Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The Distinction Between "Becoming Nothing" and "Doing Nothing" - A Response

I recently posted Pray to Become Nothing (PrayerLife).

In response a reader sent me this:

Praying to become nothing has interacted with my own brokenness in such a way that I'd like for you to expand on what you think God intends for us here. What does nothingness look like in the context of 21st century American society? Does it mean we wait on God and take no initiative on our own? Does it mean expecting that as God is more than capable, we opt out of the "me-first" self-aggrandizing model of ministry? How do we follow God when we just *know* he is leading us and yet he says "be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ" in Ephesians 5 and elsewhere?

In my situation, I can charge off and be "sure" that God is leading, even have good results and faithful followers. It is my calling, my giftedness, my passion. But that doesn't look like "becoming nothing".  

If I do nothing, then it is "just talk" and not taking Jesus seriously.

In the end, I am faced with biblical instructions versus a sense of personally hearing from God. Over the last 25 years, I can't bring myself to follow my own sense of calling when it seems that God isn't speaking the same way to anyone else around me (including and especially my wife) and scripture seems so clearly to advocate operating in community and not as "look-at-me" American individualists. All this time of "nothingness" hasn't brought about any action from God. 

How do I make sense of this?



Thank you C for your response. Here are some thoughts - hopefully they are relevant. (BTW, my e-mail address is 

  • I understand the metaphor of "being nothing" or "becoming nothing" as distinct from "doing nothing." "Being nothing" (similar  John the Baptist's "I must decrease") is about my spiritual condition. I'm impressed with the idea that our "doing" must emerge from our "being," in Christ. Taking Jesus seriously is: 1) hearing from Jesus, whether through the Word or e.g. while praying (talking with God about what we are doing together); and 2) obeying when directed. This makes our "doing" relevant.
  • In order to hear God I must adopt a passive, listening stance. In this way I "become nothing," or I become an empty vessel into which God can pour his thoughts for me, some of which will include the call to do something.
  • You ask: "Does it mean we wait on God and take no initiative on our own?" I'm thinking like this: Don't take initiative if it is "on your own" (= without God going before us or with us). In 21st century America this will look and feel strange, since from my POV (in teaching pastors, e.g.) there's not a lot of waiting on God.
  • C - how about this? I'm now thinking that, yes, we have biblical instructions, but these instructions are mostly if not entirely general principles and not context-specified. I know I am commanded to love my enemies, but I think God can show me, reveal to me, how specifically I am to do that. If this makes sense than taking biblical instructions seriously goes hand in hand with personally hearing from God.
  • If God is speaking something different to my wife Linda, then I pay attention. I need to discern which God-leadings are to be discerned individually, and which are to be discerned corporately. My own experience is that if leadership focuses on actual abiding in Christ and having a prayer life, then I've seen God - many times - place us on the same page.
I hope this helps, at least to facilitate dialogue.

Thank you so much for your thoughtful response, which causes me to look deeper.