He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3.30)
Our pastor opened her Ash Wednesday reflection this year with the story of a priest who asked his congregation, “What’s the difference between a stick in the mud and a flute?” After they pondered the riddle for a moment, he told them. “A stick in the mud is full of itself. But a flute has been emptied out to make music.” The metaphor was obvious. Lent is the time when we consciously empty ourselves out so that God’s Spirit can blow through us and transform our lives into song. Yet it occurred to me that I knew very little about how a flute works. So I looked it up and learned something very interesting.
The flute’s hollowed-out chamber is called a “resonator.” As air travels through the passageway, it’s directed across a series of holes that causes the air inside it to vibrate. The player changes the pitch by blocking the holes to alter the resonator's length and its corresponding frequency. This is why piccolos—basically, half-sized flutes—emit higher, somewhat shriller tones, while longer flutes have a lower, mellower register. So it turns out the keys have little to do with the depth and volume of a flute’s melody. It's not about what comes out of the flute, but what happens inside it. The more room a flute provides for its player’s breath, the more power it possesses and the more resonant its music becomes.
Of course, we know sticks in the mud make no music. Being full of themselves, they have no resonance. Worse still, they’re already dead and don’t know it. They’ve fallen from the tree that gave them life. They stand, not in their own strength, but in the muck and mire collected around them. If they make any sound at all, it’s the crack of being snapped in two to or the crackle of being tossed onto a fire.
Some time after he baptizes Jesus, John the Baptist’s disciples inform him that Jesus has started baptizing people on His own. He’s having great success, which alarms the Baptist’s followers. But John immediately discerns the situation. To challenge Jesus would indicate he’s full of himself. He will become useless to Jesus—a stick in the mud who’s lost touch with God’s purpose. “He must increase,” John says. “But I must decrease.” John empties himself out so the resonance of the Gospel can flow through him.
The less of us—our will, pride, and self—there is, the more melodious our lives become. In this season of emptying out, we examine ourselves thoroughly, searching for blockages that impede the flow of God’s Spirit in our lives. We get out of our own way to allow God to have God’s way. The less of us there is, the more resonant and powerful our music will be.