Of Stars and Servants
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Who is the greatest?
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”—Matthew 18:1–41
My career as a journalist has afforded me opportunities to interview “stars,” including NFL football greats, movie actors, music performers, best-selling authors, politicians, and TV personalities. These are the people who dominate the media. We fawn over them, poring over the minutiae of their lives: the clothes they wear, the food they eat, the aerobic routines they follow, the people they love, the toothpaste they use. Yet I must tell you that, in my limited experience, I have found Paul Johnson’s principle to hold true: our “idols” are as miserable a group of people as I have ever met. Most have troubled or broken marriages. Nearly all are incurably dependent on psychotherapy. In a heavy irony, these larger-than-life heroes seem tormented by self-doubt.
I have also spent time with people I call “servants.” Doctors and nurses who work among the ultimate outcasts, leprosy patients in rural India. A Princeton graduate who runs a hotel for the homeless in Chicago. Health workers who have left high-paying jobs to serve in a backwater town of Mississippi. Relief workers in Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and other repositories of human suffering. The PhD’s I met in Arizona, who are now scattered throughout jungles of South America translating the Bible into obscure languages. I was prepared to honor and admire these servants, to hold them up as inspiring examples. I was not prepared to envy them.
Yet as I now reflect on the two groups side by side, stars and servants, the servants clearly emerge as the favored ones, the graced ones. Without question, I would rather spend time among the servants than among the stars: they possess qualities of depth and richness and even joy that I have not found elsewhere. Servants work for low pay, long hours, and no applause, “wasting” their talents and skills among the poor and uneducated. Somehow, though, in the process of losing their lives they find them. The poor in spirit and the meek are indeed blessed, I now believe. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven, and it is they who will inherit the earth.—Philip Yancey2
A meek and a quiet spirit God will not despise.—Psalm 51:17
God has so many promises in His Word to the meek that we certainly want to be partakers of them and get what He has to offer to the meek.
Jesus even says of Himself, as humble as He was and the perfect Son of God, “For I am meek and lowly in heart”—humble—“and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” If you “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me.”3
He says if you’re meek and lowly in heart, you’ll find rest to your soul, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light. So if you’re tired and working hard and heavy laden and need rest, take His yoke on you. Not the yoke of this world, not your own yoke, not the yoke of others, but the yoke of Jesus’ own love and His burden of love for others. You’ll find that it’s easy and it’s light if you’re meek and lowly enough to take it on you, and then you’ll find rest unto your soul.
“Behold, thy king cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.”4 Our dear sweet Jesus came riding into Jerusalem not in a fancy carriage, not in a powerful chariot, and not on the back of a proud horse, but on the back of a simple, meek, humble, ridiculous little donkey.—A braying burro which is constantly throughout the Bible and in literature in history in our linguistic comparisons to the personalities of men considered an ass, a ridiculous little animal that brays the funniest kind of sound: hee-haw, hee-haw.
So here comes Jesus sitting on this little donkey—it was not even apparently full-grown, it was just a young one, the colt of a donkey—in the most humble way that He could possibly enter the city of Jerusalem and yet still be riding! He could have hardly ridden on a smaller, more ridiculous, meek and quiet little beast.
The Lord is saying that the answer is not in the strength of the arm of flesh. But the answer is “a meek and a quiet spirit that the Lord would not despise.” In other words, He would bless it.
God loves a meek and a quiet spirit; He won’t despise that. He’ll bless that, and He’ll bless you for it.
Be meek and quiet and plug along the best you can, and trust God to take care of everything and He will, praise God! If you have that meek and quiet spirit that the Lord will not despise, He’s promised to bless it.—David Brandt Berg5
The loveliness of the commonplace
Blessed are the poor in spirit.—Matthew 5:3
The New Testament notices things which from our standards do not seem to count. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” literally—blessed are the paupers—an exceedingly commonplace thing! …
At the basis of Christ’s kingdom is the unaffected loveliness of the commonplace. The thing I am blessed in is my poverty. If I know I have no strength of will, no nobility of disposition, then Jesus says—blessed are you, because it is through this poverty that I enter His kingdom. I cannot enter His kingdom as a good man or woman. I can enter it as a pauper.
…We always know when Jesus is at work because He produces in the commonplace something that is inspiring.—Oswald Chambers
A beggar’s kingdom
In exchange for our … willingness to accept the charity of God, we are given a kingdom. And a beggar’s kingdom is better than a proud man’s delusion.—Donald Miller
Everywhere you look, people are busy trying to build their own “kingdoms” of power and influence. They strive and sacrifice to make a name for themselves. Desperate to prove their independence, these men and women exhaust themselves chasing worldly success and self-sufficiency. …
God offers us so much more than the delusion of success—he offers us his kingdom, on his terms. We must come helpless and humble, knowing that we cannot gain his kingdom on our own; we only obtain it when we humbly accept Christ’s love and sacrifice on our behalf. We come as beggars, and then we are given an esteemed place in God’s kingdom as his adopted children.
… Only when we become beggars will we experience the riches of God’s grace.—Author unknown6
The Lord has promised, “Eye has not seen‚ nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him.”7 So we know that He has some very wonderful things in store for us—beyond our imagination, dreams, or what we expect.
It’s encouraging to remember that regardless of how hard the trials and difficulties of earth and the sacrifices we make in our lives for Him may be, He has a reward that will make it worth it all. He said one time, “When I pay you back to the point where you don’t feel that you’ve made a sacrifice, that’s where it has only reached one percent of your reward. My promise is to repay a hundredfold, so there’s much more yet to come!” So while our human earth languages and the limitations of words can’t really do justice to anticipating your heavenly reward, thinking about our crowns of life, our reward that He has promised can help to motivate us and give us the grace we need for challenges of life to come.
The Lord knows you better than anyone else ever could—after all‚ He created you—and He’s going to reward you in ways that will mean the most to you personally.—Maria Fontaine8
Published on Anchor May 2014. Read by Jon Marc. Music by Michael Dooley.
2 The Jesus I Never Knew (Zondervan, 1998).
3 Matthew 11:28–30.
4 Matthew 21:5.
5 Originally published June 1975.
6 Every Day with Jesus (Worthy Publishing, 2011).
7 1 Corinthians 2:9.
8 Originally published October 2005.