“I am taller when I bow” is something I wrote down in my journal last week after reading a passage in The Business of Heaven Daily Readings, C.S. Lewis. Unfortunately I didn’t date it or write down the title of the passage, so I can’t tell you the context!
I can tell you, however, that this is an idea that I’ve been thinking a lot about. The idea found within this quote I’ve mentioned is that Christians are called to be self-emptying, to prefer others over themselves and to actively go about losing themselves for the sake of others. This is not to be confused with self-loathing, for we are to delight in the fact that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Rather, it is about embracing humility. Not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less.
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
This call to humility runs in the opposite direction to our desires to be self-seeking, and, at the most basic level, to be approved of. The reason that we don’t need to pursue these desires, is that these desires are met by Christ. We are already loved in the highest way – the most worthy of all has approved of us, and has given up their everything for us. For the most worthy has lowered himself to a much greater extent than we ever could (the starting position was that much higher, the end point that much lower). Because our needs and desires are fulfilled in Christ, we can quit the endless race to be better/do better/look better/feel better in the hopes of greater recognition/approval/popularity.
Instead, knowing the most valuable of truths and having the most precious gift of freedom, we enter an entirely a different race. This race isn’t a race to the top but a race to the bottom, becoming servants as Christ did. As the verses in Philippians tell us, the cross is the perfect example of the humility and surrender. Through the grace we have received we are able and called to give up ourselves to others to bring glory to the one who has done everything for us.
Unfortunately, there isn’t anything glamorous about humility, about bowing before others – it involves an admission of weakness and unworthiness, it upsets our want to be important. It’s also demanding – it demands service to the ungrateful, undeserving, unclean and renouncement of our earthly entitlements (often to the recognition/approval/popularity we sought before). Practicing this self-surrender is, in short, really hard. I am sure that when G. K. Chesterton said “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried” he had the demands of humility and surrender somewhere in mind!
What we must remember though, is that ultimately our humility and surrender will bring us life, it is for our good. We know life is found nowhere except in Jesus Christ. Nothing else is powerful enough, historical enough or captivating enough. Jesus is both life and the perfect model of it. As such, we are to work towards becoming transparent so that Jesus is made most visible and most glorified. So that those who don’t yet know the church don’t look over and see the mess of the egos in the church, but rather the perfection of the God in the church.
The body of Christ is to exist in such a way that it proclaims “when you see me, see the one who made me”. My prayer is that the life of all believers would do the same, that we would be made taller, bolder, more courageous, and more powerful through humility. That all Christians would learn to bow and take the position of a servant, that more people would see Jesus for who he is and glorify his name and never ours. For we are taller when we bow.