by Dale Reeves
It hit me while I was onstage yesterday leading our church in some reflective thoughts for the new year before we took the Lord’s Supper together. Any church leader will tell you that when speaking publicly in a church service, there are things he (or she) says that were planned remarks. They might be written or typed in the notes that were prepared based on their study of the Word of God; it might consist of a relevant quote from a well-known person that is part of the message that will be shared; or they may be remarks made that are based on a conversation one just had with a church member in the church lobby. And, then, there are those words that the speaker didn’t plan on saying, but they seem “prompted” by the Holy Spirit at the time of the public delivery of the message. This past Sunday was one of those times for me.
I had just related the Cliff’s Notes version of a redemptive story involving one of the adult children of a cousin of mine. A gifted communicator, he had been the pastor of a church in Indiana, but had spiraled down into a life of drug addiction. His addiction became so bad that it led him to do some things that eventually caused him to spend some time in prison. After his release, he began an addiction recovery program in a church as a volunteer. After several years of doing this, the church watched his progress and he is now one of the teaching pastors in that church. Justin understands that God is the author of new beginnings, and that he is still writing his story. He shared some thoughts for 2022 on his Facebook page before the first Sunday of the New Year. I messaged him last weekend and asked his permission to use his thoughts in my communion meditation the next day. He graciously consented.
Here are his words:
“For 2022, I wish:
More peace, less division,
More gratitude, less griping,
More hope, less regret,
More listening, less talking,
More reading, less watching,
More presence, less scrolling,
More giving, less taking,
More building, less breaking,
More veggies, less sugar,
More sweating, less sitting,
More service, less selfishness,
More love, less hate.”
And then, I felt like the Holy Spirit said, “I’ll just add, ‘More of Jesus, less of me.’” I know this is not the first time someone has spoken those words, and I won’t claim it was a unique revelation, but this simple message can be transformative if we will take it to heart. Then, just before taking communion together in our in-person and online services at Christ’s Church, I read from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, NIV).
You may have heard those words quoted by someone before, as I have numerous times. But do we really live like that? Are we really saying that we want Christ to take over in our minds and in our hearts? Do you really want to turn over the reins and mean it when you say, “Jesus take the wheel”? Or are there certain parts of your life that you don’t want to relinquish to his will in your life? It is far easier to say these words—that we have chosen to “die to ourselves” by accepting Christ and following after his example in sacrificing our desires for God and others—than it is to actually do that on a consistent basis.
We Like to Be Liked
Justin’s words really grabbed me when I read, “more presence, less scrolling.” Guilty as charged. Anybody with me? In our social media world, “scrolling” has taken on a meaning that we all understand, and as much as most of the people I know confess to spending too much time on their phones, it’s difficult to overcome the addiction, isn’t it? When my wife asks me to put my phone down at home and be present and communicate, I usually respond with, “I was just responding to what is happening with so and so. . . . Did you know that so and so did so and so with so and so? . . . And I want to let them know I am thinking about them and praying for them . . . or celebrating with them . . . or whatever.” And though this may be justified at times, it’s so easy after I respond to someone to continue scrolling until the next thing that grabs my attention. And, before you know it, I’ve been on my phone much longer than I needed to be.
Whether you’d like to admit it or not, like me you probably struggle with wanting your social media posts to be “liked,” “followed,” or “shared.” I struggle with this because one of my main love languages is “words of affirmation.” If you’re not familiar with this language, I would highly encourage you to read this book: The 5 Love Languages, by Gary Chapman Digesting this can really help you in your communication, empathy, and understanding in all of your relationships.
So, thank you, Justin, for this nudging as we embark on 2022. I believe that I am not alone in my need to hear this message. The day after church, the first day back in the office in the new year, I received a message from one of our church leaders who said, “I just set a daily reminder for myself for 2022: ‘More of Jesus, less of me.’” It’s going to be his focus for the year.
Less Focused on Self
When I am speaking with someone who is struggling emotionally, feeling down in the dumps, feeling trapped in a vicious cycle that they can’t seem to get out of, I will listen to what’s happening in their lives. Then, often I gently offer this advice, “You know sometimes it helps to find out some ways in which we can serve others who have a need we can meet; and often, we end up feeling much better ourselves as a result.” In my own life, I have found this to be really true. When we can see clearly enough to take the main focus off ourselves, and focus on others around us whose battles may be tougher than our own, suddenly our problems don’t seem so bad after all. We get a new perspective on life by looking through the lens of other people. It’s a great remedy for what often ails us.
Pastor and best-selling author Timothy Keller shares:
“The Christian Gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.”
John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for Christ. John had many who were following his message, and as Jesus entered the scene and began his public ministry some of John’s disciples were disturbed. They were upset that people were beginning to go to him to be baptized rather than coming to John. John quickly corrected them and let them know that he was not the Messiah, but that Jesus was—and now people would follow after him. John responded, “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less” (John 3:30, NLT). So, if you’re looking for a theme for this year, how about adopting this one: More of Jesus, less of me!