Been thinking a lot lately about a little phrase that Jesus uses in Luke 18:14. He's finishing up His story about the prayers of the pharisee and the tax collector (missionary and abortion doctor) and He makes this statement:
...everyone who exalts himself
will be humbled,
but everyone who humbles himself
will be exalted
Jesus inverts things on us again. But that should not be new to us—you can't read very far in any of the Gospels and not catch that the realm that Jesus describes as the kingdom of God runs very differently from the world we normally live in. What is curious to me here is that Jesus is stressing how the humility or exaltation happens. There's a humility born of our failures that comes our way whether we seek it or not. Likewise, we can have our nose to the grindstone, minding our own business and find that our work meets with some level of success—and a level of acclaim is thrust upon on us whether we're looking for it or not. But this is not what Jesus is talking about here—he carefully chooses His words and is specifically targeting our passionate desire to see ourselves honored and exalted. It's he 'who exalts himself' and he 'who humbles himself' that is in focus.
Jesus makes us squirm because, as usual, He strips off our fancy clothes and exposes our naked hearts to the light. We dearly want to be held in high regard by our peers. And almost more than that, we desperately want to avoid being humiliated. Jesus tells us that if we pursue being thought well of by our peers, we do so at the expense of His regard for us. If we actively pursue what we would consider to be the low path, putting others forward and being content to serve as an unknown servant—he who humbles himself—we gain His regard...and His 'well done!'
I once attended a christian leadership course where, during the opening session, we were asked to fill out a form. One of the first questions on the form asked for my 'career goal.' This stumped me for a minute or so, because when you're following someone else through life's jungle, you don't have your own goals—the other person is leading the way and setting the course. So, following Jesus seems to me to be incongruent with having your own 'career goals.' Again, this was a form from a christian ministry (and a very good one at that). I knew that if I left the question blank I would just have to answer a lot of questions, so I thought really hard. Then it came to me. I put my 'career goal' down as "Hearing my Master say: 'Well done, my good and faithful servant'." Betchya that raised my regard among my fellow pharisees, huh? That, or it made people mad. Dunno, no-one ever said anything.
And while what I put on that line really is my ambition, living it out is something I'm pretty pathetic at. When I'm silent before the Lord and really connect with Him, the things that He wants me to do so frequently run strongly against the flow of the current of the 'christian/ministry cultures' we find ourselves in. Being upwardly mobile as we follow Jesus in 'ministry' is an almost universally accepted part of our ministry culture. So my war with my flesh finds no comfort there.
The only place I find strength in this struggle to 'humble myself' is to shut my eyes and imagine being welcomed home with a bear hug, and a hearty well done.