So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (NIV)
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 2:1-5 (NIV)
I have played a few different sports over the years, and in that time I have inflated a number of balls. Footballs, basketballs, soccer balls, volleyballs. They all have the same thing in common – they should not be over inflated. Several things can happen and all of them are bad. Over inflation can stretch the ball out of round, cause leaks and weaken the seams, all of which make the balls useless for their respective sports. Imagine what overinflating can do to an ego.
God has designed us to work the right way. Just like a soccer ball is designed to cut through the air when it is kicked or thrown, we are designed to work a certain way. If we are over inflated, we won’t fly right. We will be off balance, wobbly and inaccurate. We can also be under inflated. We can fall flat and unresponsive. On the one hand we can have a view of ourselves that ignores our limitations. We see ourselves as better than we are and even worse, better than others. On the other hand, we can have a diminished view of what God has created us to be. We are blind to the abundant life He can produce in our lives. Somewhere there is humility that refuses pride but engages the fullness of life in Christ.
It is easy to get over or under inflated. In our culture of narcissism, over inflation seems to be the norm. We are even taught to talk ourselves up and say positive things about who we are, whether they are true or not. Plenty of the popular talk shows are based on the “You are Special” appeal to their audiences. They sell them on ideologies that don’t demand true change of character, only a change of perspective. You are a princess because you believe you are. Nonsense. There is a great gap between your belief defining the truth and the truth defining your belief.
It is just as easy to become under inflated. Pride breaks people, whether it is the proud one or the ones who got in their way. That brokenness can begin paterns of thinking that deny the image of God in His creation. It is this brokenness that allows people to go into self-destructive behavior, wrecking themselves and their relationships. Under inflated people get stuck, living flat and empty lives. This is not the abundant life God calls us to.
There is a level of inflation that puts in the right place with God and man. We are not full of ourselves, but what He has put in us. We understand this, so we have no desire to fill up on anything other than what He supplies. This gives us the ability to fly right and suffer the blows from the world without being punctured or falling flat. When God is at the heart of what we believe about ourselves we can understand our brokenness and the hope for wholeness with confidence, not arrogance or self-pity.
I pray that God helps me see when I am trying to over inflate. I hope that my friends and family will, in love and gentleness, point out when I am being full of myself instead of the God who loves me. I pray that God will guard me from losing air, limiting my expectation by my brokenness instead of His power to heal and renew. Lord help us be filled with you and nothing else. Amen.
This is a re-post from December of 2009. This week had a lot of life going on, but not a lot of writing. I originally wrote this about 3 years ago and have continued to think about the discipline of maintaining empty space in my life for God to do His business.
The Blessing of Empty Hands
Not many of us would consider the word “empty” something positive. Phrases like empty stomach, empty wallet, empty house, empty tank and others, can remind us of loss, struggle, loneliness, disadvantage and even powerlessness. But God’s economy does not work like ours.
I remember watching my four-year-old daughter, Keely, sketching on a fresh, white piece of paper one morning. With the concentration only achieved by the unfettered imagination of a toddler, she formed a whole world eleven inches long, eight and a half inches wide, and infinitely deep. When the length and width ran out of space for her imagination, she looked at me with concern. “Daddy! There’s no more room!” she protested.
I hurried to look through the supply drawer and fetched a fresh sheet. The joy and anticipation that blossomed on her face was worth far more than the finest painting in the best of museums. With renewed energy she began creating a whole new world. The blessing of an empty page was not wasted on my little girl.
A year later we moved to be near family and friends. Keely had mixed feelings about leaving familiar places and good friends. When we arrived at our new townhouse, she ran up the stairs to her empty room. Boxes and furniture would have to wait. Rushing through the door, she described in detail where her stuff would go, already seeing her special room in her head. An empty room had potential. An empty room was available – a blank canvas for a willing artist.
Just this last year my Mom passed away. Her passing was sudden and painful and left a lot of empty places behind. Her love filled so many lives with joy and grace and mercy. She left a faithful husband with an empty home and a grieving heart, sons and daughters without her loving words to bring comfort and encouragement, friends and acquaintances without her ready laugh and contagious smile and so many other empty spaces. She also left my little girl without her Big Nana. As painful as it is to watch my little girl’s tears when she’s missing her Nana’s hugs, I know she will be better for it in the years to come. She has learned – and is learning – how much God can do with an empty space. We all are.
It is a ironic that empty hands are those most capable of receiving. The hording and grasping so prevalent in our society, in our world, disallows so many from receiving anything from God. He so desires to draw beautiful things on our lives, but they are cluttered and scheduled and busy. He wants to fill our hearts with His love, but we have little rooms and closets that hold onto the past and hide away our shame and pain. He wants to give us so much, but we are grasping to those earthly things that help us feel safe and in control. If only we could learn the beauty of emptiness.
I hope that in the years ahead my daughter will learn to appreciate, even anticipate, the blessings of empty hands. I want her to know the power of an empty cross and the salvation Christ purchased with His blood on its cruel timbers. I want her to understand the blessing of an empty tomb and the promise of life after death. I want her to know Christ the savior “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” (Philip. 2:6-7 NRSV).
Imagine what God could paint on your life if you gave Him the space. How wide, and high, and deep, and long? How much faith, hope and love could fit in a heart emptied of unforgiveness, shame, worry, anger and all the other cluttering memories and thoughts that we hold so tightly too? How much could He bless you with if you let go of everything else? Our challenge is to let go of all the things we’re holding onto and approach our heavenly Father with empty hands. Emptiness is where He works best.