I rush to the river, Eli on my heels.
Our rabbi is in the water, his muscled arms resting on the shoulders of a young man. His eyes are turned upwards to heaven and—behind his bushy beard—his mouth moves in prayer. He pushes the youth under. When the lad comes up from the water he beams at the Baptiser. For a moment the Baptiser’s stern expression softens and he says something before leading the dripping, grinning youth back to the shore.
“Rabbi!” Before he reaches the water’s edge I step into the river, anxious to impart my news. “That man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptising, and everyone is going to him.”
I expect to see anger in his eyes, the same indignation that blazes there when he confronts the indifferent and indolent with their need to repent. Instead he nods as if he has known all along that this would happen and speaks softly of being nothing more than the best man to the bridegroom. Then John—the greatest man I’ve ever known—says words that shake me to the core: “He must become greater; I must become less.”
The words of John 3:30 shake me to the core too. He must become greater; I must become less. Becoming less goes against the very grain of who I am. At school and university I studied hard to get the top marks. At work I aimed to climb the corporate ladder. In my writing I promote myself and my books in order to get noticed, read and recognised. Every fiber of me strains to become greater.
He must become greater; I must become less. What remarkable words from John the Baptist—the one whose ministry Malachi foretold (Malachi 4:5-6) and whose miraculous birth to elderly parents must have caused a stir in the priestly circle into which he was born. The one who people from Jerusalem and all of Judea went out to see and hear (Matt. 3:5) and whose identity was endlessly discussed and debated (John 1:19). Here was an important man with a significant purpose. Yet John never lost sight of the fact that he was a mere herald for One much greater than himself, One who he claimed, “the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:27)
More and more I am convicted that John’s words must become the refrain of my life too. I am beginning to recognise my striving for success—particularly with regards to my writing—as the sin it is. Instead of using my writing gift to bring glory to God, I often use it to bring glory to myself and in doing so I lose sight of my purpose as a herald of the good news of Christ.
Luke 1:15 tells us that John was great in the sight of the Lord. How confounding and astounding that in becoming less, John became truly great.
What shall you and I seek? The choice is ours. Do we strive to become great in the sight of the world or great in the sight of the Lord? If we choose the latter, John’s words need to echo through every part of our lives too.
He must become greater; I must become less.
(Based on John 3:26-30)
A note from Joan:
If you’ve been wondering why I’ve been Missing in Action of late, it’s because for the last 6 months I’ve been heading up the team organising the first Christian Writing Fair in South Africa. The full day seminar took place on Saturday and was–if the feedback is anything to go on–a blessing and inspiration to people. Ironic then that as I was pouring into the lives of other writers, my own writing pretty much dried up. I wrote “Herald of the One” 2 weeks ago in response to MAI’s challenge to ‘make the Word fresh’ . It was a relief to finally put some words to paper again (even if it was just 600 words) and I might just use it for Journeys, the book I’m (slowly!) working on.
Below is a little taste of the Christian Writing Fair: