My cat Rocky laying right in front of the computer monitor, my youngest doing hand stands during commercials when we watch TV, the high school crossing guard waving his flourescent orange wands at me to stop, the ding of my phone notifying me I have a text message, my boss as he gives me a task at work – all want my attention. For the moment, it’s as if each of them is saying “Hey! Look at me, front and center here.” We all need attention, some more than others.
God revealed to me (and it’s not the first time) ever so lovingly but firmly that I tend to seek too much attention for myself or be concerned that other people think well of me. Facebook is one thing that makes this difficult. It’s a treasure trove of attention: people responding to things I say, to pictures I post, to jokes and videos I share. People commenting about me or my life, interacting with me, giving me virtual pats on the back. Even my blog brings me attention in a round about way.
When God showed me an ugly, childish attitude that was bubbling up this morning I was embarrassed and frustrated and it comes from being too preoccupied with myself. It’s a constant struggle isn’t it? This denying of ourselves we’re supposed to be about and putting others first. It really doesn’t come naturally.
It reminds me of a great example of humility in the Bible. John the Baptist, the one designated as the preparer of people’s hearts for Jesus’ coming, had been baptizing people left and right in the Jordan river, preaching to them that they needed to repent and be ready for the Messiah to come. A new day was fast approaching and if they wanted in on it, it was time to turn away from themselves and open their hearts to Jesus. The people flocked to hear and see him (he was rather a spectacle in his camel-hair garb and with his scruffy, hairy head). Some men gradually came along side to follow him and help him in his work.
I wish I could have stood there that hot, sunny day when Jesus walked down into the shallows of the river toward John. They were second cousins, you know. Jesus’ mother, Mary, was cousins with John’s mother, Elizabeth. They’d probably known each other since they were little boys. Deep in their hearts they also knew each had a much higher purpose, a holy part to play as God’s awesome plan of forgiveness and reconnecting with His people began to take shape.
At first the people probably took no special notice of Jesus because so many had walked toward John before Him and others lined up behind Him. It was John’s reaction that probably quieted the crowd when He looked up to see who was next and saw the eyes of not only his cousin, but his Savior, the long-awaited deliverer for all people, God’s Son. I’ve always imagined John as an outspoken, theatrical type, one who easily kept people’s attention with his passionate confidence and strong words. I can see him reaching out his arms, splashing as he took a few excited steps toward Jesus, saying “This is the One I’ve been talking about! This is the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world!” John’s eyes wet with tears, an exhilarated smile on his face, he continued proclaiming to all the people watching, “This is the One who I’ve told you is far greater than me” then more quietly, “I’m unfit to even untie his sandals.” Perhaps when Jesus finally stood at his side there in the cool water John bowed low, saying softly to Him, “I can’t baptize you. You should be baptizing me.” Jesus told him it was the right thing to do in obedience to God, so John baptized his Messiah.
In the days and weeks that followed, several of John’s followers left him to go with Jesus instead. Some of the men that remained began to complain to John, “Jesus is baptizing people, too, and more people are going to him now!” That sounds like some churches and church people these days who have lost sight of why we are the Church in the first place. John looked them in the eye and answered them, “I told you many times that I’m not the Messiah. My job was to prepare the way and I’ve been doing that. This is how it’s supposed to be. We’re dust of this world, He’s of heaven and is greater than anyone else. It’s right for him to now take front and center and for me to move to the back. More and more it will not about me or us, it’s about Him.” (from John 3:22-30)
John could say that honestly because He knew who Jesus really was. He knew his place in the grand scheme of things. Jesus once said this about him, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matt. 11:11) The greatest among us is the one who chooses to be the least among us. Greatness in God’s opinion is about remaining humble, putting other people ahead of us. We have to intentionally keep stepping out of the spotlight so Jesus has it – the true center of our attention.
No wonder my heart has felt numb and distant for a while, I’ve been wrapped up in the suffocating heaviness of self. Trying to step into John the Baptist’s sandals today gave me a fresh view of Jesus. It led me to worship. Bowing down in my heart before Him I feel Him lift the “self” burden away. He must become greater and greater and I must become less and less. He has to be front and center.