In the rolling hills of the Palouse countryside near my town, a small white church sits tucked behind a row of evergreen trees. To the side of the church is a tidy little graveyard, much like the one in this image.
My husband and I have walked through that graveyard on more than one occasion, reading names and dates on the headstones, reflecting on life.
I suspect these folks who died over a century ago lived simply. They probably didn’t travel far. They likely had only a small circle of people who knew them.
By today’s standards, we might think of their lives as wasted—but today’s standards bear some serious re-evaluation.
Consider the message evangelical Christians have been hearing for decades—the buzzwords, the pressure to perform.
Passion. Vision. Purpose. Calling. We’ve been pushed to seek significance.
Here’s the problem: we translate “significant” into “big” and “important” and “noticeable.”
In evangelicalism, it’s not okay to live a small life.
We’ve turned the idea of calling and purpose into being the hero of our own story rather than contented bit players in God’s meta-narrative.
We love words like leadership, impact and influence. We’re desperate to minister to as many people as possible, all in the name of “reaching more people for Jesus.”
We tell ourselves we want to do great things for God—but I question if our efforts are really for Him.
As a writer and speaker, it’s easy for me to fall into the trap of trying to measure influence and impact—book sales, social media stats, email list size.
I wonder, am I truly serving Jesus, or my own ego? I like the notion of “servant leader,” but how do I respond when treated like a subservient?
At the end of the day, what if my Christian activities are nothing more than thinly veiled selfish ambition (Phil. 2:3)?
My soul, I fear, is sick.
God’s kingdom is an upside-down kingdom, but I keep trying to put it right-side up. I use the world’s metrics to try to validate the success of my spiritual life.
I get it exactly backwards.
Christians today face a huge temptation to make much of ourselves in the name of serving God. We want to be a Big Deal—for Jesus, of course.
We forget that only a tiny slice of humanity has enjoyed (or been plagued by) today’s opportunities for notoriety.
We forget how many people have lived and died unknown by most.
We are not better than they are. We are not more important.
One day, every Christian will stand before Jesus regarding their works. Imagine a humble, forgotten-by-the-world saint hearing these words from him:
“Alas, if only you had lived in 21st century America so you could have been a big deal for Me. Then I could have rewarded you. As it is, well…you didn’t lead, influence and impact enough people.”
I think not.
Mother Teresa said, “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”
Consider how Jesus approached life.
Jesus stayed closely in tune with his Father. He knew he was the Messiah, the Savior of the world, yet He didn’t trumpet a grandiose cause or mission or goal.
He took steps of obedience, planting seeds, tucking leaven into loaves, spreading the good news of his kingdom unhurriedly, effectively, with great love.
Unknown people who live like Jesus will receive a much greater reward than some of the most celebrated and honored Christians we know of.
That’s because God’s economy doesn’t work like ours.
When we stand before Jesus one day, he won’t care about whether we made a big splash for him.
He’ll be far more concerned about whether we put away selfish ambition and lived from love.
Oh, God, forgive us for being seduced by the world’s idea of measuring success. Recalibrate our souls. Help us be content in doing small things with great love. In Christ’s Name we ask, Amen.