An Important Paradox
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. ~Luke 14:11
We know that we should work hard. We know from experience (or from watching others) that hard work, diligence, and creativity advance us 9 times out of 10. That's just how the world works.
So as your chips grow (money, rank, title, fame, whatever), what the proper response? Do we smirk slyly and reach out and rake the chips into our lap, heaping honor upon ourselves?
Some would say so, whether through their actions or blatantly.
I am reading chapter 5 of Isaiah right now, an astounding book of prophecy and wisdom. Right now I am at the part where Israel has plenty of success and they are pretty proud of themselves. They also seem to get hammered on wine a lot because God addresses that repeatedly ("do not be heroes at drinking wine...").
The verse that is key to me in chapter 5 is where it says, "...but they do not regard the deeds of the LORD, or see the work of His hands." (v. 12).
Israel is like America at this point - or maybe like you and me. She is doing well and works hard and is celebrating her success. No foul yet. But instead of praising God for the increase, not as some cosmic penance payment, but because He is the one who brought the fruit of their labors, they rake in their chips, laughing all the way to the bank of self exaltation.
That is an unsustainable model and a request at the ticket window for calamity.
Our joy and our flourishing is inextricably tied to God's glory. Not that God is vain and needs our approval, but because He loves us and wants us near to Him in a loving relationship, He tied our good to our happiness in Him. Nearness to God is the wellspring of joy and happiness. John Piper has written several brilliant works on this (Piper coined the phrase called Christian Hedonism), but start with Desiring God if your mind is blown by this concept.
If we climb to the top in our vocation and ignore Jesus, like the Tower of Babel contractors, we will crash and our hearts will be bone dry. On the other hand, if we reach for God's hand like a little kid crossing the street and seek to play with Him in our work and our lives, we will run hard and happy.
And we will be humble. And I cannot begin to imagine what the promise in the second half of Luke 14:11 means.
Photo credit: Michael Shaheen via Flickr