INCREASE vs DECREASE
John 1:35-37 (NRSV) The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this and they turned and followed Jesus.
I read this scripture just a few days ago, and thought about John’s heart in all of this. For years he had put all he had into training and envisioning his disciples that the Messiah was coming and that when He came, they were to follow Him. Suddenly, one day it happened. Jesus passed by when John was with two of his guys; he directed them to Him and they just turned and left.
I can imagine how that must have felt – victory and grief all rolled into one. Grief because of the loss of two right hand men; faithful disciples who had loved, listened and served were now gone. Victory because they had done what he had spent his life teaching them to do – they had followed Jesus!
John goes on to say a little later that ‘He must increase and I must decrease’. This is one of the most profound and potentially life-changing verses in the entire Bible and John had amazing revelation of the truth of it. No matter how gifted or faithful we are, if we don’t get this bit right, we will forever hold onto what God has given us as though it belonged to us and that cannot work. Once God has released us from the role or responsibility we have had, regardless of how well or how badly that thing did or is doing, we work against Him if we refuse to let it go.
We are only ever stewards of the purposes of God, stewards of His grace, His projects, His people, His plans, His gifts… Unless we grasp that incredibly difficult concept, we will hold on when He is asking that we let go, and we will cling to our roles, relationships and rules as though our identities depended on them… because to a great degree for us they do, but not as far as God is concerned.
We tightly clutch what we have accomplished, what we have earned, what we have built, as though all of that would validate who we are as people and ministers… and all the while, God is moving onward and calling us to do the same.
The God we serve is the God of the wind and the fire and the river; He’s not the God of the static and the immoveable. Everything has to change if it is to survive… everything! That includes us, His people, the ones He has commissioned to change the world. Why is it that we feel that we can be change agents for Him without understanding that to do this we also must be always changing and constantly releasing?
We fear releasing what we’ve given so much of our life to because those who take it on may not love it as we did, not care for it as they should, that it might not succeed and may even falter and die… and all of that is possible. It’s a risk we take. John took that risk when he encouraged his disciples to follow a new rabbi. He’d poured his life into helping them grow and take responsibility for their direction in life, and now that direction took them away from his guidance and love.
This is what happens with our children. We must raise them to leave us and we hope that there is enough in them to help them make right choices, and to show them how to get back on track when they don’t, (as they inevitably won’t at times). Just as we have new seasons, so do the things we have built and new seasons require new care-ers. Will the thing we have built survive the new stewardship? Maybe… and maybe not. In God’s economy, that’s not the issue.
What God is wanting to do is in us. It’s not about the project; it’s about our obedience and our willingness to give back what He gave to us when He asks for it, and to trust Him with it. After all, it was His idea in the first place. They were His children in the first place. It was His project in the first place. He knows what it needs now… and He knows what we need now.
In the end, we don’t ‘own’ anything even though God has used us to build and to develop it. Ultimately the season will come when He asks us to give Him back the thing that we have poured our lives into. Unless we deliberately determine to get into the habit of releasing at these times, we will always grapple with Him (and with people) as we attempt to reason with Him over why He does what He does and why He’s doing it now. There is always more we feel has to be done, more to be sorted out, more things to put in place, but God sees beyond our limited vision, and He can be trusted to know the times and seasons of everything, including those of His servants.
I pray that you will be encouraged to let go when God asks you to. I pray that you will allow the dreams and hopes you have been nursing to yield to God’s dreams about you and that you will be envisioned with the new plans He has for you. You may or may not be changing your role, but inside, in the very depths of who you are, where your opinions have lain unchanged for long seasons and your sense of ownership of the things you have valued has been unchallenged, let God come and blow away what is stale and stuck and replace those things with His new thoughts and ideas. It’s not the only way, but it’s the best way, because He has His ways of making you let go if you don’t make the choice to release when He’s asking you to.
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