“You feel like you are swaddled, right?” I was talking with a friend about some of my frustrations during this stage of life. I am a factory of projects and ministry ideas. But entering the world of those I am called to serve and becoming like them has meant saying no to pursuing many of those dreams. It seems like a season of unstarted and unfinished things. I know I am not alone. I have a precious single friend who gave up for now her dream to serve overseas to continue to care for and provide for the unique needs of her family at home. There were many tears as she put her desires on hold. This past few weeks a similar theme has come up as I’ve interacted with other friends who are nurturing lives: the sister in law who is a caregiver to her nieces; the teacher who is investing in children with disabilities; the pregnant mama who is in much physical pain as she carries the life of her baby to full term; my friend who left her home and is getting ready to serve Jesus in another country; the woman who meets to disciple and encourage another woman that she wouldn’t naturally gravitate to; the parents who are releasing their children and grandchildren to live overseas because Jesus is worthy; the foster mom parenting very difficult children. All of them, in one form or another, are limiting themselves and giving up something – time, sleep, energy, personal preferences, dreams, rest, home, relationships – for the sake of another’s joy in Jesus. But limiting self is hard and painful. “Swaddled” -constricted, wrapped around like a baby so tight I can’t move- was a great word for how I was feeling. I was resenting how limiting it is to enter the world of and become like those God has given me to nurture and care for.
Meditating on the Incarnation of Jesus has been a wonderful gift for me the past many months. Turning my gaze from my life to the life of Christ has strengthened me and given me joy for this season. Through our union with Christ, He lives His life in us. And because we are united to Him, the pattern of His life – suffering, death, glory –is the pattern of our life.
The prosperity of Jesus Christ
Jesus is the blessed Man of Psalm 1 who was fruitful and prospered in everything He did. Yet, Isaiah’s description of the prosperity of Jesus Christ is shockingly counterintuitive:
“Behold, my Servant shall act wisely [or shall prosper]; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you—his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind – so shall he startle many nations…He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 52, 53 ESV).
How is it that for Him to act wisely meant so much suffering? What a paradigm shift to my self-seeking heart! To the earthly mind, the incarnation seems so inefficient. It meant limitation for Christ – dealing with one person at a time, one place at a time. He didn’t seek the most influential or powerful but the weak and needy. People just like me, people just like my children. The Incarnation seems like an inefficient way to be productive, but when Jesus chose limitation, weakness, servanthood and death, much fruit was born (John 12: 23-24). In the economy of the Gospel, embracing humility as a way of life is Jesus’ path to glory (Phil. 2: 5-10). His life shows His glory is to regard the lowly (Psalm 138: 5-6).
I am sometimes bitter by how limiting it is to care for others but I repent of my pride and selfishness as I see the Son of Man to whom belongs all dominion, choosing to be homeless, dusty, exhausted so that we could live forever to the glory of His Father. Jesus joyfully chose all that because He was full of resurrection hope (Acts 2: 26-28). He knew the paths of life went through death yet His Father wouldn’t abandon Him there. Fullness of gladness was certainly coming – He would be raised up and of out the anguish of his soul, His offspring would be born! (Isa. 53: 10-11)
The Path to Life
The Spirit loves to give us eyes to adore Jesus’ beauty. His grace trains us to treasure the pattern of his life so it is not something we despise. I am so encouraged by what my friend Kim wrote: “The fight of faith is to believe that the Gospel, the good news, is true in every little death you face. When you deny yourself that lie, that attitude, that self-seeking life that is so familiar to you and me…and we take up our cross to die to what we could do, could say and feel…and follow Jesus into that grave…do it by telling yourself the Gospel truth: life will come from this death. Joy will rise in the morning.”
So Maia, my 4 year old, wants me to pretend I am an alligator because she wants us to play a game that she made up. I could be a lot more productive washing dishes while listening to a podcast that keeps me in grown-up company. Yet I both find life and give life when I give up my “rights” to a clean kitchen and stimulating conversation and become like a child. I find His life, because it is Jesus’ resurrection power enabling me to choose her. Left to my power, I would always choose me. I give life to her when I pursue fellowship with her and delight in her.
Dear friend – resurrection life is our only hope as we nurture others. Through the power Christ gives us as the Risen One seated at the Right Hand of God we live day by day, knowing we too have been raised and are seated together with Him in the heavenly places. We live today by faith in Christ’s power, but also with our hope fully set on the day when we will be raised to our real life. Just like Jesus Christ, we tell our Father, “You will make me full of gladness with your presence” (Acts 2: 28). Everything we are giving up now is not only for the sake of another’s joy in Jesus. It is for the sake of our joy – our undiluted, pure joy in Him.
My sister – the pattern of His life-giving life is ours. His Story is our story. His fullness of gladness our very own – forever.