Most believers would be quite familiar with my title. These are the words of John the Baptist as he discusses the person and work of Jesus. It is a well-known phrase as found in the KJV in John 3:30. The NIV puts it this way: “He must become greater; I must become less.”
Either way, John is expressing a fundamental Christian principle: the disciple or follower of Christ must decrease while Christ increases. That is, we gradually die more and more to self, and allow more and more of Christ into our lives.
This is a continuous work, not just a once off. We are to keep renouncing self, keep crucifying the flesh, keep denying ourselves, and keep saying no to self will as we say yes to his will. This is called the process of sanctification, or better yet, mortification: we are putting self to death.
This is about emptying ourselves out, so that he can come in and fill us. And since I tend to find sermon illustrations everywhere, excuse me if I offer another one here, minus some of the gory details! But I will have a hospital procedure done in a few days which requires me to empty myself out completely.
Specialised medicine is provided which certainly makes all this happen, if you get my drift. I start that tomorrow. But to make it a bit less heavy duty, I cut down on food a few days ahead of time. (Of course it can be quite unfair! One of my sons tomorrow leaves for overseas for a few weeks, so the family got a nice Greek takeaway tonight as a send-off meal. But I could not have any. I object!)
Of course here the idea is to fully empty yourself out so that examinations can take place unimpeded. So while not a perfect analogy, there are some similarities here. In the spiritual life we also need to do the same: we need to empty ourselves out so that the fullness of Christ might come in.
As John said, ‘less of me, more of him’. This is the hardest thing for the believer. To say no to self, to resist the self, to be humble and broken before God is never something we readily seek. The self will resists this like all get out. We do not want less of self – we want more of self.
So we must pray that God will help us out here, that he will break us when we need brokenness, and empty us as we need emptiness. And I have found from personal experience that we must be careful what we pray for. If we ask him in all earnestness to break us, he will – but it can be very painful indeed.
Often it can come in the form of others kicking us in the guts – not physically, but in other ways. We will find an increase in attacks, in opposition, in lies being spoken about us, in people publicly dumping on us, betraying us, and abusing us.
It hurts. It really does. But when it comes, after I have just asked God to do a deep work in my life, then all I can do is thank God for such things, and pray for grace to get through it all as he does his spiritual operation in my life. It is not pleasant – but genuine steps forward in spiritual growth seldom are.
A few weeks ago I wrote a piece on brokenness, and in it noted that in my rather large library I did not have any books directly on that topic. Well, I do now. One book I discovered on this topic is by Nancy Leigh Demoss. It is a powerful book, and I want to conclude here with just one section of that book.
As she seeks to define what biblical brokenness is, she deals with various misconceptions about it. This section is excellent in laying this out:
True brokenness is not a feeling or an emotion. Rather, it requires a choice, an act of the will. Further, this choice is not a onetime experience, though there may be profound and life-changing spiritual turning points in our lives. True brokenness is an ongoing, constant way of life. True brokenness is a lifestyle – a moment-by-moment lifestyle of agreeing with God about the true condition of my heart and life – not as everyone else thinks it is but as He knows it to be.
Brokenness is the shattering of my self-will – the absolute surrender of my will to the will of God. It is saying “Yes Lord” – no resistance, no chaffing, no stubbornness – simply submitting myself to His direction and will in my life.
Contrite is one word that is used in the Old Testament used to speak of brokenness. That word suggests something that is crushed into powder, as a rock is pulverized. What is it that God wants to pulverize in us? It is not our spirit He wants to break, nor is it our essential personhood. He wants to break our self-will.
When we speak of a horse being “broken,” we don’t mean that someone physically breaks its legs; we mean that the horse’s will has been broken – that it is now compliant and submissive to the wishes of its rider. In the same sense, true brokenness is the breaking of my self-will, so that the life and spirit of the Lord Jesus may be released through me. It is my humble and obedient response to the conviction of God’s Word and His Holy Spirit.
Brokenness is the stripping of self-reliance and independence from God. The broken person has no confidence in his own righteousness or his own works, but he is cast in total dependence upon the grace of God working in and through him.
Brokenness is the softening of the soil of my heart – it is the breaking up of any clods of resistance that could keep the seed from penetrating and taking root. I believe one of the reasons many pastors faithfully preach the Word week after week and see so little fruit in the lives of their listeners is that the soil in many of our hearts has become so hard and fallow that the seed cannot penetrate. Believers with broken, contrite hearts are receptive and responsive to the Word.
As wax or clay must be soft and pliable in order to be molded by the artist’s hands, so the broken, contrite heart is easily molded by the hand of God and does not harden itself against the circumstances God chooses to mold it.
This breaking process is similar to what we mean by asking God to fill us and use us, and we seek to say no to self and yes to him. It is about becoming lesser so that he might become greater. And all this goes directly against our flesh, our pride, our self will. That is why it is so hard and why so few believers ever really move down this path.
But it is the path all true disciples of Christ must take if they want to be effective for his service. As Vance Havner once put it: “God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.”
Or as H.A. Ironside once said: “God is not looking for brilliant men, is not depending upon eloquent men, is not shut up to the use of talented men in sending His Gospel out in the world. God is looking for the broken men who have judged themselves in the light of the Cross of Christ. When He wants anything done, He takes up men who have come to the end of themselves, whose confidence is not in themselves, but in God!”
So where are we at in our Christian life? Are we decreasing while he increases? The only other option is for him to decrease while we increase. The choice is up to us.