Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Extraordinary Greatness

The past couple weeks have been busy ones for me, pushing through a course on the Old Testament at breakneck speed. But now I have a week off, time enough to get ready for another semester, brush up on my Greek, and plunge back in. The problem is that when I have time off, I’m woefully undisciplined at using it constructively. It’s hard to keep to a monastic round on one’s own. But things are going well here in Denver, which may be finally starting to warm up after a cold spell. Rachel’s back at school as well, and she seems to be enjoying it most of the time and pluckily persevering the rest of the time. We were both drafted onto our church’s mission team a couple weeks ago, so it’s been fun to get involved in that way, planning out a few services for next month.

One of the things that has been on my mind since coming to seminary, and especially in the last few weeks, is the issue of greatness. Last semester my scholarship group—myself and five other guys, all on some sort of pastoral track—read J. Oswald Sanders’ classic, Spiritual Leadership. In his first chapter, Sanders addresses the desire to lead as “an honorable ambition.” Further, he writes, “Desiring to be great is not a sin. It is motivation that determines ambition’s character.”

I think Sanders is right. The problem for me, though, is that my motivations are often mixed. I don’t know how far such ambitions extend among others, but I’ve never given up the dream of having a heroic life. Not necessarily famous, mind you, but heroic—I want a life that will make a good story by the end. I take an odd sort of pleasure in circumstances that are downright unpleasant—like getting stranded all night in a deserted mudpit along a landmined highway in the Angolan bush—simply because it’s so adventuresome. One of the most difficult verses for me to accept wholeheartedly is Paul’s advice in 1 Thess. 4:11 (which I’m now going to quote in truncated form, and blatantly out of context), “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.” Taken at face value, though this advice does have some quaint appeal, it sounds boring to me. I take comfort in the fact that Paul’s own life certainly doesn’t conform flawlessly to this ideal. I would much rather be like Paul than like a quiet Thessalonian workman. Maybe in the end of all things it will be the workman, and not the intrepid missionary, who gains the greater reward, but it is the latter ideal that drives my heart.

Anyway, these peculiar leanings of mine are often coupled with a desire for greatness. Sometimes it takes the form of prideful yearning for personal attention, but more often it’s a sincere desire to see God doing great things in and around me. I want to be a tool of great usefulness in the hands of the King, and that desire knows almost no bounds. Maybe I have a messianic complex, but there are times when I dream of shaking the nations singlehandedly for the cause of Christ. Luckily for my pride, though, I’m not in a position to do that, except through prayer. Still, having been lauded fairly often for my preaching, writing, scholasticism, and even my insatiable wanderlust, the monster of pride lurks all too near the doorways of my heart. In the beauty of God’s workmanship, though, I’ve found that even when he does do great things through me, I’m often blissfully unaware of his move until well after the fact. By then all the glory has faded, and I am left speechless with wonder and love for his measureless grace.

But the point of this rambling string of thoughts is only indirectly about me. I know you wouldn’t get that idea from reading the paragraphs above, but it’s true. The thought that struck me, following on the heels of my last post, is that God is not nearly so concerned about using me to do great things as he is concerned with using his church to do great things.

I am slowly learning to be content with anonymity and commonness, for no one is anonymous or common to God or to the church. I am discovering the joy of not being a reckless individual in the middle of the spotlight, but rather being a member of the body that dances in the unending light of God’s grace. Whatever else comes in this life, whether my days make a good story or not, I will know that I have belonged to something truly extraordinary, to something that defies all measure of greatness—I will have been among the saints of God; I will have been among the church.