Sometimes two things are true, but seem like they can’t be. We often hear those things as not complementary, but divided. In my recent sermon I talked about finding rest in community and shared that it was restful to be humble and to follow Paul’s instruction to consider others better than ourselves. Considering all others to be better than ourselves allows us to let go of the stress of trying to find our status or our place in the community. If you voluntarily place yourself last, you always know your place. The stress of seeing how you fit in to the community is removed and you can rest knowing that social anxiety is no longer an important element in your life. That concept was extremely enlightening to me. Mostly because I’ve always wanted to not only fit in, but to excel. And I’ve always been deeply sure I couldn’t and never would.
I have struggled with not seeing myself as a ‘real’ pastor, because I did not attend seminary. Those pastors who I admired and respected were theologians who had education credentials that I don’t have. I have learning disabilities that make classroom learning almost impossible for me and I have always felt a lot of shame about that. My first grade teacher, Miss Kimic’s admonition to my parents regarding me was that ‘Rodney, despite seeming fairly bright, doesn’t apply himself, doesn’t pay attention, and just stares out the window all the time’. Never mind that I was almost legally blind, highly ADD, and bored to tears after having read the entire history book the first day of class. I longed to be able to be the good student others were and was sure I had no way of ever being a pastor since I did so poorly in school. My sister has a letter my mother wrote when I was in high school where she told my sister that she was discouraging me from wanting to become a pastor because it would require advanced education and I was a very bad student. Even Mom didn’t believe in me. It was, and is, soul crushing to know you can never move out of the bottom third of the class.
So, what happens when I let go of the expectation that the path to joy and rest is to be first among equals. What happens when I stop comparing myself to other pastors? What happens when I stop and consider all other pastors better than me? First, excellence is taken off the table. I’m no longer striving to get things right. Karen Lefevre once said about Village music and musicians the beautiful words, “We are unhindered by quality control.” It was a rich acknowledgement that being excellent wasn’t a good goal. Some of us, stuck in the rut of wondering what people think of us, shudder at the idea of not doing our best but the removal of excellence as primal doesn’t keep us from doing our best, it only removes our own self aggrandizement as the goal. We become comfortable with the striving and not the result. A second result is that it takes comparison off the table. I don’t have to find my place in the pecking order. After one of my sermons my Mom said to me, “I listen to Billy Graham all the time, but I think your sermons are better than his!” I laughed, but it felt good, even if it was just Mom’s opinion, but it betrays the longing to find where we fit. Maybe I’m worse than Billy, but am I better than Eric or Mark or… If others are all better than I don’t need to compare. Finally, humility allows me the freedom try new things with abandon. I can freely explore whatever God invites me into without fear of failure. I can take delight in giving to God without concern for how the offerings reflect on me. Rest is found in humility.
Some of us push hard against what I’ve written. We do so because our self image has been decimated by Satan. We see ourselves as last, as those who don’t have what it takes. We don’t humble ourselves by voluntarily placing ourselves last, we truly believe we are last. We see all others as better than us, not out of humility, but out of the fear that we have nothing good to offer. Humility becomes coerced, not voluntary. True humility does not come from a place of fear. Humility always comes from a place of strength.
As image bearers of God, we have intrinsic value. God’s love for us is not a love of worthlessness, but a love of that which is precious and valuable to him. God designs and forms us and gives us worth. Our intrinsic value is formed out of love, his love. The tension of humility is not that we are doormats for others to walk on, but that we are loved and cherished by God and arrange ourselves under others as an act of joyful service. God gives the community–his body–good gifts that are used to serve and honor each other.
Despite my lack of formal education God calls me to preach the gospel. It is a gift that he places in me and something that is natural and good for the body. It isn’t something to give me prestige, position, status, and power, but instead it is a gift to benefit the body. God has given me other gifts, as well. He gives me the gift of faith. I often see a future that others cannot see because they don’t have the gift of faith. I get to help the body of Christ to walk confidently into the future. He gives me the gift of mercy. I weep a lot. I get to help the body of Christ see and feel God’s sadness. These are good gifts and helpful ones. But, I’m not the only one who receives God’s good gifts. Each of us receive good gifts and each of us is called to use them to benefit the body of Christ. To deny that you have been a recipient of God’s gracious gifts is to deny his goodness to the body. He has equipped each one of us with that which the body needs.
Some of us, in our brokenness, can’t see what we could offer. We don’t take hold of what we’ve been given. We deny that God has given us good things to offer the community, preferring to believe Satan’s lies and thus we cause pain to the church. Instead of helping the body to be healthy, we deny the gifts God poured out on us. We who do this are called to renounce Satan’s lies and we need to submit to those who can help us discern what God has given us. Some of us don’t like the gifts we’ve been given. We want different gifts. We want what, in our sinfulness, we believe are better gifts. We are interested in status, not servanthood. God’s invitation is to lay down our demands for the sake of the body. This is very hard. We are easily inclined to do what we believe is in our self interest. North American culture drives the point home. Jesus calls on us to follow his example and lay down our lives for others. He calls on us to accept the gifts we’ve been given and to delight in them. The way of the gospel is the way of servanthood. It is to use what we’ve been given to build up the body. The best of the gospel expression is when each member of the body offers what it has been given for the sake of the head, which is Jesus Christ. Each of us has beautiful things to offer. There is an interesting tension between being uniquely gifted and talented and voluntarily laying that before the body for the benefit of the body. May we live in the tension of having all that we need and desire in Christ and humbly laying it aside for use in service of each other. It is there where we find rest and where the body is made complete.