Condescending: Seriously Bad & Gloriously Good

Baby feet in cloth

Ooh. That sounded condescending, I confessed seconds after using the phrase, “So cute.” The topic? Christmas decor.

What does condescending mean? asked the 13 year-old son.

Like you’re God’s gift to the people you’re with. I paused, As if they’re beneath you and you’re so great to get on their level and give them the time of day.

Oh, he said.

I didn’t tell him the Latin part.  

Condescending Is Seriously Bad

I can be condescending. The bad way—the smug, snooty, Seriously?! way. The, How could you not know that? way. I don’t say it. But sometimes I think it. And thinking it even once is too often for a child of God.

But I begin to think how good it is of me to “go low” and help someone “up.” Even with “so cute” Christmas decor. That thought betrays my pride. For humility is not thinking less of yourself, Lewis said, it’s thinking of yourself less. Jesus said, Don’t let your left hand know.

Bad condescending is bad not only because it’s proud, but because it lacks sympathy. I condescend the bad way when I feel like the people I’m “gracing” with my insight or presence should know better or know more or fear less and trust more.

I’m not alone in that mire. Even the great preacher C.H. Spurgeon confided,

There are distresses to which God’s people are subject with which their fellow Christians can have but little sympathy. Some Christians whom I have tried at times to comfort, have had fears so silly that I have felt more inclined to laugh at them than to console them.

I must have more sympathy to condescend the good way. Because there is a good way.

Aunt Merriam says to condescend means 1: to assume an air of superiority, 2: to descend to a less formal or dignified level; to waive the privileges of rank. Number one is bad. Number two is the good.

Now here’s that Latin part. Condescendere comes from the Latin words con- which means ‘with’ or ‘together’ + descendere which means to ‘descend’ or ‘come down.’

A question for us: When we descend to be with another, is it with love and sympathy or pride and superiority?

Condescending Is Gloriously Good

The God way is the good way. Philippians 2, verses 6 and 7 explains the “good” condescension so beautifully,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

Do you see it? Almighty God condescends to us, not by reminding us of our smallness and neediness, but rather by stooping down to make us great. The All Wise God who does great things beyond our understanding speaks to the creature in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, the Word made flesh. The Holy God in whom there is no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.

Have you ever sung that old hymn “Come, Christians, Join To Sing,” by C.H. Bateman? Here’s the second verse:

Come, lift your hearts on high,
Alleluia! Amen!
let praises fill the sky;
Alleluia! Amen!
he is our Guide and Friend;
to us he’ll condescend;
his love shall never end.
Alleluia! Amen!

Did you see it again? God’s condescending love is worthy of our praise. God’s is gloriously good condescension; his condescension is free from pride and full of sympathy. Spurgeon—and I— know that even when we are unsympathetic and condescend in the bad way, our God in not like us. Thank God he is not like us.

Now our God is so tender and gentle that He even condescends to deal with our silly fears…His gentleness shows itself in His being afflicted in our afflictions and entering into our sorrows, and putting Himself side by side with us in the battle of spiritual life.

C.H. Spurgeon, Divine Gentleness ackknowledged

Condescension like that makes me want to worship Christ the newborn King. Oh yes our God condescends.

And not just to the whole wide world, but to sinful, needy you and sinful, needy me.

God Condescends

Fourteen years ago last month, I made a once in a lifetime announcement. With Jim’s family gathered around to say grace before Thanksgiving dinner, I asked if I could recite a Psalm.

It was Psalm 13, a condescension Psalm.

Who is like the Lord our God,
    the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
    on the heavens and the earth?

He raises the poor from the dust
    and lifts the needy from the ash heap;

he seats them with princes,
    with the princes of his people.
He settles the barren woman in her home
    as a joyful mother of children.


The Lord who is enthroned on high nevertheless stooped to look down upon me. He was mindful of my humble estate. After ten years of barrenness, he remembered me. He came down with me and lifted me from the heap.

The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianiy

But our Lord condescends in everyday ways too. Today he gave me peace in conflict and strength to forgive again. Then he allowed a cancelled session which gave me time to finish a report. In big and small ways, God stoops down.

But He did it biggest at Christmas.

Christmas Is About Condescension

I think C.S. Lewis saw it that way. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body, he wrote. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab. (Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 5)

That condescending conversation in the van last night brought this song to mind in the morning. You might like it.

Who but God would send his Son
To condescend and make himself the likes of a mere mortal man

For in the end, condescend is one of the sweetest, most Christmasy words I know. It’s why we stretch Advent out. Because in the incarnation, God did way more than just come down and give us a hand. More than just step out of his castle for an evening of revelry with his serfs at Ye Olde Pub. Oh, no. Infinitely more.

He became one of us. He took on our weakness, sympathized with our weakness and bore our sin. The Creator became a creature. Like us becoming slugs but far more shocking. Who would condescend like this?

All glory be to Christ. Who but God.

Who is like the Lord our God,
    the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
    on the heavens and the earth?

Psalm 113:7

Gabriel Speaks

I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.

Luke 1:19b

Some of you know this story, but lots of you do not. And this is of all the days the best day to tell it. So here it goes.

Once upon on time, ten years ago today- but it truly began nine months before that or really even eight or seven
Yes, it was ten years plus seven months ago, Gabriel, when you first made your presence known.

But I really must rewind

Because it was ten years before these last ten years-

Twenty whole years ago, it was

In January when Dad and I- we two, were joined as one.

For most of those first ten years (Big brother came by plane after nine)

We hoped and prayed and tried (how we hoped and prayed and tried, and too much, I think, I cried)

And doctors consulted, tried this and that, and poked around inside

But all their methods failed- it just wasn’t the right time.

And empty wombs like empty stomachs sometimes ache 

But God’s children run their race and walk by faith and trust the promises true-

That our trials produce steadfastness and character and a hope that will not disappoint

That  no good thing will He withhold and they that wait upon the Lord will be renewed.

So we stopped the procedures and we ceased striving and tried less hard.

But still in faith we prayed, in His love we hoped, and life kept racing on

Then one fall- that fall Aunt Char and I decided, Sure, let’s run it all.

And I remember how

That September, my coffee didn’t taste as good and I was suddenly ready for bed by seven

Then came October, and snow,

But we sisters plowed on and  drove six hours north

To run that 26.2 mile course.

(Run we did -we three, the third, still unbeknownst to me- and we finished the race in four hours, give or take.)

Next week I took a test I’d taken a dozen or more times before

But this time, the stripes said YES, YES, YES- it’s true

Your frame was being finely woven by then for eight whole weeks

But that was when I first found out for sure about you.

And now tonight, ten-year old son,  I pinch myself and think how loud your name rings true

You are our YES  to countless prayers that God would grant us love’s sweet fruit

Your presence with your brother “HEARD OF GOD” was so good we prayed for more

But God, for righteous reasons only He knows

Has not again opened to us that door.

You are no angel, but still you are a messenger to tell

That God alone sets the times and the seasons and even the days

And that no good thing does He withhold

That His ways are not our ways (and that is all okay).

It’s been ten years today since I laid eyes on that long-lashed, lovely baby boy- and I never want to forget the messages I heard then

That we’d best keep running and look to Jesus even when we ache a lot.

That it’s when we cease striving that we can know that He is  God

And that the best gifts can’t be bought.

Because, after all, Who is like the Lord our God who sits on high and humbles himself to behold things in heaven and on earth? 

That’s is good news God sent you to tell us Gabriel, messenger of God.

Who is like the LORD our God,

Who dwells on high,

Who humbles himself to behold

Things in the heavens and in the earth?

He raises the poor out of the dust,

And lifts the needy out of the ash heap,

He gives the barren woman a home,

Making her the joyous mother of children.

Praise the LORD!

Psalm 113:5-7, 9

The Hardest Part: Waiting is not an interruption. It is God’s plan.

Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.

This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Isaiah 25:9

When, Mom? How many more hours until they come? 

The party starts in 9 hours and 20 minutes, Gabe.

Is that a long time, Mom? 

Yes, Gabe.

Now jump back with me 2,000 years. Think of the disciples. Imagine their wait. The risen Christ had appeared twice to the disciples.
But it wasn’t the same as before. Don’t cling to me, he’d said. I go. I am ascending to my Father and yours, he’d told Mary.
But Jesus had left the disciples but hadn’t ascended yet. Between the surprise dinner on Day 8 and Ascension on Day 40, there was a wait. Can you imagine their restless,  what should we do now wait?  

Peter went fishing. Gabe went out to play.

Waiting is our set stage.

Some friends have been waiting a long time in the adoption line. They’d waited awhile even before they “announced” their double Russian referrals to our Bible study with adorable, baby-blue frosted airplane cookies. That was almost four years before this. Before US-Russian relations dropped and our friends’ boy referrals did too.

But they kept waiting. Months later, a referral for another boy from another country came. But he was not to be their son either.  They stayed on the stage a few more months until another referral came. And kept waiting.

Then last month my friend posted this update:

We’ve moved on to the next step of waiting for approval! This did mean a flurry of things had to happen, including paperwork to get his visa and social security number, which meant [we] had to settle on what we were going to do about his name. 

I’ve read the wait doesn’t stop once you’re matched, traveling or back home. Considering we’ve been in the waiting stage (of various types) for a looooong time now, it was good to read that we might just never truly leave that stage and to mentally prepare for that.

You never truly leave that stage. She gets it. This side of heaven, we wait. From a seven-year old’s count-down to be eight to an eighty-seven year old’s count-down to be clothed, all creation waits.

Not An Interruption

For the Christian, waiting is where it’s at.

Our lives are on God’s stage. His choice crew are the Sanctified Waiters. Like Simeon, who waited for the consolation of Israel, and Joseph of Arimathea, who waited for the Kingdom of God.  

It’s where God shows up and shows himself strong. It’s the where we see God act. Surely no one has a seen like ours who works for those who wait for him.  

For the Christian, writes Paul Tripp, waiting is not an interruption of the plan. It is the plan.

Knowing that it’s part of God’s good plan doesn’t make it easy. Tom Petty’s lines are timeless, the waiting is the hardest part. We’re right there with Job- God’s servant Job-when we cry, What strength do I have, that I should still hope? And what are my prospects that I should be patient? (Job 6:11)

It takes great strength to wait. Weak people cave. David knew the connection. Be strong, and let your heart take courage and wait for the LORD (27:14).

God gives strength to the weary not after we wait but while we wait. While we we groan inwardly, we wait eagerly. That’s a good, hard Romans 8 wait.

Worth The Wait

We appreciate more who most patiently wait. The hours fasting before dinner make it that much tastier. Planning the trip is half the fun.

When we wait, we gain, what Jane Austen called, “that sanguine expectation of happiness which is happiness itself.” Maybe it’s not quite that sublime, but it’s true that anticipation of a good thing ahead eases the ache.

But still there is the ache. Waiting is a slow burn with undisclosed outcomes and uncertain timeframes. It tests our patience and tries our faith.

Waiting brings out old idols and can push us toward new ones, like control and self-pity and food and drink abuse too. We say, But if I only knew. It’s this not knowing that makes it so hard.  

In His Place, At His Pace is Hard. And Good.

Exactly. Waiting hard and good. We feel how hard it is. But we need to know that it’s good, because we might not feel that.

Waiting is good because our willingness to wait reveals the value we place on that for which we wait. When we wait for God, as John Piper puts it, in his place and at his pace-we show the watching world that He is worth the wait.

They see God’s worth when we don’t forge ahead with our own plans. But we must be on guard, because waiting tempts us in two big ways.

Two Waiting Temptations

Waiting can tempt us too take a rash detour– to get on with our plan and away from the wait- or to give up altogether. I’ve known both.

We were married ten years before God opened my womb. Mostly I despised that wait in that barren place. I was desperate to bear new life, at reckless price. But for Jim’s resolve, I might have taken a rash detour, taken up a plan, but not his. Only by God’s grace did I stay in his place. 

A few days ago our friends got “the call.” After years on the domestic stage, they fly in sixteen days. When God says move, I guess you move, my friend wrote. By his grace, they go at his pace. 

This is why we, who he created for his glory, are here. We are on this waiting stage to showcase his grace, to show others that the glory of our God is worth our wait.  I waited patiently for the LORD, he inclined to me and heard my cry. Many will see and fear, and put their hope in the LORD (Psalm 40:1,3). 

The off-stage watchers will see us wait for our God to act and, the Psalmist said, will put their hope in our Lord too.

What are you waiting for?

Your house to sell or to finally be well? A conception at last or a loved one to pass? Change in our nation or a child’s salvation? For family peace or conflict to cease?

Take heart: The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him (Lamentations 3:25).

Wait for it. Wait for Him. Stay the course. And remember, right now, at this very second, The eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is whole toward him (2 Chronicles 16:9)

God is looking to help you wait well. Which means we don’t lose heart. We do the next thing.

Like Peter did.

Do the next thing.  

Somewhere between week two and day forty, after leaving peace with the locked-in Eleven, Jesus appeared to seven.  And he revealed himself this way:

Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out into the boat, but that night they caught nothing (John 21:2-3).

They did the next thing, while they waited. Remember what happened then?

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net n the right side of the boat and you will find some.”

The rest is history. Peter strips down, throws himself into the sea and they see the Lord for whom they’ve waited.

And guess what? While they were waiting in the boat, doing the next thing, Jesus was on the shore working for them.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread…Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” And Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead (John 21:9,12-14). 

This is our God. He works while we wait. He serves his servants and calls them his friends.

And One Day, we will finally exit this waiting stage. The Director will write us off.

And then we will say, You were worth the wait. 

From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.  Isaiah 64:4