The human heart has a natural drive for greatness. This is not something that is taught, but is inherent. One person may long for recognition, while another does not; however both care that their life is both meaningful and impactful, and ideally, that that impact is felt beyond their small sphere of influence. It is not just the encouragement of society that leads us to dream for meaning beyond ourselves–it is how we are created. However, the division of fulfillment is not necessarily in knowing what to do vs. not, but rather in knowing what true greatness looks like.
In high school, I had a peculiar moment while praying. I don’t remember the circumstances altogether, whether I was praying about my future, or just reading my Bible, but a phrase ran through my mind that felt like the Lord speaking to me: “You will live your life to help raise up another man’s vision.” I was a little dumbfounded and frustrated. “Lord, you mean yours, right? Because I’m submitted to you? Because I’m going to be a leader, right?” At this time, I was leading the Bible study in our high school, serving as a student leader in our youth group, and confident at speaking in public. The way things were going, I just assumed that I would be in some prominent position as I grew up. This wasn’t necessarily a bad desire. In fact, as I mentioned above, it was perfectly natural and healthy. However, I had a very particular assumption of what it would look like, and quite frankly, I was pretty prideful.
I tried to wave away the idea, as though I’d thought it up myself, but there was a familiar sense of peace, joy, and invitation that accompanied it. I’ve felt this many times before when I sensed the Lord was asking me to do something difficult; however when it is truly Him, I can feel that His grace is available to accomplish the task, and any trepidation I’m experiencing is undergirded by a desire to see what He has on the other side — almost like an adventure. Also, as is obvious by my initial reaction, this is probably not something I would have thought of by myself, even in my most self-deprecating moments.
Over the past seven years, I have been the administrative assistant at a church for two different leaders, a secondary leader in the youth group, and the youth pastor for a short period of time. In all but the last role, I worked very closely with the primary leaders. Though I have mostly been a worker carrying out their requests, I have also had the honor of hearing their thoughts, having my opinion asked, and influencing decisions with my input. I must admit, I have also wrestled with the temptation of thinking, “If I were in their position, I would do things differently.”
Well, a couple of years ago, I got my chance. Through a series of transitions, I ended up as the primary youth pastor over our small youth program. I only led for about a year because our group began to dwindle for various reasons, and I felt the need to focus on my new marriage and administrative position. I believe part of this closure was due to the change of seasons in our church, the lives of our students, and the lives of their families, but I cannot deny that I was floundering. I saw in this instance that my most influential position was not actually the place of leadership, but of support to those who had been before me.
I have also discovered this in my primary job as administrator. More than in developing and casting a vision, I am gifted in seeing the whole picture, filling in the details, and making it happen. Occasionally, I brainstorm an idea, and honestly, this is usually brought about by conversation and collaboration. My best ideas generally have not come while thinking on my own, but when I’ve been connecting with others. Also, I might have strong opinions on where I believe our church should go, but I have found that when I submit them to honor those in authority and serve their vision, that I have greater impact than if I had been leading myself. This is because I am functioning fully in the strengths that are unique to me.
I’m beginning to understand that this call to serve someone else’s vision is very true for me. The Lord was clueing me in at an early stage of my life to the skills I had and would develop. My example is a specific illustration of a principle that, by extension, is true for all of us. Many people are called to be visionaries that take the lead, and they will apply this in a different way. However, in either case (and I would imagine my example is more common to most of us), when our gifts and talents are used to maximize another’s potential or serve a greater purpose than our own, we are fulfilled by default. This is the miracle of servanthood. I want to put a wrench in our modern drive for achievement, not because it is bad, but because the presentation of its fulfillment can be illusory. I recently heard a phrase that made this clearer to me: “What I am part of is bigger than the part that I play.” To me, it meant that my role in a mission is invaluable, and as I contribute to it, what matters is not the size of the role or the notoriety I gain from what I do, but my faithfulness to fully play my part. If I truly believe in something, what matters is that it is accomplished.
As I grow older, I can confidently say that I heard the Lord correctly that day, only now, I am not disappointed, but energized. Ultimately, I was right; whether I get to execute my own plans in an organization or administrate another’s, all of it is unto the Lord’s grand plans, and it doesn’t matter to me whether my part is small or big; I am honored that I’ve been invited to participate. In the process, I fully experience what He created me to be. What is more fulfilling – being known and exalted, or becoming fully alive because I am exactly where I need to be and doing exactly what I was created to do?
I came across an interesting phrase in Isaiah a few years ago. In Isaiah 49:7, God is speaking to His Servant, whom we believe to be Jesus. His message is that the Servant will be a restorer, a ruler, and a light to the nations. In the process of describing Him, God calls him “the servant of rulers.” I was fascinated. Isn’t Jesus the king of kings, the name above every other name, the ultimate ruler? I was following along in an online Bible course, and the teacher, David Sliker, commented on this:
“In the world, we serve and are promoted to no longer serve. In the kingdom, we serve and receive more authority so that the reality of servanthood and humility would permeate the kingdom of God.”
In the kingdom of God, increasing levels of authority lead to increasing levels of service. Jesus demonstrated this when He gave His life for us. He didn’t cling to His divine entitlements, though worthy of them. His service to humanity qualified Him as a leader and demonstrated His perfect mixture of wisdom, mercy, and justice.
Also, serving is part of His nature. To receive His leadership over our lives is to receive His service to us. Peter recoiled at the thought of Jesus washing his feet, but Jesus replied that Peter could have no relationship with Him otherwise. Jesus is our king and judge, and part of how He judges is to serve. Jesus’ judgements restore us, and are administered in love. We must receive His leadership in this way because it is who He is. As we receive Him in this way, our hearts are tenderized, our character is transformed, we submit to His commands, and we become like Him. We learn to serve others in love, as well, and the pattern continues.
As we take the example of Jesus and apply it in our own lives, we find that our lives are filled with meaning and impact. The goals of running a board meeting or calling the shots become irrelevant. It might be that our current sphere of influence is where our gifts are most keenly needed. And moreover, it may be that as we give ourselves to serving one another, that the very place of greatness we desired to achieve is found in laying down our lives and helping to fulfill a vision that is greater than ourselves.