By Mike Mazyck
Who do you think of when you think of the “greats” of the Christian faith?
If someone were to have asked me, for most of my Christian life, I would have rattled off names like Charles Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis, or Mother Teresa. I would have immediately thought of men and women who have written great books, preached to thousands, and influenced massive amounts of people. I would have thought about those who have sparked reformations and revivals. If asked about the giants of our current generation, I would have said names like John MacArthur, Francis Chan, or one of my favorites, John Piper! But as I have spent more time in the word and come to know our Lord more fully, He has begun to change my answer to that question.
All those names I would have rattled off have something in common: They are known! Not just known — but well known! They are the names of those with huge platforms that have impacted millions of souls. They are the ones who have wielded great influence. As I thought about how I answered the question, I realized it revealed something within me. It revealed a subtle deception I had bought into.
The immediate inclination of my mind was to think of men and women that are known! Men and women with great followings. You could even say they have achieved a level of “fame” within the Church. I realized I had inadvertently brought the world’s ranking system into my theological perspective.
Why is this type of reasoning so dangerous to our walk with God? Because all true believers have a desire to make their Father proud! We long to hear those words, “Well done, thy good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23) So, when someone asks us the question: Who do you view as the “greats” of the faith? And we immediately recall those who have acquired massive fame and influence. The logical correlation, even if we aren’t consciously aware of it, is that we must accomplish similar feats as those men and women to make our Father proud. Until we have accomplished some great task for the Lord, we have not truly stepped into our calling. We haven’t accomplished all that He has created us for. Yet, this notion directly contradicts the entire teaching of Scripture and the words of our Lord Himself.
Jesus told us plainly, numerous times, that the way to become great in the Kingdom is to become less in this life, not more. (Matthew 20:26-28) When Jesus arrived on the scene, what did John the Baptist say: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). John had no desire to exalt himself. In fact, his desire was just the opposite.
I have always loved these great words of G.D. Watson in his famous tract, Others May – You Cannot, “If God has called you to be really like Christ in all your spirit, He will draw you into a life of crucifixion and humility,…The Lord will let others be honored and put forward, and keep you hid away in obscurity because He wants to produce some choice fragrant fruit for His glory, which can be produced only in the shade…. God will let others be great, but He will keep you small. He will let others do a great work for Him and get credit for it, but He will make you work and toil on without knowing how much you are doing; and then to make your work still more precious, He will let others get the credit for the work you have done, and this will make your reward ten times greater when He comes.”
Am I saying it is wrong for us to have influence? Certainly not! God chooses to exalt some of His servants. But that is not the norm. They are the exception. They are only the tip of an enormous iceberg that looms beneath the surface. The message of the world in our generation is to build a platform. Build our brand. Become an influencer. EXALT YOURSELF! Our enemy certainly knows that there is quite possibly no greater power in the world than the ability to influence people, and he wants all men to desire this power! Maybe we should consider the words of Plato, “He who does not desire power is fit to hold it.” I would venture to say this is how God works as well; He exalts those who do not desire to be exalted.
Yet the world is not the only voice telling us that we must increase! This subtle and deceptive message comes from within the church as well. It sounds something like this: God has created you for some big purpose. He has some magnificent plan for your life — a “destiny” you were created for! These voices tell you that you need to dream bigger. You need to step into your calling. These messages sell lots of books. They create lots of hype at the latest conference. But are they the truth?
Does God have a plan for your life? Of course, He does. His word tells us that. (Ephesians 2:10) But what if that beautiful and great and magnificent plan is, as G.D. Watson so aptly put it, for you to live in obscurity for the rest of your life? What if that plan is for you to simply be a loving parent who lays down your life to raise your children — a loyal and dedicated spouse — a humble servant in some small and overlooked ministry at your local church? What if your calling — your destiny — is to live a life of silent and concealed obedience in your prayer closet?
And to tell no one! What if His great plan is for you to decrease? To be unknown!
Who are the “greats” of the Christian faith?
I’ve now come to believe that is an unanswerable question. Most of their names will never be known in this life. I believe they were men and women who took Jesus at His word — they decreased. They sought no recognition. No following. No platform. They lived in humble and simple obedience. They lived in a beautiful obscurity as unknown soldiers!