Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

September 2006
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The End of Our Pursuit

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

Why does humanity exist? Norman Grubb answers: “Not to become something but to contain Someone.”

When I went to the Congo as a young missionary, I faced a very real question to which I sought an answer. What had I really to take to those people? What had I in myself?

Mind you, I was an earnest young missionary. I was not short of consecration. I was not short of commitment. I had a continuing prayer and Bible-reading life. Jesus Christ had become my Savior. I knew that my life was to be Jesus Christ to other people. And yet I didn’t have what it took; I had the wrong idea of life. It became necessary to have some reorientations of my understanding of things.

My concept of life had become distorted because I had been thinking, “There is love and faith and power and holiness in the Bible, and I’m sure God will kind of impart it to me somehow, so that I will become a loving person, a believing person, a powerful person.” I could not see for the life of me but that I should become something.

This, then, was the first and greatest problem: a misunderstanding of what life is. I think we all start there. It is really a product of the fall: We interpret life as something that we live ourselves; so that even when we become born again of God’s Spirit, and saved through the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we still interpret life as something we are living now. We have a job to do, a home to run, and so we seek to live a life in contact with God through Jesus Christ, so we can get assistance and guidance and leadership from Him.

I had to discover that this was not life at all, rather that life is a total reverse of it. Life is not an assistance or an addition; it is a replacement. There is only one Person who really lives in the whole universe, and that is the living God Himself. He is the One who is the Three, who is self-giving love. He is the One who is the love of the universe. And we humans exist that we may be means by which He expresses Himself. Humanity itself exists to express Deity.

In order to get that into focus, I had to go through stages of destruction, making room for construction. The initial stage, of course, is when we at last face the fact that we are sinners. We recognize that we are cut off from God, and that there is something that He did which we could not do, when He came in the Person of Jesus Christ and wiped out all the consequences of our sin with the shedding of His precious blood.

When we come to Him we do not receive a past option, we receive a present Person who died for us. He comes into our hearts and there is born a love for Him that is not our love. The proof that we are redeemed is that the love in our hearts for Jesus Christ is greater than our love for ourselves.

But because of the false concept of life that we have, even though we are born anew we still tend to think, “Now we have the Lord Jesus Christ. We shall live for Him and work for Him.” So once again we have to go down, not up, to learn another great lesson. We human selves do not do what we should do – that is true. But it is equally true that we human selves cannot do what we should do. We have to discover not only our guilt but our helplessness.

We Come to a Second Crash

As unredeemed sinners we come face to face with our guilt and our lost condition. As redeemed new men we have to discover our helplessness; so that instead of counting ourselves able to live the Christian life and to do the kind of good we ought, we find ourselves positively unable. So we have to come to a second crash.

The first crash found us guilty sinners; the second crash finds us helpless saints, and it is a crash that is more difficult to recognize. I must come to a place where I find that life is not I living it, with God’s assistance and His partnership; rather it is He, an entirely other Person, living it, and I am the means by which He lives it as a replacement.

The simple surprise that God gave me in Africa was contained in the little phrase in the Bible, “God is love.” I saw that John was not saying “God has love,” but “God is love.” There is a big difference. If you have a thing, it is not you. I have a coat on my back, and if I take it off and give it to you, I am still here. Thus the New Testament does not teach that God has a thing called love which He gives to you. It says, “God is love.”

If that be true, then love is a Person. If God is love, the only self-giving love in the universe is one exclusive Person. It is not what He has and gives you, it is something that He is. He is not a Person who gives something, but rather One who is something.

I began studying further. I wanted power, and I discovered that the Bible teaches that Christ is the power of God. Not that Christ has the power, and utilizes it. He empowers a person because He is the Person; and all powers are manifestations of this one Person.

I came also to study the word “life.” We often speak of “having” eternal life. But I find that Jesus did not say, “I have the life and give it to you.” He says, “I am the Life.” Life is a Person. I came to the end of my pursuit when I found the little expression in Colossians 3:11, “Christ is all, and in all.” And there I discovered the reverse of my outlook on life.

I suddenly saw that the reason for the existence of humanity is not to become something, but to contain Someone. Not to become something built up by hard work; that is where our strains and stresses and guilt and condemnation arise. We are ashamed of ourselves; we ask, “Why am I not better?” We think that we ought to be changed, but we never change. What we receive is a new Person inside of us – which is quite a different thing.

To become something means that I have to be built up. To contain something means that the container doesn’t matter, but what it contains is important. Thus the New Testament gives us the A-B-C of living the Christian life: it tells us that we are to be vessels. “Vessel” is a very simple and humbling word. A vessel has no other reason for existing than its capacity to contain. It can just be a cup or a pot.

The End of My Pursuit

The basic lesson for time or eternity that we as humans are to learn is that we are vessels capable of containing God. The distortion of life that we got as a consequence of the fall makes it appear that life is “activity.” We like to live, to use our minds and wills. But the truth is that the secret of life is not activity, it is receptivity. Activity is only a product of receptivity.

God is the invisible Person, the only real Person in the universe. He is the love, the life, the wisdom, the all; but being an invisible Person, He must have a means of manifestation. The whole universe manifests Him and shows forth His glory, but God is still a Person. And you cannot see a person just in light, or in music, or in color. You can see something of him, but you cannot see that he is a person.

So God created persons to express His own Person by them. The basic purpose of us human beings therefore should be to become the vessels that contain Him. That means our permanent habit has to become receptivity rather than activity.

Love always makes it as easy as it can. God is love, and He has made humanity as easy as He can. If life is not easy for us, it is because we are not quite right yet. And the easiest possible function a person can conceive of is the function of receptivity. You just receive what is poured on you; you just take it. Nothing else.

If you look at nature, you see that a tree does not produce one leaf by activity. Vegetation receives. It has sunlight and moisture poured on it. What it receives it uses, but activity is only a product of receptivity. Thus did I begin to learn the basic secret of life.

The above are the words of Norman Grubb, quoted in No Other Foundation by DeVern Fromke (pp. 187-190).

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