(Read Philippians 2:5-11)
A narcissist believes that he or she is the alpha and the omega, that life is all about him and the fulfillment of his desires. The narcissist seeks others to follow him, not because he has anything positive and valuable to contribute to society, but simply because he likes to be followed. While he believes that what he has to offer is of great value, it can in fact be of little value or even of great harm since it never contains love or awareness for his fellow man. Narcissists advance themselves at the expense of others.
Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson, Bernie Madoff are some names you might recognize because of their narcissistic pursuits. While each had a different area of focus—Hitler was a political leader; Manson a communal leader, and Madoff an economic leader- the commonality between them all is that they served themselves. They were instruments of their own desire. They called others to follow them to achieve their own purposes. The narcissist elevates the one over the many.
Jesus, on the other hand, was far from the narcissistic personality. Yes, he was a leader, but he lead on behalf of other. Jesus lead on behalf of God. He did not seek to accomplish his own purposes. He was not driven by his own will, but he lead others that the Father’s will might be accomplished through him. Certainly, Jesus did not seek to elevate himself over others, but he lowered himself for the benefit of others. Jesus was not an instrument of his own desire. Jesus was an instrument of God.
Today’s passage from Philippians says just that. That though Jesus was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited. He did not elevate himself to godly status, holding power over others (though he could have. I am reminded of the movie Bruce Almighty, in which Jim Carey plays a man who has been given the powers of God, and in a humorous way, he wields those powers as though he were the greatest thing, the coolest person, the Man, as though he were God). Instead, he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness and being found in human form, he humbled himself to human status. And instead of being driven by his own desire, instead of pushing his own will and seeking to accomplish his own agenda, he became obedient, even to the point of death, death on a cross. Jesus emptied himself that he might be an instrument of God.
The Scripture says, “Let the same mind, the same attitude be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2: 5). And so, the question we must all ask ourselves is: are we instruments of our own desire or are we instruments of God?
If we are instruments of our own desire, like the narcissist, we will be more concerned for ourselves than others, putting me before you. We will want our own way instead of factoring in what others want. My happiness will be more important than your happiness. We will also find ourselves in a constant battle with life as we try to make things go our way instead of the way that God’s Spirit is moving.
If we are instruments of God however, we will find a balance between seeking our own happiness and seeking to make others happy. We will even find ourselves putting others first. And we will surrender to the Spirit’s lead in our lives. Instead of pushing to make things the way we want them to be, we will open up to the way things are going, trying to discern God’s presence in what is happening in our daily circumstance.
St Francis wrote a very well-known prayer for peace, and in it, he describes what it is like to be an instrument of God:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love:
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not
So much seek to be consoled
As to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born
to eternal life.
Following St. Francis’ lead, we learn that to be an instrument of God is to give love, to pardon or forgive, to have faith instead of doubting, to hope instead of despairing. To be an instrument of God is to console our family and friends, and even strangers, and to try to understand them no matter what they do to us.
Probably, we are each instruments of our own desire and instruments of God, a combination of both to some extent. We all go in and out of being played by the hand of God and being played by ourselves. The hope is to become more Christ-like by God’s grace.
I picked the story of Jesus’ first miracle when he turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana because of the words that Jesus uttered in that passage. They are at the wedding and Mary says to Jesus, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:3-4).
Think of how many times Jesus must have had to refrain from doing something or saying something because it was not the right time according to the plan that God had made for his life. Surely, before this first miracle, Jesus must have had the opportunity to heal someone who was sick or raise someone from the dead, but he didn’t simply because the hour to do so had not yet come.
That’s letting God use your life. That’ letting God rule your life. Not my will, but Thy will be done. Sometimes, when life isn’t going the way you want it to, perhaps you should just remember the words of Jesus and say to yourself, “My hour has not yet come.”
But the hour must have come for Jesus to reveal his glory because he goes ahead and does his first miracle. He has the servants fill the six stone water jars. Then, he has them pour some out and take it to the chief steward, who when he tastes the wine, cannot believe that the bridegroom had waited to serve the best wine until last.
The Holy Spirit must have whispered to Jesus, “Now is the time, my son. Go ahead.”
Remember how at our outdoor service we talked about the seasons of life, how there is a time for every purpose under heaven. Part of being an instrument of God is knowing what season of life you are in and going along with it, being an active participant in what God is doing in your life right now.
But in order to do that, we have to be emptied of ourselves so that we can be filled with God. That is what it means to have the same mind, the same attitude as Jesus.
Think of yourself like a small, wooden flute or any wind instrument really. It awaits the breath of one who can give it song, but it has to be open, willing and clear of any obstructions. When we empty ourselves of our agenda, desire, will, when we clear out space, then Spirit can flow through us and we can create music. Our lives then rest in the hands of God.
I got this idea from a poem, Instruments of God, by Joyce Rupp:
A small, wooden flute,
An empty, hollow reed,
Rests in her silent hand.
It awaits the breath
Of one who creates song
Through its open form.
My often-empty life
Rests in the hand of God;
Like the hollowed flute,
It yearns for the melody
Which only Breath/Spirit can give.
May God’s Spirit blow through your emptied self like breath blows through a flute, and just like the flute produces a melody, may God turn your life into a song.