Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in the Light of God’s Everything
If you are ready for a challenging read, one that will force you to evaluate your motivations, desires and assumptions. This book will do just that.
Let this mind be in you,
The central verse in this book is a constant reminder. It is the admonition of Paul to keep focused on the mindset of Christ, which was humility – and not just humility to be humble, but humility focused on the purpose of God’s glory.
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. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8 ESV)
This is brought out throughout the text as the central focus of the mind of the Christian. The author also does a masterful work in showing how the life of Christ was one of relative obscurity. Certainly not what we as American Christians would choose or plan! Keeping God incarnate “secret” until he was 33 years old? Why would he not be heralded, announced, tour the world….?
This God of the universe chose to keep his incarnate son in humble, quiet obscurity until the right time. Even then, Jesus acted in ways and said things that were not popular (John 6:65-66). He did not seek constant attention from the crowds, even to the point of asking those whom he healed to remain quiet. This mystery of his actions are completely opposite to our view of celebrity culture and how mankind should be saved. Nearly everything Jesus Christ teaches, says and does is counter to our concept of the “celebrity” who has the attention of the world at their doorstep.
“Even though He was forced to spend most of His time surrounded by fans, judging by the number of times we’re told that Jesus ducked out of the crowds, He didn’t base His worth on accolades….” “His only ambition to submit to the Father’s will.”
Humility is the core of witness. Paul refers to our task as the “foolishness of preaching” to reach the world. So much of our scriptural examples and instructions are counter to our growth plans, cultural engagement and “common sense.” Serving, praying, teaching and preaching – that God may be glorified- is the theme of the Bible. Yet somehow, we always tend to read ourselves into the spotlight.
The current cultural emphasis on the uniqueness and importance of the individual also works against the call to be humble to glorify God. By focusing on the individual’s worth and identity, we lesson the specific call to find value and worth in Christ’s work on the cross.
“He didn’t give us His Spirit because we were significant, but rather, we are significant because He is uber-significant, and He is within us!”
The call of this book is that God’s ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts, and most times, that will cause our actions and decisions to be counter to the worldly system around us.
“Embracing God’s formula for success frees us to really live-to try, fail, get up, and try again-because we know that “failing” in the world’s eyes will never let God down. How could it? We were never holding Him up. Quite the opposite-He’ll continue holding us up, whether or not we ever make headlines, change the world, or get our “big break.”
“You want to be successful? If you live comfortably, share what you have. If you have a spouse, serve him or her sacrificially, If your home is filled with the clamor and clutter of children, savor the monumental task of raising them. If others follow you, point them to Christ. If you are given accolades, receive them humbly. Love and serve the people around you. Walk well through the inevitable sufferings of life. Live your life worthy of the gospel of Christ. This is true success. And really, what more could we possibly want?”
The author gives many examples of people who chose personal obscurity in light of Christ. In doing so, they were mightily used to share the gospel, make an impact and go unnoticed but he world. The challenge is to stop dreaming of your name in lights, and to go about the work of the kingdom, even if it means never hearing your name called in appreciation.
This is difficult stuff.
The one thing I longed for at the end of the book was about 4 more chapters. A few chapters on application. The book does features questions at the end of the chapter, making it an ideal study for small groups, youth groups or simply for your personal challenge. How do I apply these principles in my life? In an age of pervasive social media, where narcissism is not only reinforced – it is rewarded with badges, followers and fans. How can you go about embracing obscurity?
If you have a business, if you are in media, the arts, or a pastor, teacher, worship leader, missionary,… If you have to do any form of marketing or “selling yourself” to lead, convince, support, agree or purchase. How do you embrace obscurity? What are practical applications I can take to the marketplace? Those were the questions surrounding my conclusion of this book.
Ultimately, I’m not sure if it was the intent of the author to leave the reader with more questions at the end of the book than at the beginning, but that was my experience. The positive aspect of this book is the impact with which it forces the reader to reconcile Christ’s example of humility, which becomes a foremost thought long afterwards.
This sentence encapsulated the book, and forces a Godly judgement of our purpose on earth, beyond gaining “friends and followers:”
“If learning to embrace obscurity is part of our dedication to Christ, then becoming nothing in the light of God’s everything might just make us look insane to the rest of the world.”
And that’s the case. The true call of the Christian is foolishness to the world. Insanity to self-help, growth schemes and media pundits. Being a servant of God-is to make His name great.