping to improve your spiritual walk. When you step away from culture’s pressures, you’ll find blessings in the steps you take in discipleship. When you step back in one area, step forward in another.

A few suggestions to become more by becoming less:

  • Stack good things together: Listen to the Bible and pray while walking, exercising, or working. Memorize scripture while brushing your teeth or showering.
  • Less distraction, more connection: Give up some Internet or entertainment time to text or email a friend and pray for them.
  • Less conflict, more grace: Intentionally avoid controversies and post more practical biblical encouragement.
  • Less complaining, more learning: Complain less about what you read in the news and share weekly or daily about what you are learning in the Bible/your church/reading in devotionals, etc.
  • Less impatience, more presence: Reduce whatever it is you use to “escape” or “fill time” and be present, through conversation, prayer, meditation, observation, or even…silence.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Of John the Baptizer, it is written: When the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”, he declared, he did not deny, but he declared, “I am not the Christ…I am, as Isaiah prophesied, “A voice of one that cries out in the desert: Prepare a way for the Lord; make his paths straight.” Now those who had been sent were Pharisees and they put this question to him, “Why are you baptizing if you are not the Christ, or Elijah, and not the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but standing among you—unknown to you—is the one who is coming after me: and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandal.” This happened at Bethany, on the far side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing. — John 1.19-20; 23-28

Today’s Readings
Genesis 3 (Listen 4:14
John 3 (Listen 4:41)

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From Your Nothing…Something Beautiful

Scripture Focus: John 2.6-11
6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 

7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. 

8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” 

They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” 

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. 

Genesis 1.1-2
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 

Reflection: From Your Nothing…Something Beautiful
By John Tillman

I recently came across a video by Dr. Darrell Johnson. In it, Dr. Johnson explains why turning the water into wine is, in his opinion, the most miraculous thing done by Jesus that is surpassed only by his resurrection.

What about feeding the 5,000? What about raising Lazarus? Well, as Dr. Johnson explains, when he fed the 5,000 he only multiplied what was there and when he raised the dead he only reanimated what was there. In the miracle of the water into wine, he demonstrated that he can create something from nothing.

I have, in the past, wondered why John, who only chose seven miraculous signs to testify to Jesus’ divinity, would spend one of his seven choices on the wine at the wedding. I thought perhaps John wanted to start small. But Dr. Johnson has made me reconsider that. 

John opened his gospel with a poetic description of Jesus, the Word, as a participant in the creation of the world—that “through him, all things were made.” (John 1.1-3) In Genesis, the “nothing” from which God created the world was “formless and empty” water. The Spirit of God hovered over this empty and formless deep sea and John testifies that Jesus was there.

The biblical authors, including John, didn’t have a concept of “nothing” that was formed, as ours has been, by space travel. To them, the vacuum of space was the open ocean, and “nothing” meant the formless, useless, shapeless, chaos of the deep waters.

Perhaps John remembered and related this story specifically because it places Jesus once again hovering over deep pools of “nothing” and turning them into something.

How has your past year gone? Are you, like the wedding host, staring down scarcity? Are you hovering over deep waters of disappointment? When you look for meaning or achievements, do you see only formless, useless, shapeless, chaos, like the shifting waves of the deep ocean?

Give your scarcity, your vacuum, your chaotic, shapeless, formless fears and failures of the past to Jesus. Sense him hovering over them with you. From your nothing, Jesus can make something beautiful.

The water became the finest wine that brought joy to the heart. What will your “nothing” become? What it will be can only be known by following him. Join us in following him. And bring someone with you.

Divine Hours Prayer:
Proclaim with me the greatness of the Lord; let us exalt his name together. — Psalm 34.3

Today’s Readings
Genesis 2 (Listen 3:42
John 2 (Listen 3:02)

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