In 2013, I had the privilege of completing a doctor of ministry degree with a group of eighteen amazing people from around the world. One of those persons is Rolland Baker. Together with his wife, Heidi, they minister to the impoverished and downtrodden of Mozambique. Their stories are incredible, and for hours our group would hear testimonies of God’s amazing love being poured out. The number of people coming to Christ is almost staggering, not to mention the extraordinary miracles of healing and even dead bodies being raised to life. My faith soared as we heard testimonies of God’s power and love bringing redemption, restoration, and hope to needy people. But there was one message shared by Rolland and Heidi that challenged me more than any other and that was the message of going lower and slower.
Those two words run contrary to our culture and they even pose a problem for the contemporary church. Let’s unfold these words so we can come to a better understanding of what it means to move lower and slower. First, to go lower means to choose a path of humility. Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). This statement by Jesus contains both active and passive verbs. An active verb is something that we choose to do while a passive verb is something that inevitably happens to us. Therefore, if we choose to “exalt” ourselves, there will eventually be a time when we are “humbled.” Conversely, if we choose to “humble” ourselves, we will be “exalted.” I hope that we will choose to humble ourselves before the Lord as a way of life (see James 4:10). The apostle Paul told us to possess the same attitude as Jesus had, which was a life of downward mobility (see Phil. 2:5-8).
Everywhere I look, however, I see the push for upward mobility. People are striving for the next perk or promotion, the next big break, or the next great opportunity. I’m reminded of the disciples who came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You” (Mark 10:35). Their audacity was only surpassed by what they actually wanted: the top spot in the kingdom of heaven with Jesus. Jesus cut through their ambitions with the call to become a servant; truly, to be great is to be a servant of all. Humility looks for opportunities to quietly serve others and to do so without the need for recognition.
What does it mean to be humble? Humility is from a Latin derivative that means ground, humus, or dirt. Nothing is lower than dirt. Yet, good soil (humble dirt), Jesus said, has the capacity to “bear fruit thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold” (Mark 4:20). Keep in mind that humility is not self-condemnation or self-denunciation. When someone pays you a compliment, simply respond with a kind “thank you.” Too often we think being humble is to loathe a compliment by stating how terrible we are. Brigid Hermon wrote in the early 1900s that most of what we call humility, especially the habit of self-accusation and self-abatement, is actually the fruit of self-obsession; and in reality, is nothing more than a deep sense of sin and pride.
To be humble is to remain teachable, too. In fact, we are able to learn from anyone; no matter their pedigree or education. Additionally, humble people function well under authority because they are not rebellious. They honor those above them and they have a unique ability to inconspicuously encourage others around them. Everyone around a humble person is elevated and treated with respect and even a sense of reverence. I want to go lower, don’t you?
Second, going slower means becoming love. The greater our influence becomes, the slower our walk should be. We must learn to take time for people around us; to actually look them in the eyes and pay attention to their needs. I believe when Jesus looked at people, He actually looked “into” them and saw their heart. The most important person in the world is the person in front of you at that moment. Don’t walk up to a counter while on the phone or plop down in a bus or plane seat wearing headphones. If you do, you’ve just communicated to people around you that they are unimportant. Several times in the New Testament Jesus “stopped” for people. Usually, it was someone whom society had moved away from. Jesus moved slowly through the crowds and He took time to minister to their needs.
I’m challenged by the first characteristic of love listed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4. He wrote, “Love is patient.” To be patient (makrothumeo) means to continually wait on other people without losing heart. Too many times I’ve grown impatient with someone hoping that they would change in “my time.” Time is relative to God, that’s why I’m told to cry out day and night so that He can move “quickly” in my life (see Luke 18:7-8). God will move quickly if I move slower—by that I mean moving in rhythm with His Holy Spirit. I’m on a quest to move in step with the Spirit and that usually means slowing my life down enough to hear His voice. Going slower actually means becoming a better listener than a talker; it means becoming a better leader for Jesus by being a better follower of Him.
My life is being adjusted by this simple phrase of going lower and slower. What about you?
Jesus, will you empower me to walk lower and slower. As I read about your life in the scriptures, this was your lifestyle. I choose to follow your example, amen.