Advent Podcast Day 17: “Glory Thieves”

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

Devotional Text: Luke 1:51-53

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Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 19, 2017, and this is Day 17 of my series of Advent podcasts. You’re listening to a 15th- or 16th-century English Christmas carol—sung in the original Latin, no less!—by one of my favorite bands, an English folk rock group called Steeleye Span. Believe it or not, they had a Top 15 hit in Britain in 1972 with this song! A translation would begin, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Christ is born of the Virgin Mary. Rejoice!/ The hour of grace which we seek is here/ We offer with devotion our songs of gladness… God is made man/ A thing of wonder/ The world is renewed by Christ’s reign.” You can look up the rest.

My scripture today is Luke 1:51-53, which comes from Mary’s song, the Magnificat:

He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

In my sermon last Sunday, I was preaching about the kind of surrender to God’s will, to God’s plan, to God’s purposes that is implied in Mary’s words in Luke 1:38: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.” I said that just as Mary surrendered, so we need to surrender:

Surrendering doesn’t mean asking Jesus for advice on how to live; it doesn’t mean asking him to help us out of a jam every now and then; it doesn’t mean asking him to be our personal assistant; it doesn’t mean asking him to be our life coach. It means he’s in charge. It means that what he wants, he gets. It means that we’re happy to give it to him—because we’re not living for ourselves; we’re living for him.

Then I asked the congregation to think about recent experiences with anger: “Did you get angry because you squandered an opportunity to do God’s will, to glorify God, to put the interests of God and neighbor ahead of your own?”

Even as I was asking these questions, I heard laughter in the congregation: Of course we don’t get angry about those things! We get angry when we don’t get our way. When we don’t get the glory for ourselves to which we feel entitled. When our plans get disrupted.

We love Mary’s words of surrender in Luke 1:38, yet more often than not we say—through our actions—“Here I am, servant of myself. Let it be to me according to my word.” Because what I say goes.

In a new Advent devotional book called Come, Let Us Adore Him, pastor Paul David Tripp writes the following:

You see, our problem is not just that we live in a broken world and that its brokenness enters our doors; beneath that reality is a much deeper problem. We have a glory problem. We have preferred living for ourselves over living for something and someone bigger than ourselves. In our marriages, in our parenting, in our work, in our friendships, and in the church, we have made life all about us. We have tended to reduce the active field of our concern down to the tiny confines of our wants, our needs, our plans, our satisfaction, and our happiness. It’s not wrong to want some control, or to want to be right, or to like beautiful possessions, or to be surrounded by a community of love, but it’s wrong and spiritually dangerous for those things to rule your heart.[1]

He goes on to say that sin has made all of us “glory thieves”: we steal for ourselves the glory that belongs to God alone. And of course this makes us miserable. We simply weren’t created to live for our own glory.

Yet I wonder if this sinful desire to glorify myself isn’t my main struggle in life!

Twenty-five years ago, my first job out of college was in sales. I was mentored by an older, well-seasoned, and successful salesperson named Alec. He told me more than once that money—of which he had plenty—wasn’t a big motivator for his success: “I want recognition,” he said. Given my own modest commission checks at the time, I thought that was insane. Now, however, I totally know what he means. Unfortunately.

Oh how desperately I crave “recognition”! God help me, I am a glory thief!

When I answered the call into ministry thirteen years ago, I did so believing that God and I had an “understanding”—an agreement. If I could put this agreement in words, it would sound something like this:

“God, if I do this for you—give up a relatively successful engineering career, uproot my family, sell my house, go to seminary, make all kinds of financial sacrifices along the way—I need you to ensure that everyone—including my district superintendent and bishop—will love me and praise me and think I’m God’s gift to preaching and pastoral ministry, that I’ll move up church ladder of success, that I’ll make plenty of money, and that I’ll become bishop before I’m 45!”

Well, I’m 47 now, so how did that turn out?

Since I recognized that I was a glory thief about seven or eight years ago and began making faltering attempts at repentance, God, out of his great mercy, has frequently disciplined me—often using circumstances in my life to keep my pride in check… well, more like stomping my ego flat.

It re-inflates very easily, but maybe I’m a little less “puffed up” each time.

In our Wesleyan tradition, we have a prayer that we often pray—especially during this time of year—called the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer. It used to be featured in Methodist “Watch Night” services on New Year’s Eve. Most Methodist churches don’t have Watch Night services anymore, but the prayer remains, and it’s a good one. If we could only live it out, it would kill the glory thief within.

Let’s make this our prayer today:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

1. Paul David Tripp, Come, Let Us Adore Him (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 46.

4 thoughts on “Advent Podcast Day 17: “Glory Thieves””

  1. AMEN!!

    Too many Christians see their relationship with God as, “What can God do for me?” They pray for protection, health, prosperity, peace of mind, and so on. They don’t pray that God call them out, use them, and bless others through them.

    I like the story of Mother Teresa, that when she was old and infirm the younger Sisters implored her to slow down and not go out into the streets to help the poor and sick so much, saying that she had done enough. She replied, “I must. God hasn’t yet finished emptying me”.

    That’s glorious!

  2. Very good post! I suffer from being a “glory thief” as well. If I write a letter to the editor, it very well should get published, doggonit! A good reminder.

    1. I’m with you. I’ll never get enough of what I need if I think I need praise, recognition, and attention of others.

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