Saturday, September 21, 2013

Embracing Obscurity- Chapter 1

(A few friends and I are reading this book together. Each week we are reading one chapter. On Fridays, I am posting my comments, then giving them the opportunity to add their thoughts as well. If you would like to join us or simply find out more about the book, you can read about it here.)

Chapter 1: One in a Billion

- In this chapter, the author uses several tactics to point out how insignificant we are, despite our personal thoughts on the matter.  He points to the sheer number of humans on earth, the incredible detail and quantity of living organisms, the enormity of the expanse of the known creation, and the fact that most of us will live and die relatively unnoticed in the grand scheme of things.

- I can't specifically remember a time when a huge number of people just impressed on me my insignificance.  The closest thing I could come up with was at an international marketplace near Christmas a couple of years ago.  Several things added together to really make me feel disconnected from the event and from the other people there.  As a result, I felt very insignificant.  Do any of you have a "moment" as he referred to?

- Numbers can get so big that they lose their force.  In those instances, comparison can do much to give perspective.  His scaling down the numbers about the sun, the solar system, and the Milky Way made it much clearer for me: "If our solar system were represented on a twelve-inch ruler, our sun ... would be smaller than the period at the end of this sentence.  On this same scale, our galaxy, The Milky Way, would be larger than the Pacific Ocean." (Page 8)  Wow!  (By the way, any of you following the story of the Voyager 1 probe leaving the solar system after ... 36 years?  Think how long it'll take to get out of the Milky Way!)

- He said that many men and women of God "have come to think little of themselves in light of all that God is and does."  (Page 9)  In meditating on this, I noticed some flawed thinking in my own mind.  When I picture thinking little of myself, I imagine me actively putting down and/or devaluing myself.  However, after reading this quote, I think the emphasis is more on the fact that we are thinking so much of God and what He does, that there is little room for us to even think of ourselves.

- I will admit that my flesh wants more recognition.  I want people to see how good of a ________ I am.  I want people to see they were wrong in their opinions of me.  I want more people who look up to me, etc.  I was challenged by the thought that very few of us truly want less of these things, yet that should by my mindset.

- After pointing out that, in the big picture, we all live in obscurity already, he mentions that we each have the "choice of whether to embrace personal obscurity- an obscurity of heart as much as position."  (Page 11)  I don't know what he is going to say in the rest of the book, but for me, this is the key thought of the book.  Will my heart be content with being obscure, so that "Christ can be made more known?"  (Page 13)

- I like his discussion questions.  (Most books' discussion questions disappoint me.)  I thought #7 was good for me: "How would you describe the difference between an obscurity of position and an obscurity of heart?" (Page 14)  I would say that obscurity of position is something that we all have.  Obscurity of heart is a choice we make that is counter-intuitive, for it goes against our sinful nature.  We choose to direct our thoughts to our God's importance, rather than dwelling on our own. 

I've had my say, what say you?

Discussion on Introduction
Discussion on Chapter 2


  1. Well, I found my Kindle…under the seat of my car.

    I have felt a little obscure in large crowds at times. I recall being amazed at how many people were at Twins’ games and also a Panther’s preseason game. The world is so much larger than I realize. (The universe is so much larger…)

    Thomas a Kempis-“…truly to know and to despise ourselves.” It has intrigued me to hear of Jonathan Edwards and David Brainerd and other Puritanesque people speak of their great wickedness. It is such a far cry from today’s claim of “Well…nobody’s perfect!” (as if some are somehow close?!) The spirit of obscurity can have great connection to embracing total depravity. (And no, I don’t believe in total inability…)

    “To live and die unnoticed seems a grave injustice. Yet for the vast majority of us, has God called us to anything else.” A good quote. Paul was quite noticed, but the reason he was noticed was not really him. “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed. Now if Christ be preached…” While God may call people to be “noticed”, his ultimate goal is to life up Himself. At times, He will use people to lift up Himself.

    I may have to meditate on this one some more: “obscurity comes in two forms: It can be either assigned (by God) or chosen (by us).” I’m not sure I understand all he is saying here.

    I love his illustration about the boy’s lunch. The boy is often forgotten, and in a sense, that is ok. Jesus is the point of the passage.

    I look forward to the coming chapters!

  2. There have been times when I was at a concert or sports event and felt somewhat insignificant, but I think laying under the clear, starry night away from city lights had a greater effect on my realization of insignificance. Seeing an innumerable amount of stars and knowing they are so vast and incomparable in size made me marvel at the speck of a speck I was in this universe.

    This book is hitting on an issue that I struggle with... "what will people think." While I believe we should care about our testimony and such, I see how I often cross that line and delve into the issue this book is addressing.

    Here are the other quotes that I had appreciated:

    "As uncomfortable as is the prospect, unimportance is good for the soul." - (location 138 - still could not find page numbers...grrr.). I don't ever recall a sermon on the benefit of seeking unimportance.

    "That's what embracing obscurity is all about: being content with being 'relatively unknown' so that Christ can be made more known. Temporarily going hungry so that many more may be filled." (location 219). Here the author did well in showing the purpose in embracing obscurity.

    I also thought his discussion questions were well chosen. I was wondering if Jacob was going to use them as a springboard for any review/discussion. In response to question 2, "Do you think our culture encourages people to feel important," all I could think of was iPhone, iPad, "Have it your way," "believe in yourself," and the other evidences of the answer being a resounding "yes."

    I recently met family on my biological father's side for the first time in my life. My half-siblings are brains, studying to be research doctor, psychologist, while my cousin who I met today is an attorney and multiple time champion endurance horse race winner. I was tempted to open my mouth and talk about my rank in my graduation class, grades, accomplishments (seemingly very little), in an attempt to feel as important and accomplished as they. Hearing their relatives brag on them and talk so much about them, I quickly saw in my own heart how this issue of embracing obscurity is needed in my life. So often, we want recognition for things that in eternity will have no real importance.

  3. My moment of insignificance would be walking the streets of NYC on my senior class trip. Just the mass of people swarming by our little group of Christian school seniors from small town WV.

    Just an odd side note, I actually feel more significant at sports games in which I am rooting for the home team. Even in a stadium of 80,000 people, if they are all on my side I feel as bigger because I am part of a crowd. Stopping to think of my part in the crowd makes you feel small, but being in a crowd with a common goal brings significance.

    I agree with Bro Jacob, the discussion questions have been pretty good. Especially #5 of this chapter, Does the idea of obscurity in this life sit well with you? In reality, no it doesn't. Not at all. But we called to be stewards and servants, not kings.