Intrigued by sign language, she learned it in high school. She felt drawn to the silent symphony of lives intermingled because of a hearing condition. After moving overseas, she learned Russian sign language and met person after broken person in this struggling sub-culture. They began gathering around her to hear of the One who opens ears—physical ears at times, but more importantly—soul ears! Her deep care for them and insertion into their lives made them listen. She took two orphaned teenage girls into her home and battled with them for their souls and for freedom from a dejected past.
She walks beside those who have been thrown away by society. She continues to give up the comfort of her homeland to find joy in helping them grow and find their way in a world that shuts them out. I sat in her home watching the silent conversation and the grimacing care with which she nurtured her “girls,” helping them with schoolwork and life skills that could lift their existence. I watched her skillfully help a small group learn how to hear from God. I think I would call her great. Greatness comes in many sizes and flavors.
He stoops to make me great (2 Samuel 22:36).
God changes us and rearranges us as He stoops to make us great. We really are very ordinary. We are just broken vessels. As we let Him break us from sin and the negative pull of this world, more of His glory shines through. We are still in that process.
I tend to categorize people and size them up, but I hate it when people do that to me. I try to figure out who has more experience or has more to say or says it more creatively. Who uses their time well or better or best? Who knows more or is more insightful or more caring? I am beginning to realize that our life paths are not linear, nor is it to our advantage to act like it is a race against each other. Our lives are more like balls of string wrapped together, spiraling, twisting, curving around in many different ways toward different ends. You may have more experience or a keener insight into many different realms where I have not ventured. I may have depths and clues that have not yet come up in your life. We can always learn from each other. We get too categorized and fail to explore parts of our lives that need perhaps a fresh eye, from a different angle.
I want to be great! I do! I want to have something to “show” for all these years on this earth! Paul said: In Christ…I have reason to be proud of my work for God (Romans 15:17). I tend to measure by certain things in my life, and you probably do so by other things in yours. Would you say (if no one were listening) that you are great? Do you want to be? Is that wrong? Is it pride? Well, apparently not, because the One who is our example said, “If you want to be great … ,” do this. He did not say, “Get rid of that desire,” or “It is wrong to want that.” Of course, He was talking about greatness in the kingdom of God, His kind of greatness that is good in this life and the next. Our measure is very different from God’s, so if we can learn to want His kind of greatness, we are doing well. That is the kind of greatness that will last past this life and will bring something of value into the next life. It is clear there is some reward for that kind of greatness.
As the Kerner/Rettinos put it in Kid’s Praise! 4, “If you want to be great, learn to be the servant of all.” Wow, that is so vague—what could it mean? Could it mean that you are aware and looking out for others, anticipating needs, being okay with being common, yet with excellence? Being extraordinary in the ordinary? We want to do big things—but sometimes the big things are in the little mundane things over a long period of time. They do not come with a lot of outward applause or pats on the back or frills, but rather in just doing and being His hands and feet and voice and arms to others that He has put in our little worlds. This is not the picture we had in mind. It is harder and takes longer, and no one notices.
Was Jesus great in His world? I mean: did many people see Him as great? A few saw His greatness—mostly unimportant people. Most thought He was a rebel stirring up the masses against the establishment. Jesus was not too concerned about what they thought. He was very common, lived a simple life, had a few friends and lots of enemies. He had many followers, but many followed only for what they could get out of it. He associated with all kinds of people, often offending certain ones. He did not have much and did not try to prove He was right. He looked for those who really wanted the truth. He constantly taught with His attitudes, words, and deeds. People misunderstood Him, mocked Him, used Him for their own purposes, scoffed at His claims, and thought He was crazy or evil. He came so He could die for us, and though He tried to tell His closest followers that, they could not grasp it. His resurrection shows that He is who He said He was! He was great. What made Him that way?
He lived fully in this world but with His eyes on the next. He did not hide from this world—He engaged it. He enjoyed it; He loved people and partied (in the right sense of the word). He went against the status quo and against the culture at times, but not with an attitude of superiority or spite. Our approach to the world is often to one extreme or another. We hide in our safe groups, or we assimilate so we are entirely diluted. We find it much “… easier to go to a consistent extreme than to stay at the center of biblical tension” (Robertson McQuilken). In the extreme, we have a safe formula to follow that tells us how to act or what to say—but Jesus did not go by formulas. This is intriguing and draws us to Him because it is real living, thinking, and feeling. Jesus was fully human. (He did not float or have a halo!) He laughed, felt pain, slept, got fed up, cried, and grieved. He really did want to show us how to live life. That is why He put aside His right as God while He was on earth.
His disciples had the same problem we have, and they vied for greatness in their terms; they were eager to move up the ladder. Jesus seemed to see that as a good goal, but in an entirely different way than they did. Their minds were on this life, this small portion of history, and on personal gain in a selfish way rather than on personal growth or gain for the sake of others.
So I am giving up “vying.” Instead, I am looking for ways to learn from those in my world of relationships, and I am finding amazing things. I am finding treasures of truth and depth in very common everyday things.
“Everyone wants to change the world, but no one wants to change themselves” (John Fletcher, former PIONEERS International Director).
We often think of those who are world-changers as the great ones—but if you trace it back, their greatness often started with a major change first in themselves.
Questions to consider: What is your definition of greatness? Do you want to be great?