How Low Can You Go

A year ago my little daughter discovered the game limbo. She found it fascinating. Whoever could get lowest and most limber, this one would win. The main reason for liking the game was not the flexibility or testing the limits of our core strength and gravity. No, the game of limbo is fascinating because we find it humorous to see the great lengths that people will go to win. They are willing to look ridiculous just to win a prize. How low can you go?

One of the attributes that we often overlook about God is that of humility. If anyone has the right or prerogative to make use of rank or privilege it is God (v6). We are reminded of what an exalted God we have, that he did not consider humility as a trait beneath his station.

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Phil 2:5-7)

Often we read these verses and see them as a goal to emulate. We would miss the whole thrust of this passage if we thought it were just about playing spiritual limbo. God does not want us to perform a version of limbo in which we debase ourselves. This would still be a subtly arrogant way of earning our way to God. Jesus did not come to show us a new way of life, but to give us new live.

Paul tells us to do nothing out of selfish ambition, conceit or vainglory (kenodoxia), but to have Christ’s attitude of humility. We humans suffer from “empty glory.” We are living off borrowed glory and are still grasping at it, clinging to it. Jesus who had every prerogative, did not exercise his divine right, but rather emptied himself (heauton ekenosen). Paul masterfully illustrates this by a beautiful play on words.

Striving to live a humble life is still very proud. Laying aside what is rightfully yours is absolutely humble.

God’s solution to our empty glory (kenodoxia) is his self-emptying (ekenosen).

Large Petitions

Outlandish Statements

“100 million dollars,” that is the outrageous sum that the villain Dr. Evil demands for ransom in the film Austin Powers. This demand is followed by laughs. The sum is outrageous for the 1960’s. There is no way that any world leader will answer this outrageous and large petition. At the end of chapter 1 and beginning of chapter 2 we see Nehemiah pray multiple times for success and favor. His petitions are not small ones. He is asking for the undoing of exile. He is asking for the restoration of Zion. Judah ceased to be a kingdom. The last time there was a Judahite commonwealth was 600 BC. Nehemiah’s petition is large, it is outlandish, it is brazen.

Read Nehemiah 2:1-20

After his prayer, Nehemiah declares, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.”(2:20)

There is an amazing confidence in this statement. Is Nehemiah being cheeky? Is he out of touch with reality? We probably remember moments when we have asked something of friends that was extremely cheeky. Somehow we make large petitions of friends, but sometimes forget that large petitions are something which God delights in hearing. Just as our friends, if it is within their power, love to help out whenever it is possible.

Part of the reason we don’t bring large petitions is that deep down inside we think that God is actually not able to answer. It may be something as small as, “God help me find my misplaced car keys.” But then a voice inside us says, “Don’t bother the maker of the universe with such a petty request. Surely he has better things to do.” When in fact the real reason we say this is that it is just as large a petition as asking God for a great miracle. In our heart of hearts we believe God is not able to grant this.

Brazen Petitions

There is a story of Alexander the Great being at a wedding feast of one of his generals. After the night had gone on, the general was now intoxicated from the wine and merry-making. He went up to Alexander and asked a for a very large monetary gift. It was such an outragous request that the wedding party came to a standstill. The musicians stopped playing. All the party guest stared expecting Alexander to be greatly insulted and mete out an appropriate punishment for such brazen ask.

Something unexpected happened. Alexander the Great, looking at his general, said, “This man honours me, for he has said that I am both wealthy and able to fulfill this request” By making this outrageous statement petition to God Nehemiah declares two things about God’s character: 1. God is actually powerful enough to grant it 2. God is gracious enough to grant it.

We are incapable of truly knowing what to pray or how to pray. That is why the disciples asked Jesus teach us how to pray. And Paul said we don’t know how to pray but the Spirit intercedes for us.

“Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For His grace and pow’r are such
None can ever ask too much. “
–John Newton (1725-1807)