Maybe it’s the result of growing up in the generation that was told, “You can do anything if you just dream big!” Perhaps it’s the consequence of our over-saturated social media world where individuals are no longer trying to make it in their own community but instead competing for national, even global, recognition. Or maybe it’s just the plight of sinful man. But I sense this undercurrent of pressure to do something BIG to be successful in the eyes of our culture.
I’ve entered the world known as the Thirties. Technically speaking, I’m not using my college degree. I’m blindly following this call to Christian ministry, but if I’m really honest, I still have no clue exactly what God has in store for me. The majority of my days are occupied by folding clothes, wiping sticky hands, cleaning little rear ends and acting as chauffeur. So in a culture that says, “You can be anything!”, “Chase your dreams!”, “Never Give up!”, it can leave me feeling a bit lacking.
Last week I found myself whining to God about my seeming lack of success. I dramatized, “Have I even done anything important in life?” making sure to highlight every dream that hasn’t been realized. Then I felt His spirit whisper, “Is it really about MY kingdom or about pleasing the kingdom of this world, the people, and culture we live in?”. In that moment, my arguments toward God somehow fell flat.
“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
God’s kingdom doesn’t operate like the culture of the day—or the culture of Jesus’ day for that matter. Over and over again, the teachings of Jesus were completely counter-cultural. As Jesus, and later the apostles, taught the new believers what it meant to be a person of God’s kingdom, they were always telling them how kingdom living was NOT the same as current culture taught. The New Testament Jewish culture taught them to love fellow Jews but hate their Roman and Samaritan neighbors. However, Jesus said in Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Later, in the book of Philippians, when Paul is instructing the Christians in Philippi on how to live, he tells them, “your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus,” and goes on to depict King Jesus as the humble servant. This would have been mind-blowing to the readers of the day. In a culture where status was used as an advantage, where position and possessions were essential to self-worth, where leaders were domineering, Jesus is presented as a king who led from a place of humility and compassion. And at a time where it was unusual for people of status to even eat with a servant, much less act like a servant, how outrageous it would have sounded for the Philippians to read Paul’s words about Christ, “taking the very nature of a servant.”
Jesus wasn’t worried about fitting in to His culture or about arriving as the valiant warrior king the Jews assumed would be their savior. He instead wanted to usher in a new Kingdom, a new way of living, and He invites us to join Him in that, even if that means turning our notions of success in this culture upside down.
“To obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen is better than the fat of rams.”
1 Samuel 15:22
What if my success is measured not by what I accomplish but by my ability to be obedient to God’s direction? What if the greatest acts for the kingdom of God are not selling millions of copies of your book or touring the country to speak or being promoted to CEO? What if the moments that most tap into kingdom of God living are the woman who encourages a friend in the exhausting season of a defiant toddler, or the retired grandma who sews baby quilts for the NICU, or the college student who regularly gives of his time to mentor that foster kid, or the teenage boy shoveling his elderly neighbor’s driveway, or the teacher who stays up late week after week to re-work lesson plans for her struggling student, or the parent who gets up day after day to care for children to breathe stability into their lives?
In his book called Satisfied, pastor Jeff Manion writes:
“We don’t want merely to do something good. We want to change the world. We aspire to do something great. Our desire is to live great lives and have a great impact, so we look for great things to do. As we keep a sharp eye out for “great things” to come along, we wait. We wait as we attempt to identify our unique contribution to the human race. We wait for some massive breakthrough moment. We wait to be discovered. And as we are waiting to do something great, a parade of opportunities to simply and humbly do something good goes marching by. While waiting for one moment of greatness, we miss out on a thousand moments of goodness….I suspect that we arrive at greatness through the lengthy corridor of repeated, small, humble acts of goodness.”
Small, humble acts of goodness. I love that. Kingdom of God living through humble acts of goodness.
I am not saying that what authors and evangelists and Grammy award winners do is not significant ministry. Do not miss my point. We have been blessed immensely by the Billy Grahams and Beth Moores of this world. And it is so good that God equips some for a role which comes with great responsibility. But the majority of us will walk this Christian life outside of the spotlight, outside of what our culture would label a great accomplishment. And that is okay. And that is good. And the quiet work you do showing love to your grumpy neighbor day after day is not “less-than” simply because it receives no worldly praise.
In that same letter to the Philippians, Paul writes in 2:8 that Jesus “became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.” It was through Christ’s obedience that he fulfilled the work God sent him to do. His obedience may not have brought about applause from the men of his day, but it was in this obedient act of self-giving love that he was exalted by God.
In a world that is always sending us different messages about what gives us value and makes us a success, I pray we don’t forget whose kingdom we’re really living for. I pray you and I can cling to God’s truths and emulate Christ’s obedient path to accomplish the work his father had for him. Nothing more. Nothing less.
If you have 15 minutes and want to explore this idea of needing to do something great from even a secular view, I promise this YouTube video by Simon Sinek won’t disappoint.