In December I had lunch with six college students. I wanted to hear what challenges they face and what hopes they have for the future. A common thread in each of their reflections was an intense burden to succeed. It’s no longer enough to have a diploma or even a high GPA. I’m sounding like an old man, but I feel like "things are harder for kids these days."
I believe the Great Recession intensified an already hyper-competitive and status-seeking society. We are conditioned to strive after bigger and better. Positions of prestige. Jobs that are lucrative and well-compensated. Offices of honor. Places of admiration and influence. We live in a status-seeking society.
Even Jesus’ closest disciples suffered from a value system centered on status. Two brothers, James and John, asked Jesus, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (Mark 10:37). Sitting at his left and right were positions of honor, glory, and prestige.
Jesus described the status-seeking society like this, “The Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them” (Mark 10:42). Notice that he repeats the words “over them.” A status-seeking society is all about vertical position. The key is to be above or higher than another. Even if you’re not on top, you at least strive to be “over” others.
In this context, Jesus set forth a new way that was a reversal of all societal norms. He made an astounding claim: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all" (Mark 10:43). The greatest one is the servant. The first is the slave.
There is an old Latin phrase, Servire est regnare – “to serve is to reign.” It is a strange notion that the highest position in God’s Kingdom . . . is the one with the lowest status. The greatest office . . . is that of a servant. This is a counter-cultural truth. You will spend a lifetime attempting to understand it.
I remember a college professor lecturing a class of highly motivated, highly successful undergrads. Soon this class would be in society, finding jobs with endless upward mobility. He addressed them saying, “As you prepare for your professional career, know this. We need our best to go to the places of greatest need. Strength is for service, not status.”
God has given you many strengths. There are days you may feel utterly weak, but do not doubt that he has bestowed you with unique gifts and strengths. You dishonor God if you think you have nothing. Your life is filled with great responsibilities, opportunities, and potential. As you consider your God-given strength, remember:
Strength is for service, not status.
Jesus himself is the paragon for this counter-intuitive notion. He said, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45). He became a slave in order to free the enslaved. Although his status is rightly that of the World’s King, he chose the lowest status. Now you are free and you are strong, so that you might serve.