I thought 2016 would be the year I finally sat down and devoured some business books. I like the idea of bantering about finance in coffee shops and implementing strategies with my team that build stronger community. However, I haven’t gotten much farther than reading Inc. Magazine and scrolling through Fast Company.
My Amazon shopping cart is filled with books about holiness, longsuffering devotion to God, and discipleship within an instant society. I’ve earmarked basically every page of Eugene Peterson’s “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.” It’s teaching me far more about business and work than I expected.
Eugene Peterson wrote the Message translation of the bible and over 30 books. I love the man fiercely. In another life, I cooked him pancakes on Saturday mornings and refilled his coffee cups. He writes on the topic I’m struggling to grasp with two hands: humility. Why humility is necessary within my walk and my business.
True humility teaches us not to belittle ourselves but to spend our best energy thinking of others. Humility is finding a place for ourselves on the backburner. Humility is realizing we can do so many quiet things and they will fill us more than the moments when we try to be on fire for this culture.
Humility is hard and a bit dangerous within a world that hands you a megaphone and tells you to lean hard into your own adventures. The culture has always made me feel like I’m swimming around in too big of a turtleneck sweater because I was raised by a woman who burned the teachings of Mother Teresa into my brain. Mother Teresa knew humility, so much so that she often referred to herself as “little nothing” before God.
I want to be a “little nothing” before God. I want to feel my own smallness. I want it so bad.
I find myself going back to Psalm 131 again and again. I’m borrowing David’s prayer and whispering it into the parts of me that still need to figure out this humility thing:
“God, I’m not trying to rule the roost,
I don’t want to be king of the mountain.
I haven’t meddled where I have no business
or fantasized grandiose plans.
I’ve kept my feet on the ground,
I’ve cultivated a quiet heart.”
Those words are enough to challenge me for a long time. I know I struggle to keep my feet planted firmly in the here and now. I’ve struggled not to concoct big productions, neglecting to cast God as a character. I know I’ve done anything but cultivate a quiet heart. Sometimes I don’t even know where to begin to cultivate a single thing in my life.
But I love how Eugene Peterson calls Psalm 131 a “maintenance psalm.” It’s a psalm for those of us who desire to be pruned, stripped of the things that don’t draw us closer to God. It’s a psalm for those of us who simply want it-- we want to be pruned even if we don’t know how to let go of the control and just let God work.
Letting go doesn’t mean you have to release everything all at one. For me, letting go of control and letting God in has happened slowly. It has happened steadily with baby step after baby step. It’s a constant prayer that looks like, “God, I know I want to control every compartment and every area. Rip things from my hands and show off. Show me your glory through the way you take care of my messes.”
At some points we only over-prepare and over-control situations so that we don’t have to beg God into our mess. But God wants to enter the mess. He wants to enter the heart. He wants the space to teach us and lead us, in ways only he can do so.
Peterson writes that we should elect God’s presence. Elect is such a strong word. It means “to choose, to single out.” To “elect in” is to let someone hold office, a position of power. We must be the ones to elect the presence of God in our hearts hourly and daily.
As we elect him, he will produce humility within our lives. He will do the faithful work of pushing our egos aside so that he can whisper into our ears about the needs of others. Our God does not whisper to us strategies to make our presence bigger, he implements plans to make his glory known.
God wants to walk in our mess and teach us daily humility. He is not waiting for the day when we will graduate from all the things he has to show us. To him, this is a dance. A dance of dark and light, trust and patience.
My need to be a control freak diminishes my need for a God who leads me places I cannot take myself. My need to be a control freak diminishes my need for a God who wants to have this dance.
I am trying to call him back over and over again. I am trying not to run away, I am trying to invite him in. I am trying to find my place on the backburner so that God can be the real fire I talk about with my life. I’m trying to release my need to be seen and let God lead in a dance towards smallness.