My husband and I are minnows in a tiny puddle. But because the puddles we frequent are small, it is easy to begin to feel like important guppies in our family and the local flock. Every once in a while, the Lord lovingly places us into a larger pond for a day or two. And every time, I walk away blessed by reminding of our smallness.
While speaking at a conference this past week and sitting at tables with people with multiple degrees and dissertations under their belts, I initially felt puny and a little pathetic; however, after the initial waves of insecurity, I was able to receive the gift of smallness with great joy and freedom.
John the Baptist, the eccentric and electrifying prophet who cleared the path for his Chosen cousin, Jesus, famously prayed, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30).
As believers, we love to throw out that pithy, catchy statement; but we deeply struggle to live it.
John had spent the majority of his life in anonymity in the dessert. However, when the time came, he fulfilled the purpose for which he was miraculously born to his aged parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth. He came boldly inviting the Jewish people to a priming baptism of water signifying their need for repentance and washing which would be brought with Christ.
After 400 years of inter-testimental silence, the people were finally postured to hear any word for the Lord, no matter how harsh or humbling. As such, people came in droves to be baptized in the Jordan. John gathered around himself an eager group of young disciples who joined him in his preparatory work.
One day, his cousin came to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan. As soon as John saw Jesus coming, he was quick to point to Christ and away from himself and his thriving ministry. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who. takes away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man whose rank is before me’.” (John 1:29-30).
After a moving and momentous baptism in which the sky opened and the voice of God proudly commended His son, Jesus began to move into public ministry mode.
Some time later, after having officially called together his strange assortment of disciples, performed his first miracle at the wedding at Cana and spoken in secret to Nicodemus by night, Jesus and his crew head out into the Judean countryside. It just so happens that his cousin John is performing water baptisms there. because water was plentiful there (John. 3:22-23).
From a first reading, the scene reads like a scene from West Side Story. Two crews doing similar work finding themselves on the same turf. The suspense would be building for a first time reader. Are we about to see a showdown? A ministry battle?
The young, immature, mostly headstrong and ego-heavy disciples were feeling the tension. John goes out of his way to record what takes place.
Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan., to whom you bore witness – look, he is baptizing and all are going to him.” John 3:26.
How would John respond to the minimizing of his ministry, to being shown to be a small fish in the presence of the One who had spoken into existence every fish species?
John received the right-sizing and minimizing of his small but significant ministry not as a burden or a punishment, but as a long-awaited joy and a welcomed blessing.
Then who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore, this joy of mine is now complete. He must decrease, but I must increase. John. 3:29-30.
I tend to imagine John saying that pithy prayer in a saddened sigh, but the context reads differently. Rather than issuing forth from a resigned, depleted spirit, John’s “I must decrease” prayer welled up from a fullness of joy and completion.
I don’t have to decrease. I get to decrease!
This past weekend, I felt a little of what John felt: the blessing of being small in the presence of the Infinite One made Finite!