I remember the moment Christ revealed to me that my life isn’t about me. I was praying on my floor and unexpectedly had this deep conviction that my life is about Christ, and that my entire existence and all my striving is to serve him and allow him to live in and through me. It was deeply exhilarating, but also deeply humbling. He showed me his centrality in all things, and that everything I do is to further his kingdom, not mine. If I succeed, then by the grace of God he has purposed it to further reveal the love and power of Christ. Yet my motivations are not always Christ-honoring, but are blasphemous and futile, leading to a self-collapsing empire of pride. All too often, my heart gravitates in this direction. I want recognition. I want my name to be dropped at social functions and a life that is admired by followers. I want success that points to me, not Christ.
At our recent New Wine, New Wineskins retreat, Dr. Metzger discussed the theme of entitlement in light of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. In King’s 1968 “Drum Major Instinct” speech, he speaks of our inherent desire to be “drum major(s)”. All of us desire to “lead the parade”, he says, to feel superior. The profound thing about his life though, is that he subverted this desire to lead the parade in the name of love, truth and justice. He submitted it to the Father’s- not his- will. As he says, our innate desire to lead and for recognition is not in and of itself evil. What is evil is when we fail to understand why and how we are to lead, in whose name we are to lead, and for whose kingdom.
King references Mark 10:35, where James and John requested to sit on Jesus’ right and left side, once he is King of Israel. They wanted recognition. They felt entitled to share in his wealth. His response? To be great, give your life as a servant. And this is Jesus, a man who, as discussed further in MLK’s speech, never added up to anything in the world’s eyes. No possessions, never traveled anywhere impressive, had no college education, no published work, no awards, no family. I can only imagine what a dinner conversation would be like with him sitting amongst a host of doctors, professors and lawyers. He was killed out of mockery and deep unpopularity. Upon his last breath, onlookers only gambled for his clothes, and he was buried in a borrowed tomb.
I am deeply humbled when I think about our Lord’s life. And I have the audacity to compare myself to others. To want more. But this is not the way our Lord lived. He humbled himself to the lowest ranks possible, and never did he say, “I may look shabby now, but you just wait. One day, I will conquer the world and you will be sorry.” Jesus’ response was and is a message of patience, of love, of grace, a message that always points to his Father. To the world, he was as significant as the man we pass on the street corner. Forgettable. Laughable. And this was and is our Lord who breaks down barriers of hate with love, and who in Him alone we are purified and reconciled to the Father for eternity.
What about MLK Jr.’s motivation? Power? Recognition? A killer eulogy? An impressive epitaph? His passion and imagination did not stop with him. He didn’t want recognition to sleep better at night. Ironically, his recognition served to do the opposite: put his life and family in danger. He wanted freedom for all people and to ultimately do God’s will–regardless of whether or not he reaped any of the benefits. This is what Jesus was explaining to his disciples. Do not do it for what you gain; do it because love is more powerful than status. It’s sobering to realize that in so many ways I long for center stage and my own victory, and I allow this desire to shape my voice as a believer. I am humbled to realize that it is only Christ in me who can reconcile, who can love, and who can transform hearts and structures. I pray that the church can learn from King’s life, and re-new her vow to serve the world in Christ’s humility and further his kingdom, not her own.