Greatness Doesn’t Always Look Great
Consider that the people in Scripture whom we view as heroes might not have looked impressive to the people around them. Their friends and co-workers might have thought their lack of obvious success meant they weren’t blessed by God. They may have even suspected that these heroes didn’t know God so well after all. Worse yet, these heroes themselves may have doubted themselves and God: Am I doing something wrong? Shouldn’t my life be better?
Consider John the Baptist. Today people might consider him “not current” or out-of-date because his disciples left him to follow Jesus (John 1:36-37; 3:30; 4:1). He decreased as Jesus increased -- come on, what pastor moves to a smaller church? Clearly, the membership at First Church of John the Baptist was not a growing, thriving place you’d want to take your neighbor to.
Instead of being a superstar, John lived in obscurity. He would never have received an invitation to the palace prayer breakfast in Jerusalem, what with his railing about Herod and Herodias’s affair. In fact, what some probably thought his “meddling in politics” (and what royalists called attacking the Jewish king) was what got him imprisoned and then beheaded. What was he thinking?
John spent the last months of his life in prison and never emerged with a stunning rescue story. Furthermore, he was puzzled and perhaps disappointed about who Jesus was (or perhaps just Jesus’ behavior): "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" (Matt. 11:3). Like many today who have second coming events charted out, John seems to have pictured the first coming events very differently from what they turned out to be.
Yet he was “great in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1:15). Jesus described John as: “Elijah”; “more than a prophet”; the one who “restores all things”; and a shining light (Matthew 17:12-13; 11:9; Mark 9:12; John 5:35). No one born among women was greater than John (Matthew 11:11).
John and many others in Scripture did not seem “blessed” as we sometimes mean that. (Don’t get me started on Jeremiah.) Their lives didn’t run smoothly and they didn’t appear to be important. We need to ponder this because we often think that lack of success or favorable circumstances means we’re on the wrong track. We think, I must be doing something wrong because things aren’t turning out so well. But today’s blessing is about knowing God. Here. Now. While still on earth. That’s why spiritual giants often come clothed in hiddenness and humility and their achievements go unnoticed (yet still carry a power that affects others). Their greatness emerges from who they are with God and their attachment to God - not their outward circumstances. May we be thrilled to be connected to God and not rate our (or others’) spirituality based on outward circumstances. May we be alert to the hidden spiritual giants hidden among us, from whom we can learn so much.
Grace and peace,
For those in the Los Angeles area: I’m doing my set of talks “Living without Contempt” (also called “The Transforming Practice of Loving Your Difficult Neighbor”) Saturday April 26th in the Santa Clarita area. This is the one developed after Dallas challenged a church to have a series on this so that church asked me to do it. It’s for men, women and teens.
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