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True Greatness

weekly theme #44 True Greatness*

week containing the Sunday between Aug 28 and Sept 3

The writers of every era have proclaimed certain people as “great”.  Whether it was an Egyptian inscription or today’s instagram, people judge others and themselves on a scale of worth.  People are judged as “great” by their accomplishments, position, wealth, talent, appearance, and even because they are entertaining.  What makes me great in God’s eyes?  One thing is quite clear.  Greatness to Jesus is evidenced by serving others.  Deeper than that, I need a heart of service because I can “serve” in a homeless shelter a couple of hours a month but still possess the attitude of a master.

I think a servant’s heart is most difficult for leaders.  People submit to leaders, which leads the leader to adapt to treating people as servants.  Whether I’m the head of the household or the Head of State, leading with a humble spirit, rather than a position of power, is only possible by my submission to God’s intervention.  Maybe that’s why humble, modest leaders are so rare.

I am starting to believe that great people are not identified by their extravagance but by being content with enough.  My acquisition of material possessions is determined more by advertising and “keeping up with the Jones” than by Jesus’ example and words.  In Matthew 6:32-33 Jesus says, “Why be like the pagans who are so deeply concerned about these things?  Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and he will give you all you need from day-to-day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.”  In fact, Jesus said that the greatest person who ever lived was John the Baptist, a man who lived on food he gathered from the wild and who wore animal skins as his clothes.  True greatness knows when to say, “Enough stuff!”

Jesus was busy, but he wasn’t too busy for people.  Greatness requires me to take time for people.  It takes time to care, listen, morn, seek justice on behalf of others, and be merciful.  “Lord, may I look back at this day and fall asleep knowing I pleased you and was helpful to others.  Amen.”

Jesus talked about positions in heaven such as the left and right hand of Father, the least, and the great.  One of those times (Matthew 5:19) he said that a person obeying God and teaching others to do the same will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven.  I think it is noteworthy that Jesus desires teaching to accompany obedience.  He repeats that theme in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:20), and Paul emphasizes it to Timothy.  (2 Timothy 2:2)  Teaching others to follow the Lord is what great people do.  Being a great teacher is not necessary, let alone be the goal.  Skill in teaching will come with experience, and experience comes with practice, trial, and mistakes.  The godly heart of the teacher is the foundation on which a good teacher is produced.

What is true greatness?  It’s nothing like what the world craves, applauds, or rewards.  It is an inner, soul issue.  Jesus said there is no profit if I gain the entire world but lose my soul.  I have neither gained the world nor lost my soul, but I think my soul has eroded through the years.  I absorbed some of the world slowly over time – almost unconsciously.  This slow seep has polluted the soul entrusted to me.  True greatness is nurturing the soul given me by the LORD.  I do that by loving the LORD with all that I am, to the point that gaining even a piece of the world holds no attraction.

*A Guide To Prayer by Job and Shawchuck provided the scripture references and readings that inspired these reflections.  I found this devotional to be the most heart changing of any I’ve used.  It truly lives up to its title.

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Learning To Listen. Learning To Teach.

The secondary title of this book by Jane Vella is “The Power Of Dialogue In Educating Adults”.  I was already a believer in teaching adults through discussion.  But Vella gave me more details, direction, advice, and models in how to do it better.

For some reason we assume that teaching is something done through lecture.  Granted, there are powerful speakers who can make great points and engage their audience, but the reason for teaching goes beyond entertaining.  Vella wrote, “Lectured-to-adults learn.  They learn that they hold no influence and make no impact on decisions.  They learn that they are expected to be passive.”  But many adults want to do something with what they learn.  They want to carry this new attitude, knowledge, or skill into their future for a change in their life.

I join Vella in being a big fan of learning in small groups, or teams.  Vella says, “Teammates provide coaching, encouragement, accountability, and more.  They often do this better than the teacher.”  I’ll be more faithful to put into practice what I learned if I know someone I respect is going to ask me about my progress.   Not only that, they are going to expect me to ask them how they are doing.  The power of a team is greater than the power of all the individuals added together.

One of the items that Vella revealed to me was teaching that I need to teach people what they want to learn.  “People are naturally excited to learn what they want to know.  (Whereas teachers are excited to teach what they know.)”  She explains the importance of  listening to people before beginning to teach, that often the teacher must learn from the students before teaching them.

I could go on, but let me close with a challenge from Vella, “Our task as dialogue-educators is to make the learning so accountable, engagement so meaningful, and the material so relevant that lecture-style instruction will appear frail in comparison.”

My notes on this book can be downloaded in MS Word format from the blue “FILES box” in the left side-bar of this blog.

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