Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Pray to Become Nothing (PrayerLife)

In his second letter to the Corinthian church Paul is defending his credentials as an apostle, as a messenger sent from God. These new Corinthian Jesus-followers look at Paul and find it hard to believe he is who he says he is. They thought, writes N.T. Wright, that “an apostle needs to be a showy leader, a flowery and entertaining speaker, with personal charm and flattery, like the kind they were used to in their culture. What Paul ultimately wants to say to them is that all these things are nothing…  compared with the lifestyle which embodies the gospel of Jesus.” (N. T.Wright, Paul For Everyone: 2 Corinthians, 32-33)

Paul writes:  I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. (2 Cor. 12:11) 

How can someone who is a "nothing"not be inferior to everyone? The answer is that Paul's "nothingness" is a "holy nothingness," a "sacred insufficiency." Such nothingness is the necessary precondition for divine everythingness.

Paul views himself as unqualified, in himself and his own abilities, to minister in Jesus' name. But Christ, in Paul, is sufficient. Paul writes: Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. (2 Cor. 3:5) Christ, he writes, has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant. (2 Cor. 3:6) 

The reality of the "new covenant" is that God has placed his desires, not on tablets of stone (the old covenant), but within the hearts of all who embrace Christ. Now, amazingly, Christ-followers are "partakers of the divine nature." (2 Peter 1:4) As Paul writes in 2 Cor. 5:17: if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All of this is in fulfillment of God's promise of a new covenant, as expressed in Ezekiel 36:26: I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. God's Holy Spirit, put within us, is the reason we can have confidence and are "sufficient."

In Paul we see the following pattern: 
  1. I am nothing
  2. This drives me to rely on God
  3. I can do all thing in Christ, who dwells in me and strengthens me
Many years ago Linda, Dan, and Josh went with me to Singapore, where I taught at a Chinese seminary for 20 days. Good friends of ours connected us with David and Sue Pickard of Overseas Missionary Fellowship. David was the director of OMF, which used to be China Inland Mission, and was founded by Hudson Taylor. David and Sue had us over for dinner. It was Josh's birthday, and they had prepared a birthday cake. David also showed us Hudson Taylor's Bible. That was an awesome moment, for Taylor was taken out of his own comfort zone and greatly used of God even though he was out of his depths. How was this possible? Taylor once said: “God chose me because I was weak enough. God does not do his work by large committees. He trains somebody to be quiet enough, and little enough, and then uses him.” 

I love how Oswald Chambers expresses this Pauline truth: “God can achieve his purpose either through the absence of human power and resources, or the abandonment of reliance on them. All through history God has chosen and used nobodies, because their unusual dependence on him made possible the unique display of his power and grace. He chose and used somebodies only when they renounced dependence on their natural abilities and resources.”
Pray to become nothing so that Christ can become Something in you.