Dream big! Take a leap of faith! Achieve greatness!
The motivational slogans are all around us. Success is ours if we embrace it. Strive for an extraordinary life. After all, we’re not only children of the King, we’re doing the King’s work. We are destined for great things.
Or are we?
Greatness – in the way it is generally understood - is not extolled in Scripture. Again and again, Jesus explained the way to greatness is the way of humility. We are to become like little children to enter the kingdom (Matthew 18:4). Great leaders in God’s eyes are those who are servants (Luke 22:26-27).
When Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs, they returned rejoicing at the great power they experienced over even the demons. But he rebuked them saying, “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Our boasting should not be about what we do, it should be about Who we belong to and what he has done.
Variations of the word humble appear in Scripture more than one hundred times. Even John the Baptist understood “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). There was no room for a celebrity role in John’s life and ministry, not when Jesus was to receive all the glory.
Yet we are bombarded with admonitions, even by other Christians, to achieve greatness. If we fail, we’re told it’s because we didn’t dream big enough, try hard enough, or have enough faith. Don’t settle for ordinary. Pursue extraordinary exploits or get out of the way so others can accomplish what you can’t.
Perhaps the problem is found in how we define ordinary. Pastor and author Tim Keller notes, “If Jesus became incarnate to live among the ordinary, then what we call ordinary is really special to God.” God values people. Ordinary people. People who understand they bring nothing of any worth to the table of salvation (Matthew 5:3) and who realize their greatest inheritance comes in response to a humble heart (Matthew 5:5).
C. S. Lewis once said, “Nothing can seem extraordinary until you have discovered what is ordinary.” It’s only when we toil in the ordinary that we discover what God sees as extraordinary.
- The pastor who spends a lifetime ministering to his congregation of thirty people in a tiny Appalachian town receives the extraordinary blessing of understanding what it means to pour oneself out for others.
- The woman toiling in obscurity in one of the thousand leper colonies in India learns the extraordinary blessing of serving those who cannot help themselves, recognizing this is what Christ did for her.
- The Sunday school teacher who faithfully teaches his class of fifth grade boys, week after week and year after year realizes he has accomplished the extraordinary feat of passing the baton of faith to the next generation.
Our culture has infected us with an insatiable hunger for impressive ministry. We search for significance to validate our life’s work. We observe celebrity pastors, authors, and teachers, and wonder if and when it will be our turn. A broader platform enabling us to have a larger impact for God can only be a good thing, right? Changed lives, incredible growth, influencing our culture – how could God not want us to achieve these extraordinary results?
But maybe – just maybe – God doesn’t want us to accomplish great things, as defined by the world’s standards. Perhaps he wants us to find the “extra” in the ordinary as we toil faithfully where he has planted us, willingly accepting obscurity if that’s what he has called us to do.
Glory will come for every Christian, but it comes by way of suffering. Jesus showed us the way to a crown is by the path of a cross. Faithfulness in the little things now will lead to greatness in God’s perfect time, if not in this life, then in the life to come (Matthew 25:23).
In the meantime, God delights in doing the opposite of what the world expects. Think of the manger. As Pastor Bill Hybels says, “The manger is a symbol of what can happen when Jesus Christ resides in us. The ordinary suddenly becomes extraordinary.” It’s the extraordinary reality of our ordinary earthen vessels containing the indwelling third person of the Trinity.
Does God use ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things? Absolutely. Most of the time, however, he uses ordinary people to accomplish ordinary things that become extraordinary when he gets the glory.
Ava Pennington teaches a Bible Study Fellowship class. She is also the author of Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, published by Revell Books and endorsed by Kay Arthur.
Publication date: February 18, 2014