Jesus shows the way to greatness. Nearly 2,000 years after his passing, he is one of the most widely quoted and followed thinkers ever. Statistics indicate that more than a third of the people on the planet are Christians who seek to follow the ways of Jesus.
Unfortunately, it is not easy to follow the ways of Jesus in a high-tech, consumer-driven society. Wearing a WWJD bracelet is a start, but it does not mean that I know how to think and act like Jesus in everyday situations.
This challenge is not new. Even the people who met Jesus struggled to understand his teachings. The reason we have a New Testament is because the first generations of believer bungled the call of Jesus – badly.
In Philippians 2, Paul shared Jesus’ simple secret to greatness – empty yourself.
Jesus started as equal with God, and he emptied himself. He poured the vast power of God into tiny cells in a young lady’s womb and limited himself to the frailties of human flesh. As the only human ever to choose the circumstances of his birth, he chose a barn rather than a mansion, a blue-collar family rather than royalty.
It got worse. Not only did God take the role of a servant, God also died. A humiliating, shameful death, executed like an enemy of the state. If you had evaluated the life of Jesus as he hung on the cross, you would have deemed his life a failure, a total waste.
And then, there is the rest of the story. God breathed new life into the body of Jesus. And in so doing, God showed that there are powers greater than death and there are measures of success more significant than bank accounts, awards or titles. The resurrection and ascension of Jesus put God’s permanent stamp of approval on the life and teachings of Jesus.
Jesus shows the ladder of success goes down, not up. If you want to be great, stop thinking about yourself and serve others. Paul phrased it this way in Philippians 2:4 – “not looking to your own interests but to the interests of others.”
It takes faith and courage to follow this path of “downward mobility.” By nature, we are focused on self-preservation.
While the way of self-emptying feels unnatural, you see it when you look at the people who impacted you for good. Loving parents set aside their needs to care for their children. The best teachers are the ones who put in long hours pouring into their students and developing new ways to help them learn. Your mentors gave up time and energy to invest in your growth.
You can even spot Jesus’ path to greatness in popular leadership material. In Jim Collins’ “Good to Great,” you meet Level 5 leaders. “Level 5 leaders are ambitious first and foremost for the cause, the organization, the work – not themselves – and they have the fierce resolve to do whatever it takes to make good on that ambition.” Did you catch that? The best leaders are not ambitious for themselves. They are emptying themselves into their cause.
If you want a plan for success in life, Jesus shows the way. Stop planning your agenda to make something of yourself. Seek ways to serve and love the people around you. Then watch God bless.
After 13 years on staff with College Hills Church of Christ, John Grant began service as a minister with Compassionate Hands homeless shelters in October. Learn more at compassionatehandstn.org. Preacher’s Corner features a new local preacher writing a column each month.