“. . . EXALTED FOR THEE OR BROUGHT LOW FOR THEE.”
Today’s Scripture Reading
4 This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.
6 Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. 7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you!9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings.10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored!11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it;13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.
1 Corinthians 4:1-13
Humans thrive on having certain emotional needs met. Some of the emotional needs we look for are encouragement, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and to be comforted. In addition to these important needs, we also long for recognition. We like to be acknowledged for our efforts. We like to be given credit for the work we've done. We like others to greet the work we have done -- such things as finding a solution, developing a process, fixing something that is broken, inventing something new creating a masterpiece dash with praise and tributes. Some of the most dignifying and satisfying words we can hear are, “Good job” or “Well done.”
As a result of this need, many of us strive for awards like employee of the month or top-performing salesperson or teacher of the year or most valuable player. There is nothing wrong, of course, with striving for these accolades -- as long as chasing these honors and acknowledgements doesn't consume us. As long as the competition doesn't move us further from Christlikeness, it can actually be a healthy pursuit to succeed.
I don't know about you, but several times in my life, I've unhealthily chosen to pursue accolades and, therefore, gotten off track in my spiritual life. My passion and pursuit for prizes, so to speak, has overridden my compassion and connection to people. This has resulted in hurt relationships, an overinflated ego, or unhealthy practices in which I neglected eating right and sleeping well and counted successes over serving others. Again, striving for greatness and excellence is fine, but not at the expense of others I've trampled over to achieve it.
To be brought low is to be humbled. We don't typically chase this, since to be made humble or brought low can mean humiliation, feelings of indignity, or even embarrassment. To pray, “brought low for thee,” means regardless of what the outcome of our participation in God's good work might generate, we voluntarily accept it, knowing that we are God's vessels willing to take on a lowly position in the minds of others.
Have you ever worked your backside off on a project only to have no one recognize the work you've put in? Have you ever thought to yourself, I know they'll recognize my work this time, only to have no one even mentioned the work? This could happen in doing God's work too. It is very possible that in doing God's work that no one single person will recognize what you are doing. God might be honored, but others might even seem disinterested. This truth is a very real possibility when we partner with God's mission.
“Exalted for thee or brought low for thee” prayed authentically means that we will accept any position, whether it be high or low, in order to be used by God. Acknowledgement or not, we open our minds, hearts, and hands to God's work and willingly assume recognition and respect or possible disregard and disdained.
When we pray the Wesley Covenant Prayer, we do so with the condition that, regardless of the outcome, we still commit to being actively or inactively employed or laid aside for God. Deeply committed disciples don't choose roles based on possible outcomes; we simply say yes to God. Deeply committed disciples know that there is a tremendous worth found in the process of doing and what we can learn from the process. Deeply committed disciples also know that doing God's work and completing assignments God gives us is its own unique prize. If outside fulfillment is the objective that drives us: we are doing it for the wrong reason.
What emotional needs do I have that need to be met? Am I faithfully meeting the emotional needs of others?
Do I long to be recognized or exalted? Am I okay to be brought low?
Regardless of being exalted or brought low, train us to say yes to your work. Also, train us to accept any position, high or low, for the sake of the world. Amen.
Find a way to serve someone today without the person knowing about it. Ideas may include writing a note, mowing the lawn, or shoveling the snow, sending flowers or a plant, dropping a small gift on the person's doorstep, and so forth.
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