Devotional Thought: Who Is The Greatest?
My wife and I have four beautiful children. Our two oldest, ages 4 and 2, love competing with each other. One of their favorite games is “running.” Reagan, our oldest, will pick an arbitrary destination—usually the car or mailbox—and yell, “I’m the fastest!” as she runs towards her goal. Anderson will then play the dutiful younger brother and chase after her as fast as his much shorter legs will carry him. The fact that he always finishes in second place doesn’t deter him from also yelling from the top of his lungs, “I’m the fastest!” In his sweet, innocent two-year-old mind there is no such thing as a silver medal, runner up, or also-ran. There is just running.
I was recently reminded of how different my own attitude is from that of my son when I attended a conference for pastors and other Christian leaders. The production level of the event was astonishing. For three days I listened to some of our nations greatest leaders and speakers and was mesmerized by their sense of presentation and ability to speak. But as the conference wore on I began to notice a disturbing feeling growing inside me. What started as a sense of discouragement saying, “I’ll never be as good as them,” grew into a defiant sense of competitiveness, “I’ve got to work hard to make sure I can be as good as them!” Ultimately these sentiments are not different feelings, but the same: a reaction from my own insecurity.
In Matthew 18 we see what seems to be a particularly childish example of the Disciples’ insecurity. In actuality, however, the Disciples are acting more grown up than I think we want to admit. They bring before Jesus the question that haunts all of us who are controlled by insecurity, “Who is the greatest?” Being perhaps more spiritually mature than the rest of us, however, they add a flare of religiosity to their question, beckoning Christ to tell them who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Turning the tables as only Jesus can, He responds that the person who has the humility of a child is the one who is truly great.
Jesus’ response again sends me back to the unknowing wisdom of my son and his humble understanding of his speed. We often misunderstand what true humility is, confusing it instead with a self-abasing attitude that is actually a result of insecurity, not humility. An insecure person will downplay his or her abilities, constantly looking for someone to counter their self-loathing with affirmations of the person’s talents, looks, or personality. For years I convinced myself that I was incredibly humble, when in all actuality I was simply controlled by insecurity. True humility, however, comes much closer to what we would consider self-confidence. This self-confidence will allow an individual to stop obsessing with oneself, and instead turn his or her attention elsewhere. As Tim Keller has noted, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
I think one reason Jesus pointed His disciples to the innocence of children is because they have a self-assurance most of us could never imagine. A child can yell, “I’m the fastest,” and mean it every bit, because he or she hasn’t yet learned that our world is driven by performance and perfection. They haven’t yet grasped the fact that reaching the mailbox in second place degrades your performance in the world’s eyes. Jesus lifting up childlike humility should remind us all that faithfulness to His calling frees us from the performance metric, allowing us all to run confidently yelling, “I’m the fastest!” We can all bask in the peace that comes from running the race that He has set before us, not the path the world would put us on.