Human beings are vessels. We are containers that, when empty, can be filled and used (2 Timothy 2:21). Recently, a new Christian movement has encouraged emptying oneself in order to receive from God. It’s called “contemplative prayer,” and it involves centering one’s focus on the presence of God, sometimes by repeating a word or phrase. It requires interior “silence” in order to connect, and it is no different from the meditation practiced by Eastern religions and New Age cults. Even more, it’s in opposition to the very active way the Bible teaches us to meditate by filling our minds with the Word of God (Joshua 1:8). Instead, the Bible tells us to empty ourselves in the same way that Jesus emptied Himself at His incarnation.
The Three Little Words in the Night
Last week, I awoke in the night and thought 3 words. “Chase after empty.” I kept saying the words to myself as if to remember. I even had a dream in which I told a fellow Christian that God told me those words. When I woke up, I looked up what “empty” means in a biblical context. I came up with the following verses:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”Philippians 2:5-7
The above passage is from the ESV. The KJV renders the phrase “made himself of no reputation.” In the Strong’s Concordance, the Greek phrase is ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν, and it means “emptied Himself.” Commentators call Philippians 2:5-11 “the kenosis passage.” Kenosis is the idea that Jesus renounced the divine privileges that He had always known. He chose the humble form of not just a man but a servant to man. We must note that Jesus did not give up being God in any way. Jesus was always fully God and fully man, retaining all the faculties of both. Instead, he gave up the outward glory and majesty of God, choosing to repose His divine nature in order to humble Himself to the point of death.
Jesus’ Choice and Ours
One of my favorite verses and one I think about a lot is John 8:29. Jesus says, “And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.” (That’s exactly the way I want to be; don’t you?) In all things Jesus sought to do what God wanted Him to do, what God sent Him to do. In fact, in the previous verse, He says, “I do nothing of Myself.” He not only submitted Himself to God’s will, but He made it the center of His focus.
It’s easy to say that Jesus behaved this way because of Who He Is, but Paul clearly tells us to “have this mind among yourselves.” But what does that look like in practice? Jesus was a carpenter in His early years, but we only saw Him focused on ministry. How can we live our lives full of the day-to-day responsibilities of our jobs and families while maintaining a similarly submitted life and focus?
A Real Life Example
Lately, I have been really asking the Lord about where to go and what to do. “Do you want me to go here or there?” I have also been noticing the times I “decide” to go places and the people I pass along the way. Everything has started to be weighty with meaning. Instead of a trip to the grocery store, it’s now an opportunity for God to show up, for Him to use me for His purposes.
In fact, last Monday was Memorial Day which meant half price at my favorite thrift store. I ended up at the store about 1:00 PM, but as I squeezed through the mass of people at every turn, I kept praying, wondering if God had something for me there. Was I supposed to be in line next to someone to have a conversation? But soon I realized that I didn’t have it in me to fight the masses, much less stand in the hour-plus line that wound back to the back wall, across, and up the side. I prayed, “I still feel like thrift shopping, Lord. Where should I go?”
I looked at several options and picked one that was back toward my house and on the main freeway. I drove there in just a few minutes, but I was dismayed to find that the store was closed. There was one car outside with a couple in it. The man smoked and smoked, the fumes drifting out the window. I asked the Lord, “Do you want me to give them a tract?” I fumbled in my purse to grab one, but the car was already backing up and heading out of the lot.
A Change in Plans
I was disappointed again. That was two places I had gone, totally expecting to see God’s hand in action, but nothing. Then I looked at my phone. My husband had called, asking me to pick him up from work. His blood pressure had gotten too high, and the paramedics on his job site for Memorial Day told him if I couldn’t take him to the doctor, they were calling an ambulance. I realized that if I had stayed at the first place, I wouldn’t have seen the call. The second place left me free again, and it put me right on the freeway I needed to take to get to my husband.
Long story short, through a doctor’s office and two pharmacies (one was closed early because of the holiday), I just kept watching and praying for “the thing” that I was sent to do at the places I went. Finally at the second pharmacy, I think I found my purpose there. While waiting for the prescription for my husband’s new blood pressure medicine, I talked to a lady, showing her the love of Christ, and gave her a tract.
Empty Yourself – Chase After Meaning
The whole day, I had definitely been “chasing” something, but the word that kept coming to my mind was “meaning.” I was chasing meaning. Think about it. If you stopped at the grocery store for milk today, would it really matter in the scheme of things? But if you prayed to ask God where He would like you to go to get that milk, doesn’t that give God the opportunity to put someone in your path who needs what you have? Whether it’s just a smile, a kind word, a prayer, a tract, or an invitation to church, there are needy people everywhere, and God knows just where they are.
A Whole New Mindset
The Bible says, “die to self,” and a lot of people stop right there. They hold their noses and put the back of their hand across their foreheads as they stoically resolve to live another day “dead” to the world. But the other part of that passage is where the power is. We die to self, Galatians 2:20. But we live to God, Galatians 5:25,“If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
It’s a whole new mindset and one that left me, well, exhilarated. Living this life with the grind of my job, my errands, my chores, and even my entertainment/fellowship is one thing. It’s full of all things “me.” But living each moment free from my own agenda and merely inviting God to decide how to do my job, where to do my errands, when to do my chores, and what to do for entertainment and fellowship – that’s a whole new way of life.
It means emptying out my own expectations and filling my life with an expectation for God to move. It invites Him to use me to make a difference as His hands and feet. That’s the way I want to live. Does that mean that God will have a purpose for us with each tank of gas we fill, each interaction at work, or every time we call our extended families? Probably not. That’s why it’s called chasing. Sometimes a trip for milk will just be a trip for milk. But maybe sometimes with prayer and openness to let God call the shots, that trip for milk could bring glory to God and/or even make an eternal difference for someone’s soul.
It’s a simple concept, but it’s also one that takes both a commitment and practice. For one thing, so many of us, whether we would admit it or not, are afraid that we won’t get enough of what we want and need. That’s why we use our time and resources chasing those things instead of trusting that God knows how to meet our needs better than we do. But Matthew 6:33 is clear about our priorities, and “giving our lives to Christ” isn’t just a euphemism for salvation. It’s a reality. We are no longer our own. We have been bought with a price.
Yet even after learning this valuable lesson last week, a recent family vacation left me right back in my old habits. My focus shifted back to myself, and God was pretty quick to bring correction. Praise God that His mercies are new every morning. Tomorrow is another day to practice fulling living for Him. By His grace, we can do just that.
Enjoy timely articles? Try 4 Ways to Avoid Spiritual Deception. In it, I tell a story about a time I was deceived and what God taught me though the experience. Or, try 4 Distractions For Christians We Must Beware . Please subscribe to my blog via email on the upper right corner and check out my YouTube channel where I read my blogs out loud and have a playlist of Hymns from my church.