Greatness In The Kingdom
In 1992, I had the wonderful privilege of attending the President’s Prayer Breakfast at the White House. While the guests were waiting to enter the main hall, I was greeted by the Senate Chaplain, Lloyd Ogilvie. I had read his books and heard him speak, but here I was, meeting him in person. And at the White House, no less! I was so enthralled by his conversation that I didn’t even pay attention to the man who stepped up beside me. I saw Ogilvie give him a friendly nod, but kept my eyes fixed on Ogilvie. When the Senate Chaplain excused himself and walked away, I turned to greet the man standing next to me, and was surprised to see James Dobson of Focus on the Family. I was impressed! Here I was, a preacher from a small town in Illinois, surrounded by the greats of the Kingdom of God.
Or was I? What makes a person great in the Kingdom of God? Is it their fame or the size of their ministry? What makes a church great in the Kingdom of God? Is it size…or budget…or building? What is greatness from God’s perspective
Jesus has an interesting perspective on greatness. His teaching in Mark 10:35-45 tells the story:
"Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want You to do for us whatever we ask.’
"‘What do you want Me to do for you?’ He asked.
"They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at Your right and the other at Your left in Your glory.’
"‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said. ‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?’
"‘We can,’ they answered. Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at My right or left is not for Me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.’
"When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.’"
The story gives an interesting insight into the inner workings of the apostles. The two brothers, James and John, made a request of Jesus to be in places of authority (greatness). The rest of the apostles got angry…probably not because they were upset at the brothers’ immaturity so much as because they didn’t think of it first. Jesus responded to the furor within the group with a teaching on greatness that is essential for us to understand today.
"Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many."
Just a few days later, Jesus illustrated this kingdom principle of greatness in an unforgettable way. In the upper room, He assumed the position of the least of servants and washed the feet of His disciples. According to Jesus, the mark of greatness in the Kingdom of God is service. The individual who desires greatness as a Christian is one who is serving others. The church that desires to be great is a church which is serving others. The teaching seems to be that the more we serve, the higher up we move on the ladder of Kingdom greatness.
That’s exactly the opposite of our world and culture. People with money, power, and the trappings of greatness are served by the lesser. But we do not live, nor judge by this world’s standards. We have a different criterion of measure. Greatness is measured by service.
God is calling us, both as individuals and as the Church, to greatness. This is the same as a call to service.
How do we serve? What is involved in this quest for greatness that means serving others? To understand more fully, let’s go back to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when He answered that in a powerful way. During the Sermon on the Mount, He gave us three ways by which we may serve others. He also pointed out some dangers to avoid as we serve. There are obviously many more ways to serve than these three…but these are the very specific ways of serving others that Jesus mentions: giving, praying, and fasting.
Jesus introduces the three by giving a word of warning in Matthew 6:1: "Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven."
In discussing these areas of service, He uses a similar style of instruction: "When you give…when you pray…when you fast." These are areas of service that Jesus is simply expecting His followers to be involved in.
Giving as an Act of Service
Giving to glorify God and to meet the needs of others is a wonderful area of kingdom ministry. It is all too easy to look upon giving as a responsibility, instead of a great privilege. Throughout Scripture we are encouraged to give with a servant’s heart. We do not give for fame, or thanks…or even gratitude. We give to serve others and to bring glory to God.
In one of the churches where I served, there was a man who loved to give money to those who were really in need. He wanted to give in such a way that only God would receive honor, so he would use me as his delivery man. He would write me a check, asking me to go to the bank and cash it and deliver the cash to the recipient without revealing the source of the funds. What a wonderful act of selfless service!
Most Christians are missing out on one of life’s great adventures…giving and then watching to see what God does with his or her act of service. The Christian faith contains story after story of Christians stepping out in faith financially. Today, would you consider taking a step toward greatness in the kingdom by giving away some of what God has given you?
Prayer as an Act of Service
Too often we see prayer as mere devotions. There certainly is the aspect of drawing near to God in prayer, although it is so much more than that. Prayer is the way God has chosen to get things done on planet earth, and He has chosen you and me to partner with Him in prayer to make things happen. God is calling us to serve others in prayer. We can make a difference in the lives of others by going to God on their behalf. Who is God calling you to serve in prayer?
Fasting as an Act of Service
Fasting? Is that for today? It’s fascinating how we accept the first two acts of service, but not the third. Jesus didn’t leave it as an option. He said, "When you give, when you pray, and when you fast."
How is fasting an act of service? It seems to be a spiritual discipline that deals mainly with an individual’s personal walk with God. I want to suggest to you that one of the greatest acts of love and service we can perform for another is to fast and pray on their behalf. Fasting is never an act by itself…it is always combined with prayer or worship. When we pray and fast for someone we are turning up the heat! We are displaying intensity and willingness to pursue God’s best for the person we’re praying for.
I’ve had many people tell me they are praying for me. I always appreciate that. But somehow it’s quite different when someone says, "I’ve been fasting over your situation, Dave. I’m doing without food so I can seek God on your behalf." That’s serious service! That’s displaying a heart for service that is beyond the norm.
This isn’t just my idea. It’s in Jesus’ list of acts of service. But there’s a clear example of just such a fast in Scripture. It’s found in Esther 4:15-16, "Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: ‘Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.’"
"Fast for me," Esther said. What an act of love and service! We serve as we fast before the Lord on behalf of someone’s needs. We might find ourselves fasting on behalf of a congregation of people, or even a whole nation.
Do you want to be great? Do you want to find real purpose and meaning in life? Look for ways to humble yourself before God and others as you pour out your life in service. Give…Pray…Fast…in service to others.