Most people, at some point in their lives, fantasize about greatness. Many people take it to the next level and actually aspire to greatness, and a few make genuine attempts to achieve it.
What would it be like to be elected President of the United States? Wouldn’t it be great to gain fame as a social reformer like Rosa Parks, or to be considered the epitome of compassion like the late Mother Teresa? Or maybe you’d like to be the world’s greatest athlete—like Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, or Lance Armstrong—renowned for your competitive prowess and skill in some favorite sport.
Or perhaps in your fantasies greatness is equated with financial success or net worth. So who is greater? Oprah Winfrey or Donald Trump or Bill Gates or Queen Elizabeth?
Dreaming about greatness is pretty common stuff. We’ve all done it. We all do it. From the business executive to the soloist, from the researcher to the kid playing ball in the park, dreaming we’ll be the greatest is as much a part of life as breathing. It comes from something inside us, a desire for more.
Aspiring to greatness can be selfishly driven, as in a Nixon-like quest for power and control. It can be selflessly driven, as in St. Francis of Assisi’s, “Preach the Word at all times; when necessary, use words.” It can be other-centered, as in a mother’s hope for her child.
Our dreams of greatness are rooted in an intrinsic desire for meaning, for significance, for doing something that matters. Our humanity makes us want to be somebody. We want to do something that lasts, something that makes our mortal selves immortal.
In the Bible God tells us the “why” and “for what” of our lives should be about obedience of his moral will, service in his calling, and excellence in our works. In this divine scenario greatness is possible. Greatness is always providential though not always predictable. Greatness is, rightly grounded, a blessing, a gift to be used for good, an outcome more than a goal.
The Bible never identifies greatness as a goal unto itself. Jesus asked his disciples, “Who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves?” (Luke 22:24-27). His answer was “the one who is at the table,” reminding us that God blesses those who love and give.
The word “greatness” is used more than twenty times in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, all referring to a great trouble, great call, great opportunity, great compassion, great Lord, or great joy, not a great man. Nehemiah did a great work for a great God. The prophet Micah says it this way, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8).
Greatness is a rare disposition that is always a by-product of obedience, service, and excellence. Obedience determines whether our actions are in accordance with our Creator’s definition of reality. Service determines whether our activities are noble or ignoble. Excellence determines whether our work attains a level worthy of appreciation or admiration.
The New Testament book of Colossians says "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men" (3:23).
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011
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