The Definition of Great

“You’re going to do great things for God.”

Words, spoken as encouragement to many young leaders and Christians, seem harmless but in my experience, are better left unsaid.

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Graduation from Tyndale with a Masters of Divinity

My husband and I have heard these words from well-meaning people. However, they’ve haunted me over the years. I’ve spent hours trying to figure out where we went wrong. What we did wrong.

After examining our lives, our decisions, our hearts, there’s no one thing or decision to point to and say, “Aha, that’s the exact point, where things started to tank.” We prayed and followed where we felt God was leading. 

That’s the part that gets me. Maybe you can relate. Do you ever feel like you’ve said yes to God only to have him say no to you? 

You’ve loved God, tried to live out his Word, yet you wonder what happened to the great things you were supposed to do. Looking around, you’re surrounded by toys, dirty diapers, and a stack of dishes in the sink, waiting patiently to be washed. Or your church attendance isn’t near what you’d hoped this far in, even though you serve God and his flock faithfully. Your blog has never gone viral. You didn’t get that promotion which would help you give more. Halfway through life, why bother, seems like an appropriate question.  

We get to this point because, in part, we have bought into the lie of this little “encouraging” phrase. When someone says, “You’re going to do great things for God,” what we actually hear are the words you’re and great. Maybe it’s just me and my own narcissism, but as I watch churches topple, I think not. 

We have a problem because we make our lives and our ministries about us. The truth is God is the great I AM, he doesn’t need any help from us, but we like to convince ourselves that he does. The sun comes up every day without my help. It sets every night without you saying one word. Read Job 38 to get some perspective. And in all that glory and awesomeness, He chooses to include us in his plans. It’s a privilege not an inherent right. 

 

What does “great” mean? We need to define it because our definition of great and God’s, are vastly different. My mind goes immediately to David and Goliath great. Great equals success, fame, applause.

That’s not God’s definition. Jesus explains it in Mathew 20:25-28. He’s talking with his disciples. He reminds them how the leaders lord their authority over the people. Then he says, “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave– just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (emphasis mine)

In God’s economy, greatness isn’t about church attendance, membership or budget numbers.  How many people are attending the conference you’re speaking at or the ministry you’re running isn’t what he’s counting on. It has nothing to do with fame or money. Greatness is not as the world speaks it. As I define it.

Greatness is serving others. Feeding them, sheltering them, loving them even when it costs you. It’s standing up for God’s truth and being willing to follow Him until the end, even if it involves a shipwreck or two. (Read about Paul.) Or worse. (Read about any of the apostles, Stephen, to name a few.)

The world may declare your stack of dirty dishes and diapers, unimportant. The small church who faithfully serves God and others may not get noticed because well, it’s small. Finishing strong in unpleasant circumstances may still be considered failing to most. The world calls us losers because we don’t live up to their standards but it’s a lie. 

Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. 1 Cor 1:27 NLT

Next time you want to encourage a young pastor, ministry leader or new believer, forego the “You’re going to do great things for God” speech. Instead, find a personal way to encourage them and then start praying for them.

 

Related posts Successful Failures about the prophet Jeremiah.

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