Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:25–26, esv).
The mother of James and John once approached Jesus with a bold, impertinent request: “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Matthew 20:21). To which Jesus responded—with the understatement of the ages—“You do not know what you are asking” (Matthew 20:22).
Yet what she was asking—in asking for greatness—was not entirely wrong, even though she’d obviously gone about it in the wrong way.
To want greatness is our God-given destiny. He has placed a desire deep within our hearts to do something great with our lives, to make a difference in the world, to possess a vital purpose, to live for something that will last. Wanting greatness is not the problem. Greatness is what He wants for us, too. The problem is primarily how we think we get there.
Greatness, in the world’s estimation, is achieved by things like being in charge or being the best at something. Certain jobs or positions are considered synonymous with greatness—presidents, leaders, star athletes and entertainers, positions of power and authority—anything that’s likely to win acclaim, notice, and applause.
Nowhere in Jesus’ answer to this gutsy mother, her two boys, or the other ten disciples is the notion that greatness is undesirable. We just need to go after it the right way: not by striving to be prominent and recognized, but by seeking to serve.
If your Christian life feels like nothing but dry duty and obligation today, it may be because you’ve stopped seeking to serve. If you’re not growing spiritually the way you once did, when faith was newer and seemingly more exciting, it may be because you’ve stopped seeking to serve. If you’re obsessed with what other people think of you and always craving more recognition, it may be because you’ve stopped seeking to serve. You’ve been thinking there’s another way to experience greatness.
But there’s not. There’s only service.
Serving Christ makes all of life come into perspective. The momentum of action reenergizes your heart, reversing what’s calcified into blandness and boredom. The choice to serve the Lord is one of the single most important decisions you will ever make. When you realize that daily Christian living is not Jesus serving you, but you serving Jesus—it changes your whole incentive and outlook.
“Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (20:26–28).
Greatness is yours for the taking. But only by giving.
If you want to be great—which you should—choose to serve.
Father, thank You for creating us with dignity as Your image-bearers, and for providing daily opportunities to experience greatness in Your service. I ask today that You would open my eyes to the people and places You would have me serve. Show me again, Lord, that I find abundant life in serving You and losing myself for You. I give myself to You and Your service, in Jesus’ matchless name, amen.