This is too obvious to be said but I’m going to say it anyway: the world is a tough, unforgiving place. It places unrealistically high expectations on each one of us and then proceeds to convince us our worth is based on meeting and exceeding them. It’s part and parcel of the message with which we are bombarded almost continuously. “Be all you can be.” Do more, buy more, work harder, play harder, run faster, be the lead dog because otherwise the view never changes. Get all the latest gadgets because they’ll give you status and value. Be the one who is the most driven worker in the company, the one who does whatever is necessary to be a ‘success’. Then you’ll be the person that everyone admires and envies.
Sadly, some of this attitude has spilled over into the body of Christ as well. We hold up the “Christian superstars”, those we see as blessed with great talent or incredible spirituality. We consider them of greater value to the kingdom than those of us who are “lesser blessed”. This is usually accompanied by a belief that the kingdom of God is advanced by the “big gesture”. The huge rally, the really fantastic Christian concert, the massive mission effort to relieve suffering and help people feel better about themselves.
Now before you write me off as an old guy who is bitter, jealous, and Pharisaical, I have nothing against any of those things. My problem with them is a) most of us will never attain that level, and; b) it shows a profound misunderstanding of God and his word. When we make “excellence” and “success” our standard of worth, we set ourselves and our family up for failure. Because we don’t have it within us to ever achieve them on our own, not to mention that God’s definitions of the words are different than ours.
As you read through the Bible pay attention to the people and things God uses to achieve his ends: you won’t find too many “superstars”. You see Abraham, a man who was willing to lie about his wife to save his skin, and his son Isaac who seemed to learn the same trick from his father. There was Jacob, a wheeler-dealer who cheated his brother out of his birthright and blessing and who found out that what goes around comes around at the hands of his uncle Laban.
There was Moses, who tried to take God’s plan into his own hands, killed a man and became an exile for forty years. When God tried to send him back he gave every excuse in the book for why he was wrong for the job. Then there was Paul. Who of us would have ever thought of using their sworn enemy to become their greatest evangelist? The Bible is full of stories of imperfect, dysfunctional individuals who God used to produce amazing results. They were ordinary folks; in some cases, they were the outcasts of their society. But they had one important common factor. When God called them they responded. No matter how outrageous the call, how impossible the task, they all responded in obedience. They had what Hebrews 11 calls “faith“. They sometimes questioned but they always obeyed. As a result, they became part of the greatest story ever told.
Consider Ruth. As you read her story you won’t find any extraordinary acts of heroism. Her “task” and her decision was to be devoted to a mother-in-law of another nationality and religion. Her faithful care for Naomi resulted in her becoming the grandmother of Israel’s greatest king with an honorable mention in the genealogy of the Messiah. Or consider Rahab. She was a Canaanite and a prostitute. Her house was on the city wall of Jericho, not exactly prime real estate in case of enemy attack. But she had heard about the Israelites and their God and decided that any God powerful enough to do that to the Egyptians must be a true God indeed. She hid a couple of spies on the roof and lied about it to the city authorities (an action that could have gotten her executed for treason). Her motivation? Her faith in God overcame her fear. Because of it, she became the great-grandmother of King David and also an ancestor of the Messiah.
Most of us don’t mind serving God as long as we get credit for it. It’s because we still labor under the curse of sin, and one of its most obvious characteristics is pride. We like people to think well of us. We want to be admired for being ‘faithful’ and spiritual. It allows us to believe we’ve reached a level of excellence and accomplishment. But it’s the opposite of what Jesus teaches. The Gospels tell us “the last shall be first, and the first last”. If we want to be a ‘superstar’ in the kingdom of God, we need to be ‘servants of all’. And the only way to be filled with the Holy Spirit is to empty ourselves of ourselves- our “rights”, our desires, our love of our possessions, and anything else that stands between us and Jesus Christ.
God doesn’t choose us for what we can do for him. He chooses us because of our acceptance of what He has done for us. When we submit ourselves to the lordship of Jesus Christ and die to our old sinful self, God will fill the ’empty shell’ of our new self with His Holy Spirit and accomplish his purposes through us. When we live as God’s true servants, even the mundane things of everyday life become extraordinary. It is the small gesture done in faith to glorify God that brings us honor before his throne. They are the reflection of God’s presence in our “ordinary” lives. May we rejoice in our ordinary lives and seek to give the glory to God.