Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Not Big Enough

It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. (Isaiah 49.6)

Re-Inverting Intuition

Modern technology fosters a bizarre craze for tiny things. Ours is the first era in history that doesn’t equate size with power. From the day a visionary cave dweller invented the wheel until the 1980s, bigger automatically meant better. But now that we can cram our pockets, briefcases, and dashboards with all the comforts of home, “the littler, the cooler” reigns supreme. Our obsession with toy-sized gadgets has radically inverted human intuition about life. We downsize everything we can—from factories to families, from sentences to sentiments—seldom considering what we sacrifice. For one thing, the texture of today’s world can’t compare to that of my youth. When factories were filled with workers, craftsmanship brought distinction to products. Larger families turned homes into theaters and mealtimes into scenes. Before writing became texting and phrases acronyms, sentences flowed with eloquence and subtlety. And when emotions were feelings, not emoticons and meltdowns, they colored our conversations with rich hues and bright splashes.

Another thing gone missing in our love of miniaturization, I believe, is romance with thinking big. Personal technology has created a society of specialists. Our gizmos put the world in our hands. Yet very few of us use them to expand our vision. Most of us concentrate on doing what we’ve always done, just more of it quicker. Maybe that’s not a bad thing for the time-crunched VP rifling through emails on her iPhone. But if she transfers her do-a-lot-about-a-little intuition to how she perceives and explores her potential, there’s no “maybe” about it. It’s a bad thing—a terrible thing. Our worth and wonder emerge by thinking bigger. They shine brighter with broader reach. Our challenge isn’t narrowing focus to become experts in esoteric fields; it’s admitting our dreams and visions aren’t big enough for our gifts. That requires re-inverting intuition—returning to the pre-tech mindset that bigger is better, and less really means less.

Prophetic Principles

Coming off Advent, which casts Isaiah on the lines of an eminent narrator whose deep baritone scoots things along, we’re apt substitute “Jesus” for every pronoun in his prophecy. It’s a glorious idea, though not above suspicion. Given glaring discrepancies in Matthew and Luke’s accounts—each relying heavily on Isaiah—it’s not unreasonable that they retrofit their versions to echo his predictions. In fact, it’s highly likely, as Early Church theologians and authors as a whole look to Isaiah to verify Jesus’s Messianic stature. Thus, we tremble at the suggestion Isaiah isn’t written with Jesus specifically in mind, as if he literally envisions events he describes exactly as they play out. But this reduces the prophet to uncanny fortune-teller, which is neither his calling nor gift. Prophets serve as God’s envoys to humanity—to us. Their main duty is realigning our perceptions with God’s principles, using promises as incentives. The prophetic construct is pretty basic: A) God’s not pleased with you. B) This is how you correct it. C) If you do, God will bless you; if not, God will judge you severely. Therefore, while Isaiah’s prophecies are applicable to Jesus, they’re no less so to us because the underlying principles remain the same for Him and us.

Opening Isaiah with this awareness, it explodes with relevance for every believer. Fresh air reaches passages sealed under Messianic glass to become life-changing lessons. Even verses that appear directly tied to Jesus burst with personal meaning. Consider Isaiah 49.6: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” From a Messianic standpoint, its message is overt: Christ’s mission surpasses restoring Israel to include the entire world. Then, knowing this prophecy is sent to us as well—for are we not also God’s servants?—what is God telling us? Freed of its Christ-centric detail, the principle arrives at our door. God says, “Common expectations are too small for you. I’ve got something bigger in mind, something better.”

Hearing the Prophet

When Isaiah speaks these words, conventional wisdom and popular tradition in Israel holds the Messiah is an exclusive promise for them. “Not big enough!” God says. Although the prophecy couldn’t be plainer, Judaic culture at large can’t vanquish its longing for exclusivity and permanence as God’s chosen people. Since it’s always been that way, they reason, that’s how it must always be. “That’s too small,” God declares. It’s all too small—the dream, the understanding, the tradition, and the prejudice. Yet Israel’s slavish belief in exclusive rights to the Messiah doesn’t affect God’s plan or deter Christ’s fulfillment of it. When Jesus defines His purpose to Nicodemus, the learned Pharisee, in John 3.16, He says: “God so loved the world.” Then and there, He draws a line. Jews fixated on culturally acceptable beliefs think small. He thinks big. To confine His vision, gifts, and efforts to their narrow-minded expectations defeats His purpose. He’s heard the prophet. “It’s too small a thing for you.”

In a world enamored with miniatures—one that continually rewards small thinking and petty behavior—we can anticipate resistance when embracing the prophet’s message. Traditional boundaries and beliefs aren’t big enough. Through Jesus, we learn what's always been won’t always be. As God’s Servant, intent on realizing His potential in scale with God’s plan, He bucks tradition and culture over and over. God’s got bigger things in mind and, though confronted with small minds at every turn, Jesus won't be convinced otherwise. He starts small, with a little kitchen magic to help a host who’s run out of wine, but He seizes each new opportunity for something greater. The message, miracles, and manifestations get bigger as He goes, constantly expanding His reach. Through Isaiah, God says to us, along with Jesus, “What religion and culture expect is too small for you. Broaden your vision. Expand your reach. What you've been told isn't big enough.” Our worth and wonder don’t fit the tiny-tech paradigm. Neither does God’s purpose or the gifts we’re given to fulfill it. We hear the prophet. With God, bigger is always better. More is always more. Anything less is not enough.

We don’t live and think in scale with conventional wisdom and popular tradition. They’re just not big enough for God’s purpose and the gifts we’re given to fulfill it.

2 comments:

Philomena Ewing said...

Oooh, this is brilliant.You are right on the button here Tim but what I love about this post is the way it gives me inspiration and hope because (if I can invert the image a little), I feel that sometimes the small people who have the necessary big vision are being smothered and suppressed by the "big boys" who want it all to be boxed in bullet pointed and sealed tight with their confining "logo". What I dislike most about this stance is that people are well versed in "pseudo psychological language" but their fine smartness does nothing to interact with the deepest desire of my soul nor does it bring humanity into relational community. It's just a series of tricks and formulas. Your post sets the vision right and
I found this section awesome !!
"When factories were filled with workers, craftsmanship brought distinction to products. Larger families turned homes into theaters and mealtimes into scenes. Before writing became texting and phrases acronyms, sentences flowed with eloquence and subtlety. And when emotions were feelings, not emoticons and meltdowns, they colored our conversations with rich hues and bright splashes."
I can eat out on this post all week !
Blessings

Tim said...

Bullet points and logos--Phil, you've described my professional life perfectly. Just two weeks ago, while directing a corporate meeting, I looked at one of the speaker's presentations and told him, "We're going to kill half your slides with all of this detail and graphs and make time for you to talk to the people. What's missing here is heart. Let's make a human connection and convey the information in your data as vision, not math." He agreed. We worked on it and halfway through his talk one of his peers came back to me and said, "It's the best presentation he's ever given!"

The big ideas can't be graphically conveyed or reduced to outlines. They come from our largesse and can only be communicated person-to-person. They defy tricks and formulas because there are no tricks or formulas to simulate them!

We are bigger than we think and our possibilities are greater than we imagine. When we learn to reach beyond the usual, we will capture the extraordinary!

Thanks for this. (Your compliments are too kind.) It makes me smile.

Peace, dear friend,
Tim