I had an unusual moment of clarity at the Atlanta airport a few weeks ago. It was something so routine that it seems unusual for it to be one of those life-changing moments. I stepped off the train from the airport to the rental car counter. The customer service rep reviewed my contract and walked me over to the lot of available cars. We’ve all been here and we all know what comes next. After his failed attempt to upsell me on the insurance, he asked if I would like to upgrade. “We have several models available, if you would like to upgrade to a better car.”
Time slowed down and each thought was captured: “I deserve an upgrade.” “I’ve always wanted to drive a luxury car.” “It’s not exactly my money being spent, so I could get away with an upgrade.” “Get the upgrade and enjoy the weekend. Come on, you deserve it!” My flesh was going to work on me! What happened next was unusual. I reacted in the exact opposite way that my flesh was pulling me. It was an almost angry response that came out: “downgrade me. Give me the worst car on the lot.” That phrase has not left me since. Over the past few weeks I’ve uttered that phrase over and over: “downgrade me.” The results have been extremely good for my soul! Let me point out a few results.
No man is honored when he receives good things. But a man is honored when he gives up great things for a purpose. Jesus, the ultimate example of this, exchanged his place of preeminence for servanthood. He chose the ultimate downgrade! He made himself nothing and took on the very nature of a servant. He became obedient to death, even death on a cross. He emptied himself and made himself nothing so that we may have life in Him. And He is worthy of honor and praise. His sacrifice is stunning. His command was that we would do the same. He told us that we should deny ourselves, that we should lay down our lives, that we should submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, and that we should serve one another in love and humility. Practicing this mindset has helped me worship Jesus Christ and love him more.
I have also seen another benefit from this mindset: I have learned greater contentment and peace. As I drove my rented Sentra around Atlanta that weekend, I was surprised by how little difference it made. I got from point A to point B with air conditioning and good gas mileage. I remembered that 100 years ago most traveled by foot or horseback! I felt contentment and gratitude for good transportation.
Another benefit I experienced from this line of thinking was the ability to recognize grace and growth in the lives of other believers. This is a common path for growth in Christlikeness for followers of Christ. When someone is maturing there is evidence of the death of the flesh. Maturing Christ-followers embrace trials, sacrifices, and suffering. In those conditions they better identify with Jesus and become more like Him as they see this progression away from their carnal nature and are moved toward maturity. Seeing this in others helps me to encourage them and to cheer them on! Who doesn’t like to hear someone say, “I see you becoming more like Jesus. I see Him at work in your life by what you have chosen to give up.” We become more like Jesus when we lay things down – our rights, our privileges, our demands, our upgrades, our comforts, and other things. There is no glory in the uprising of your flesh. No one cheers. No one honors you for receiving or demanding the best (except those who want to benefit from you). No, the way up in the Kingdom of God is down. It’s embracing the cross, scorning its shame, and laying down your life for the Christ who laid it all down for you.
I recently encouraged one of my friends in this area. A year and a half ago he left our church. Six months later God told him to come back. It was a humbling experience of obedience for him. A few months later he wanted to start a ministry in the church, but I encouraged him not too for various reasons. He submitted and laid it down. He became okay with God’s direction. A few months later he had the opportunity to take his dream position in Charlotte, NC. The job was a tailor fit for his skills and his company really wanted him to take the job. It would have been an upgrade for him and his family. In the end he didn’t get the job. He laid it down and was okay with God’s clear answer. A few weeks later he took a substantial amount of money out of savings to support a brother in need with no expectation of repayment or personal benefit. A few weeks later he opened his home to 20 people who are starting a church in his area. As we sat eating Mexican food this week, I retraced all that he has given up over the last year. I told him the truth: “I see Jesus in you. I see you becoming more like Him because of all that you’ve willingly laid down over the last year.” I honor that brother. He experienced the mindset of a servant. He opposed the flesh and chose the downgrade rather than the upgrade. May we all follow his example and become more like Jesus Christ!