This week’s blog is submitted in remembrance of a dear friend of mine who succumbed to ALS. Dan was a true man of God and is missed by many whose lives he touched.
A Greatness that Descends
We were in the middle of a Sunday evening service when a drunk stumbled into the church. Dad was leading worship. The man staggered all the way down the aisle until he literally fell on his knees at the altar.
My dad immediately turned the service over to my mom, walked across to the desperate man, and knelt down beside him. As my dad put his arm around the man and prayed for him, the man began to weep. As my dad entered into his pain, despair, and suffering, he was able to lead the man to Jesus Christ.
From where I sat observing, I saw only a smelly, nasty drunk. But my dad saw a man without a shepherd, felt compassion for him, and entered into his pain (Mk 6:34).
Your Love + Your Humility + Your Service = True Greatness
Looking back, I now know what I saw at that altar years ago: greatness descending. You will never be as great as when you are descending. If we are going to become truly great, we have to have a greatness that is willing to descend with an attitude of true humility.
Paul wrote to the Philippians about the attitude of true greatness. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness (Philippians 2:5–7).
The kind of greatness that Christ—and my dad that day—demonstrated was countercultural. Descending is normally reserved for losers, cowards, failures, and the weak. Our society tells us to avoid this at all costs. In a meeting, the one who doesn’t say anything, the one who does not have all the answers, is considered a loser. People say, “He just doesn’t have the leadership skills.” It’s the loud guy who often gets promoted.
Ascending is reserved for winners, heroes, the successful, the strong, and the proud. The world says advancing higher is to be admired and pursued. You ascend to fame, money, glory, power, comfort, and pleasure. Up is the direction of greatness. Humility is weak. Do whatever it takes to conquer gravity.
This is a lie! Jesus never discarded people who desired to be great or to do great things, but he did redefine what true greatness is, what it means, and how to achieve it. The Paradox: There is a contradiction between the culture’s view and God’s view. The culture says, rise to the highest level of your company, make movies, be a talented athlete, rake in a lot of money, accumulate all the tools and succeed at what does not matter, and you will be called great. The only direction is up!
God’s view is the true way to eternal success: True greatness is not a measure of self-will or self-achievement but rather self-abandonment. The more you are willing to give up, the more you gain in Christ. Succeed at what really matters, and you will live great. The only direction is down!
Discussion at a business meeting was not going well, so I was getting ready to stand up and give them a piece of my mind. God said to me, “Who do you think you are?” I literally had to get out of my chair and go down on my knees so I wouldn’t rise up, because I would have been out of the will of God. It doesn’t matter how right you are. Whenever you think you’ve got to rise up, go down.
Jesus was dealing with this paradox of greatness with his own disciples. The disciples were convinced that Christ came to establish an earthly kingdom. They had just experienced the triumphal entry of the Messiah into Jerusalem and were expecting Him to overthrow the Roman authority and set up an earthly, political kingdom.
The disciples got caught up in all the glory and praise. The mother of James and John put a good word in for her two sons, which stirred up some dissension in the disciple’s ranks. She requested of Jesus, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom” (Ma 20:21).
If they had ears to hear, the disciples would have realized they were fighting over something that was not Christ’s to give. It is the Father who gives true greatness.
Just before the Last Supper, in John 13, Jesus demonstrated true love, humility, and servanthood to His disciples by washing their feet. He closed with this statement:
“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” John 13:13–17 (author’s emphasis)
Luke’s gospel states that it another way:
Within minutes [after the washing of the feet and the Lord’s Supper] they [disciples] were bickering over who of them would end up the greatest. But Jesus intervened: “Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. It’s not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of a servant.” Luke 22:24–26 MSG
This demonstration by Jesus was not just about washing feet. It was about love, humility, and service. The role of the servant is not only the best way to live, but the only way to live. When you begin to practice servanthood, you live the way of the cross. You become a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable in God’s sight.
When Cathy and I started to think and talk about our potential and destiny, our “Greater Yes!” God made it clear that it was to be about loving and serving people because they matter most. So we named our ministry People Matter Ministries. If you do not believe people; your family, co-workers and friends matter most, you will never find true greatness. We are the Chief Servant Leaders (CSL) of People Matter Ministries. That is a position we should strive to hold more than any other.
If you are going to be a chief servant leader (CSL): Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave (Philippians 2:5–7, MSG).
Servanthood is about position that is worked out after love and humility are worked in. It is how we seek to live out our potential and our destiny. When we demonstrate unconditional love, unapologetic humility, and uncompromising servanthood, we will live a life that goes down instead of up. We will see the people who are serving us, the people in our workplace, the people we meet every day, in a new way. They’re not great in the eyes of the world, but they are the most important people. They are the ones who need you to wash their feet and show them the full extent of God’s love.
Someday you’ll stand before God, and it will be God who says you’re great. “Well done my good and faithful servant, you were faithful in what matters to me and gave up your lesser yeses for my “Greater Yes!’” That’s what I want. I want God to tell me I’m great. I don’t care if the world tells me that.
If we are willing to lose it all, give it all up, we gain what really matters, that which is truly great. What is really great is what God says about me, what my wife says about me, and what my kids and grandkids and the people I serve in the ministry say about me. That’s what really matters most.
Are you willing to lose it all in order to gain it all? Are you willing to descend in order to ascend? Moving down is the only way to become great in God’s eyes, and nothing else matters. It is not the best path to greatness; it is the only path to true and eternal greatness.
Then imagine the possibilities!