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White Knuckles

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White Knuckles

By Jake Hannon 

Philippians 2:5-6 (MSG)

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what.

Have you ever heard a coach tell you, "quit squeezing the stick so hard and just relax out there"? If so, you were probably nervous and were making bad plays on the ice because you were unable to settle into the game and play with calmness and confidence. And, as a result of your stick-squeezing, your knuckles probably turned white inside your gloves.

When I first read the verse above - and specifically the word "cling" in the Message Paraphrase Bible -the Lord brought to my memory an exercise we used to do during boot camp. We would do a pull up on a bar and then hold our chin above the bar for as long as possible. Usually, the strongest of the group would only be able to do about a minute before getting tired. Talk about white knuckles. If you have ever done an exercise like this or been that nervous hockey player (like I was so often), you know how tiring and stressful it can be on your body try to cling to things. It is not natural. We would much rather be loose and free from clinging.

Well, the same can be said about clinging to things that are not physical - like clinging to our status. Have you ever found yourself in that draining situation when someone was constantly challenging your status? Or maybe you work in an environment that is dominated by competition and strife and you are constantly tempted to look after yourself and forget others in the process. We all know what it is like to feel like we have to protect our status and prove ourselves. It is exhausting! (Note that I am not talking about trying to make a team or trying to be the best at what you do - I believe God loves when we work and sweat in the Kingdom! What I am talking about is losing the mind of Christ when we become so focused on trying to look after ourselves.)
As Paul writes here in Philippians, even Jesus - who was God and could act however he wanted to on earth - set aside his status as God by letting go and opening his hands to release his God-advantages. Jesus did not have white knuckles. In fact, quite the opposite happened - his open hands were eventually nailed into a cross to paint the ultimate picture of humble love.

I think we can all say that we are tempted to try to cling to our status in some way or another. And, a lot of the time, we might not have the best motives when doing so. However, our reasons for clinging are not always bad. I would argue that one of the major reasons we cling to our status is because we are afraid that we won't make an impact if we don't! For instance, in my time coaching, I found myself trying to exalt Jake Hannon so that I could keep the ear of my players. I was just trying to do my job! But sometimes, even this well intentioned use of status can get in the way of communicating love to others. Regardless of our motives, clinging is not a God-designed practice for His children. He wants us to let go of everything we fight for so that He can be the One to cling for us and hold our lives together. Thus, Paul says to "Think of (our)selves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself" by living a "selfless" life.

Often times when we read the Bible it can be very easy to interpret the instructions of the New Testament authors as heavy-laden and burdensome commands. However, I want to argue here that Paul's exhortation to let go of our pride is not intended to control us or impose rules on us; rather, he writes this for our benefit and extreme bliss in the Lord. I think there are two reasons in this passage that it is just plain BETTER to operate in humility!

1. Despite the fact that it makes sense to exalt ourselves in this world, we will actually have more impact through humility. Check out verses 9-11of this same chapter in Philippians:

When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal's death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord...(MSG, emphasis added).

Clearly, Jesus the servant had a greater impact than Jesus the God. In fact, Jesus the God could not have communicated this type of selfless love to us without becoming our servant. The point of Jesus coming to earth was to show the world love through humility. When we grasp Jesus' example, we have no reason to be afraid of not making an impact when we choose to open our hands and let God be the One to raise us up and protect our status and influence. He promises that He will exalt us and give us an amazing platform to impact the world: Luke 14:11 - Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

2. When we let go of our status we are finally allowed to rest. Instead of wasting all of our time and effort on protecting ourselves, we are freed up to move with the ebbs and flows of the Holy Spirit and actually love those around us. We can settle into life and live with confidence instead of insecurity. Like the calm and poised veteran hockey player, we get into a rhythm and forget about "squeezing the stick" so hard and just enjoy the beauty of a God-protected, God-impactful, and God-glorifying existence. God promises that He will raise us up and we don't have to worry about fighting our battles - He loves to fight for us. The times that He can't fight for us are when we are hogging all the battles by fighting for ourselves!

So, as Paul suggests in the beginning of Philippians 2, Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Let's do it because it is way better to serve. Let's do it because God will respond and raise us up when we stop trying on your own. Let's do it because we were created to be humble and full of the joy of Christ. Let's do it because we will wake up every day full of peace and fulfillment. Let's do it because white knuckles is a bad look on us!!!

Discussion Questions

  1. When have you been tempted to push others aside to get what you want?
  2. When have you seen God raise you up?
  3. When has humility felt good for you?
  4. Why should we be humble?

About the Author

Jake is a 2013 graduate of Liberty University and played one season with the Flames.  Before attending Liberty in 2011 for his last season of college eligibility, Jake spent two years playing for NCAA Division III Amherst College and one year playing for NCAA Division I Army.  The former defenseman has four years of Junior Hockey experience before college as well, having spent time in the USHL, EJHL, NAHL, and CJHL at various points in his career. After college, Jake spent one year as the Liberty Hockey Team Chaplain before being offered the position of Assistant Coach for the team. After two years of coaching the Flames, Jake was called into full time ministry in Buffalo, NY. Jake now lives in Buffalo and serves as the Buffalo Niagara Area Representative for FCA. Jake is married to Rebecca and the couple has three children - Grace (2), Daniel (1), and Gabby (1 month).

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