Have you ever considered how often we use the poetic capacities of language to minimize the severity of our shortcomings? Take the way we talk about time, for example. What do we really mean when we say that time “got away” from us or that we “ran out” of time? Does time have legs for sprinting or a mind for out-maneuvering? Is it able to be put in a container and stored for future use like rice or screws or coins?
I started writing a poem last night on the nature of time, hoping to explore this poetic-language phenomenon and post one last poem before the end of National Poetry Month (and the end of my chance to meet my goal of fifteen poems). But, alas!, before my poem reached three-stanza status, I left it to tend to more pressing matters…matters which, needless to say, grew to consume more than a couple hours. Oh yes, don’t you know that matters can “press” and “grow” and “consume”? And while we’re at it, have you thought what it would feel like to fall tall instead of fall short of a goal?
We use language in poetic ways all the time, often without realizing it. One of the delightful things about words is that they can have both spheres of meaning and layers of meaning. And while these nuances are often exploited to hide or obscure the truth, they can also be used to highlight or clarify the truth.
Tonight, the poetic phrase “running out of time” is simply reminding me that I am finite, while the expression “falling short of a goal” reminds me of Romans 3:23, which says that I “fall short” of the glory of God because I’ve sinned. And these two realities – the fact that I’m finite and a sinner – point me to Jesus. The gospel is precisely the good news that the most limited and most sinful human being can experience fullness of joy in fellowship with God through Christ.
So, when your eyes prove “bigger than your stomach” and you’re not sure whether your eyes have super-sized or your stomach has shrunk; or when you’re discouraged in your fight against sin and you begin to doubt whether the Word of God is anything like a “two-edged sword,” don’t mask reality with a poetic twist of words. Instead, humble yourself and listen…like a poet…for echos of the gospel.
For the past few years, our family has watched The Nativity Story around Christmas. The realism of this film is refreshing, and I always seem to come away with a new appreciation for what happened when God “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). This year I was again impressed with Mary’s Song, recited at the end of the film. It speaks of contrasting types of people – of the proud and the humble – and of God’s response to both. “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Luke 1:51-52). In the Christmas story, Herod is one of “the proud” whose intentions are thwarted while Mary, one “of humble estate,” bears the very Son of God.
As the story of 2013 unfolds, I don’t want to be counted among the proud. I want to continually humble myself under the mighty hand of God, so that He (not I) may exalt me when and how He chooses. I found a list today while cleaning the house that I remember reading several years ago. Written by Nancy Leigh DeMoss, the list compares proud people with broken people. It seems to me that humility and brokenness work hand in hand, that more of one leads to more of the other. The list is really good, and I’m including a portion of it below. This is a chance to examine yourself. Which camp do you fall into? These words may prick a bit (they did for me), but I pray they whet your appetite for this kind of brokenness and encourage you to humble yourself in the sight of the Lord.
- Proud people have a critical, fault-finding spirit; they look at everyone else’s faults with a microscope but their own with a telescope. Broken people are compassionate; they can forgive much because they know how much they have been forgiven.
- Proud people have an independent, self-sufficient spirit. Broken people have a dependent spirit; they recognize their need for [God and] others.
- Proud people claim rights; they have a demanding spirit. Broken people yield their rights; they have a meek spirit.
- Proud people desire to be served. Broken people are motivated to serve others.
- Proud people desire to be a success. Broken people are motivated to be faithful and make others a success.
- Proud people think of what they can do for God. Broken people know they have nothing to offer God except the life of Jesus flowing through their broken lives.
- Proud people are self-conscious. Broken people are not concerned with self at all.
- Proud people keep other’s at arms length. Broken people are willing to risk getting close to people and loving intimately.
- Proud people are quick to blame others. Broken people accept personal responsibility and can see where they are wrong in a situation.
- Proud people are unapproachable or defensive when criticized. Broken people receive criticism with a humble, open spirit.
- Proud people are concernd with being respectable, with what others think; they work to protext their own image and reputation. Broken people are concerned with being real; what matters to them is not what others think but what God knows; they are willing to die to their own reputation.
- Proud people find it difficult to share their spiritual need with others. Broken people are willing to be open and transparent with others as God directs.
- Proud people have a hard time saying, “I was wrong; will you please forgive me?” Broken people are quick to admit failure and to seek forgiveness when necessary.
- Proud people tend to deal in generalities when confessing sin. Broken people are able to acknowledge specifics when confessing their sin.
- Proud people are concerned about the consequences of their sin. Broken people are grieved over the cause, the root of their sin.
- Proud people wait for the other to come and ask forgiveness when there is a misunderstanding or conflict in a relationship. Broken people take the initiative to be reconciled when there is misunderstanding or conflict; they race to the cross, seeing if they can get there first, no matter how wrong the other may have been.
- Proud people compare themselves with others and feel worthy of honor. Broken people compare themselves with the holiness of God and feel a desperate need for His mercy.
- Proud people don’t think they need revival, but they are sure that everyone else does. Broken people continually sense their need for a fresh encounter with God and for a fresh filling of His Holy Spirit.
There you have it. That wasn’t so painful, was it? And I saved the best part for last. The best part of this list is its title: “The Heart God Revives.” May we, like Mary, have humble hearts and be exalted – revived – again and again this year by the presence of Emmanuel, the Lord who draws near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).