The Joy of Downward Mobility

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(Originally posted December 2002)
Upward mobility is at the heart of the American Dream. You can do better, you should aim higher, you should get that promotion, you should make more money, you should move into a nicer house and buy (or lease) a newer car. Your retirement plan should allow you to maintain or even improve the comfortable healthy life you have worked so hard for.

The Christian community has slipped into the upward mobility mindset too. In ¢â‚¬Ëœhealth-wealth” circles, people are specifically taught that the sign of God’s blessing is your material wealth and physical well-being. But such thinking, rejected by many evangelicals, is warmly embraced in Bruce Wilkinson’s ¢â‚¬ËœPrayer of Jabez’; who wouldn’t want to expand their borders? Over 9 million copies of this 93 page book flew off the shelves! Even before ¢â‚¬ËœJabez’ the economically and professionally ¢â‚¬Ëœsuccessful’ Christian was said ¢â‚¬Ëœto be blessed by God.’

The Christmas story is a shocking rejection of our upwardly mobile ideal. Jesus left heaven for earth, abandoned boundless eternity for the limits of time and took on the humiliation of a physical body. This was the single most downwardly mobile event in all of human history. And yet, it was God’s plan and intentional choice to descend to our planet, ¢â‚¬Ëœpuking and mewling’ and to be born in a stable with its’ smells of animal urine and excrement. This was God’s will and it changed the world. As C.S. Lewis has said, ¢â‚¬ËœThe central miracle asserted by Christmas is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man¢â‚¬¦If the thing happened, it was the central event in the history of the Earth.

But now turn from Jesus’ life and history, to your life and your story. Let’s see how God wants to change your world.

Whether you are a healthy, ¢â‚¬Ëœsuccessful’ American living the dream, or someone who is striving to get there and hasn’t quite arrived but hopes to, or someone who has given up or never even wanted to get higher in the material food chain or on the status ladder, this means God could want you to go, lower. Whether through a career derailment, a financial setback, ill health, tragedy or old age (which may return us exquisitely to the puking and mewling of our infancy), each of us will one day descend from our self-sufficient linear path upwards and onwards to a road seldom taken voluntarily for it is the road that will lead to our literal or figurative death. If handled well it leads to a better, more joyful life than we have known.

You rationalize, God knows me and my limits, He knows I couldn’t take it, or He knows my abilities and has blessed me because I have offered them to Him or God knows what a bad testimony to my friends who will say ¢â‚¬Ëœhe trusted God and look where it got him,’ or I have served faithfully all these years and my reward is this humiliation? Similar pleas by Job and maybe even Jesus, who did after all ask ¢â‚¬Ëœthat this cup be taken from me,’ did not dissuade God from sending them lower, and He could choose the same for you. And though you cannot see it now it could be your ticket to the joy that has eluded you.

For in the second chapter of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians it becomes clear that one of the great counterintuitive spiritual laws is that our fullest joy may be the pot-of-gold found only at the end of the rainbow-path of downward mobility.

Jesus made himself of no reputation.
He emptied himself.
Jesus took on the form of a servant, and humbled himself, and become obedient even unto death.

You want to rush to the ¢â‚¬Ëœtherefore’ where we are told, ¢â‚¬Ëœtherefore God highly exalted Him.’ If you want to rush to your glorification you do not believe there is joy and value in your humiliation. You still believe only in upward mobility can your joy be made full. Only in your success can your character and hard work be vindicated and ¢â‚¬Ëœyour God’ glorified (because after all, when we succeed it is another proof to unbelieving friends that ¢â‚¬Ëœour God reigns’).

Look then at the true promise of downward mobility:
¢â‚¬¢ It is God’s will and therefore submission to it pleases Him and produces joy.
¢â‚¬¢ It is humiliating and therefore produces humility.
¢â‚¬¢ It is crucifying, so the person has died who held those childish proud remnants of unregenerate, culturally conforming thoughts of their worth being measured by their upward mobility.
¢â‚¬¢ And it allows us to find true community with other Christians ¢â‚¬Ëœbeing of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.’

Isn’t it odd that what we often seek to avoid, our humiliation and our death (spiritual or literal), is the pathway to what we seek most–true joy and oneness in community?

So should we seek downward mobility? No. In God’s time it will seek us. And when it finds us, we should be ready to suffer the rich consequences offered by our downward spiraling, receiving should we chose to–JOY!

Remember Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding it’s shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

‚©2002 Dick Staub, CRS Communications

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