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Why I don’t want to be the G.O.A.T.

I realized something while studying Matthew 18-20 and it’s this:

I can’t pursue greatness and godliness at the same time.

It’s one or the other.

One is about glory for self and one is about glory for God.

One is about being great and one is about being the least.

The world says be the G.O.A.T. 

Greatest of All Time.

The world urges us to have the greatest stuff and be the greatest at whatever we do and look the greatest while doing it. I’m guilty of buying into it sometimes. I want to be the best writer and have the best Pinterest house and be the best mom. I realized this week that I even want my family to be the best: I desire for my son to be a starter on his basketball team. I hope my kids are at the top of their class in school. Last fall, I wished my husband’s football team would win state and be the greatest.

I want to be a great family.

I’m realizing that I have the wrong idea about greatness because all of those things bring more glory to us than glory to God.

Jesus taught something radically different when it came to greatness. He said that being great means striving to be the least. Time and again in Matthew 18-20, people approach him and ask what they need to do to be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, even the disciples. In Matthew 20:25-28 Jesus responds with:

“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and give his life as a ransom for many.”

It’s totally counter cultural: if you want to be great, be the least. If you want to lead, serve. If you want to first, be a slave.

Sacrifice, service and suffering were his recommendations for greatness because they bring glory to God and magnify his love to a watching world.

It’s opposite of the message the world gives about greatness because it’s not about self. 

If I live according to the values Jesus taught, I should want:

  • my son to demonstrate God’s love to his teammates more than I want him to play well
  • my kids to shine their light in the darkness of school more than I want them to shine academically
  • my hubby to speak truth to players more than I want him to win games
  • my writing to glorify God more than I want it to get noticed.

Instead of desiring greatness, my goals should reflect a desire to be the least.

These chapters made me realize that I fight a daily battle against the pursuit of personal greatness and it’s causing me to completely rethink how I do so many things…like parent, for instance.

It strikes me that I have been encouraging my kids to do their best. Not be the best…but do their best. I wonder if maybe that phrase still puts emphasis on the wrong thing because it’s all about personal best. It calls attention to self instead of emphasizing how they serve and love others for the glory of God.

I wonder if instead I should be hollering after them as they head into school or head into the gym: “Be like Jesus” or “Be the least.” It sounds silly, but I’m being serious. If it’s my goal for them to be the least, that’s what I should speak over them instead of greatness.

 

I had a really poignant talk with my 14-year-old son on the way to basketball practice last week. He was processing what I shared about being the least (that’s what we do in the car together – we discuss what we read in our devotions) and he asked me where the line is between when it’s ok to want to do well and when it’s ungodly.

Good question buddy.

I’m no expert and I’m not claiming to be, but I told him that the answer is found in his pursuit – that the desire of his heart is what matters. If it’s his goal to be #1, or have lots of money and the best stuff, that’s seeking greatness. But if his goal is to be the least, and to serve and love others in his pursuit, then success given by God as a result isn’t bad.

Greatness just shouldn’t be the goal.

“Don’t try to be the G.O.A.T.,” I said. “Try to be like Jesus: serve, sacrifice and be willing to suffer so that others can see God’s love in you. Make that your goal.”

As the words flew out of my mouth, I realized how much I needed to hear that sentence.

My son sat quietly because this new advice was different than my usual “go and do your best” talk.

I sat quietly because I was questioning all of my goals. I don’t think I will ever forget that moment in the car as I realized I wanted to change how I approach parenting, writing, even my marriage.

There is a pervasive Christian idea that if we are great, or we encourage our kids to be great, then that greatness can be used as a platform for sharing faith in Jesus. Therefore, in that line of thinking, it’s ok to seek greatness or want greatness for our children because the end justifies the means: greatness can share the gospel.

While a platform built on success might occasionally yield an opportunity to share about faith, greatness is not what Jesus taught us to seek as the means of spreading his love. He didn’t say to his disciples, “Go and try to be the best and most famous preachers and then use your fame to share about me.” Instead, he taught them to aim to be the least: to serve and sacrifice and even suffer for others in order to demonstrate God’s love. He encouraged them to die to self, do the dirty jobs, and love people as a lifestyle…as the greatest lifestyle. He instructed them that being the least is what magnifies and brings the most glory to God.

I felt wrecked that night and I still do – I have spent most of my life trying to be great. But now, I feel differently.

I don’t want to strive to be great. I don’t want my kids to strive to be great. I want us to strive to be the least. I’ve been trying to chase both and it doesn’t work.

It’s humbling to realize how much personal greatness I seek without even realizing it or questioning it. It’s time for a change, so here is my greatness resolve:

I can’t seek greatness and godliness at the same time: they are competing goals. I will build my life on a foundation of sacrifice, service and suffering instead of success. I will seek to be the least because I want my life to bring glory to God and not myself.

Practically speaking, this means that instead of trying to build a writing platform, my goal is to be obedient and share God’s love and truth. Instead of coaching my kids to do their best, I’m literally telling them to be the least. Instead of desiring for my house to look good, I’m asking God to use it to accomplish good by letting it be a place that feeds the hungry and offers love to the lonely.

 

Friends, seeking to be the least does not come naturally to me, but I’m convinced it’s worth the fight. I am going to try to re-frame all of my pursuits to reflect my desire to be the least and I hope you will join me.

I’m seeking to be the least because it is the greatest thing I could do for the Kingdom.

As always, I love hearing from you. Email me or comment on the blog and I will get on my knees for you. Let’s do this faith journey together.

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1 Comment

  1. Cherise on March 5, 2019 at 1:28 am

    As I’ve been reading in Luke, I was reminded that I’m not much different then those legalistic Pharisees. If I follow all of my rules (that just may not even resemble the law anymore either) people will think I’ve got it all together, that I’m a good person, that I’m greater. You’re familiar with my perfectionistic struggle causing me to get lost in the failure. Now in the learning to let “being perfect” go and as I seek knowing The Lord , I am discovering the peace in who I am. He alone is my righteousness. He alone gets the glory. Thanks for your words and the encouragement they bring. Love you.

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