Friday/Saturday, July 20/21
There are rules, I thought to myself. Airlines have rules about how big a person can be. Beyond a certain size, one must purchase two seats so that they do not impinge on the comfort of the other passengers. I was thinking about this as I buckled myself in for the 8 hour flight from Detroit to Amsterdam. The airline should give me a partial refund for this seat, I said to myself, because 20% of it is being taken up by the lady next to me.
There’s nothing like the discomforts of travel to bring out one’s true spiritual condition. I don’t think of myself as a mean person, but this situation wakened my flesh, and before long I was in a slow burn, thinking only of my rights and how others should be careful of them. Just as I was more or less settled, my large neighbor tapped me on the shoulder and said she needed to go to the lavatory. At that moment I felt absolutely no compassion for her situation, and I think my body language communicated that fact, because when she returned, she was a bit profuse in thanking me for my trouble. “Yeah, whatever,” I thought to myself. Her friendliness just heightened my resentment.
I was surprised by my attitude and the blatant selfishness it demonstrated. This was not a Christlike response to the situation. I remembered the Home Fellowship Bible study on humility that we published the day before. “Whenever you tenaciously hold a grudge,” Byron wrote, “because someone either intentionally or unintentionally hurt you, remember that Jesus came down!” Or how ’bout this one: “Whenever you feel as if life has handed you a raw deal and you deserve better, remember Jesus came down!” Here I was on a mission trip, demonstrating everything but Christ. Later I couldn’t bring myself to talk to this woman about the true nature of my trip because I didn’t want to associate the name of Christ with my earlier demeanor.
You can learn a lot from this sort of experience if you’re paying attention. Perhaps the most obvious lesson is “don’t think too highly of yourself.” Be careful of overestimating your progress in sanctification. As C. S. Lewis put it, a good Christian always keeps one nostril tuned to the cesspool of his own depravity. We need to stay honest about just how petty and trifling and piggish we are. As I think about the level of discomfort (I dare not call it suffering) it took to derail me, I am ashamed, and I must confess that I am not a very good Christian yet and beg for grace to do better.
The second lesson I take is this: Imitating Christ in his condescension—in his emptying of himself—is critical to all service to the mission of Christ. To share the message of Christ requires the self-sacrificing humility of Christ. Not that I can’t witness until I’m perfected, but sharing the gospel requires us to “count others more significant that yourselves” (Philippians 2:3, ESV). Had I stopped to notice that whatever discomfort I experienced was an opportunity to share in the sufferings of Christ, I could have cheerfully served my neighbor and openly shared my faith without making Jesus look bad.
Set yourself aside.