As I live to defend my rights, I am a distraction to the renown of God...I know my selfishness, my covetousness, and I am sobered as I think on these words. Yet, in Christ, there is another possibility for me: As I surrender my rights and allow Christ to respond through me, I will bring renown to God. To lay down my rights that others may see Christ, to embrace His truth over my own feelings and emotions, this is to allow my imaginations to be captured by Christ. As I allow Him to captivate my imaginations, I decrease. As I decrease, He is free to express Himself through me...and others can then see a true picture of Him. Christ living through me will say more than my words could ever express. His life in me is the call to all that is right.
A favorite story of mine, which magnificently demonstrates lives that desire to decrease that Christ may increase, is found in Acts 16:22-36. Sitting in the inner cell of a jail with their feet in stocks, we find a stripped and beaten Paul and Silas. They were treated in this manner because they cast demons out of a young girl whose owners used her as a fortune teller. Once the owners realized that their fortunes would no longer be amplified by this young girl, they were furious with Paul and Silas. They brought Paul and Silas before the authorities and accused them of slandering the Roman laws and customs. As a result, here sat Paul and Silas, feet in stocks, and yet instead of wallowing in their circumstances, instead of wailing, crying and questioning, they prayed and sang hymns to God. They praised their God, knowing that despite the change in their circumstances, He had not changed. They knew that His thoughts and purposes for them were full of love.
This is amazing in itself, but it is not the end of the story. As Paul and Silas sang, the prison was shaken, the doors flew open, and their chains were released. The prison guard, certain that the prisoners had escaped to freedom, took his sword and was about to kill himself, but Paul cried out, "Don't harm yourself! We are all here!". The prison guard was overwhelmed. He went before Paul and Silas and asked them what he needed to do to be saved. He then took Paul and Silas home to his family, and he and all his family believed in God.
This story speaks to me of freedom and understood purpose. Because Paul and Silas understood truth, because their imaginations were captured by the truth of God, they were internally free. Even though they were externally beaten and chained, they were filled with joy and rest. It was this freedom and understood purpose which steadied them and caused them to remain within the prison after their chains had been released. If they had run as soon as the doors were opened, they would not have fulfilled a part of the purpose which God had designed for their imprisonment...and the prison guard would probably have known an eternity in agony rather than eternal security.
It would have been very easy for Paul and Silas to focus on themselves within that prison cell. To think on their discomfort...to feel outraged that God would allow this to happen to them...to care more for their own lives than for the life of the prison guard...to have thoughts that were consumed with release...but instead, they chose to rest in the One who loved them. They did not allow their circumstances to control their reaction, rather they praised the God who had captured their thoughts and imaginations. They saw this situation as an opportunity from Him, and they did not want to miss what He was going to do in them or through them. They wanted God's renown more than they wanted release.
I wonder how much my desire to be released from struggles, inconveniences and disappointments has hindered God's renown...I do not want my selfishness, my covetousness, to obscure the glory and truth of God. I long to wait on the Lord as Paul and Silas waited on Him, to surrender all my rights to the Lover of my soul and allow Him to capture my every imagination. May I see every moment of my days as an opportunity to decrease that God's renown may increase.
The path of the righteous is level, O upright One, you make the way of the righteous smooth. Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you, your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. Isaiah 26:7-8