Servanthood: the Path to Greatness

IMG_7099Almost 7 months ago, we welcomed our 2nd daughter, Sophia, into the world! And with the joy of her arrival, God ushered in a new season of my life: one of servanthood.

I cannot tell you the joy and the honor it is for me to spend my day taking care of children. (Those of you who know my story can understand the depth of appreciation I have for the gift of motherhood.) But the arrival of a second baby resulted in a loss of my free time, my rest, and my energy. Amidst the joy of finally holding this sweet new baby I was often frustrated that I was not able to do the things I wanted to do.

At the time, I had been reading through Matthew and a couple of passages caught my attention:

“But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled ; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” Matthew 23:11-12

“Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:26-28

What a backwards thing to say! The first shall be your slave, the greatest shall be your servant. This goes against the grain of every natural inclination in me. It is my default to see how I can climb the ladder of greatness, whether in the realm of motherhood, the world of blogging, or within my own circles of friends. I often find myself trying to become “greater” without even realizing it. It is just the subtle current of my sin-inflicted heart to drift toward self-exaltation and self-promotion.

But here, Jesus just gave me a glimpse into a greater reality: in the Kingdom of God, the greatest are those that are servants to all. The way up is down. The way to greatness is lowliness. And this is because Jesus Himself modeled this:

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”
Philippians 2:5-11

Jesus’ own path to exaltation began in laying aside His rights and choosing the lowly path of servanthood, even to the point of death. Why would His Kingdom operate any differently?

While pondering these things, I realized I had a golden opportunity. This season of endless diaper changes, overflowing dishes and sleepless nights was actually an opportunity to learn about true greatness. To meditate on the reality that in following Jesus I am called, like Him, to give up everything I am entitled to and choose the path of servant. Except, unlike Jesus, I am not actually entitled to anything.

I began to ponder what it really means to be a servant and a slave. What would life be like for servants or slaves in a household? I could imagine they would feel tired and sore at the end of the day. That any free time they had for themselves would be seen as a gift. That they wouldn’t expect to be thanked and congratulated for their service because they are only doing what is expected of them. As Jesus shared, the right response of a servant is: “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.” (Luke 17:9-10)

To take up this call to servanthood changed my outlook entirely. My entitlement was replaced with gratitude. My complaining turned to rejoicing. My need for a pat on the back was substituted with a thankfulness to become more like Jesus.

Ironically, I have sometimes resented the call of motherhood and servanthood because it seems to keep me from doing “something greater or more important.” Truthfully, I usually desire to do those “greater, more important things” so that I can feel good about myself or feel that I have some value and standing among my peers. It is really self-exaltation in disguise. The Word tells me how to be great and how to be important VERY PLAINLY: be a servant. It is not confusing, subtle, or said only once. Evidently, Jesus found it necessary to emphasize to our stubborn hearts that He really did mean that the first shall be last.

I must quote one of my favorite books here:

“Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” Would God [help us believe] that Jesus means this! We all know what the character of a faithful servant or slave implies. Devotion to the master’s interests, thoughtful study and care to please him, delight in his prosperity and honor and happiness. There are servants on earth in whom these dispositions have been seen, and to whom the name of servant has never been anything but a glory. To how many of us has it not been a new joy in the Christian life to know that we may yield ourselves as servants, as slaves to God, and to find that His service is our highest liberty,-the liberty from sin and self? We need now to learn another lesson,-that Jesus calls us to be servants of one another, and that, as we accept it heartily, this service too will be a most blessed one, a new and fuller liberty too from sin and self. At first it may appear hard; this is only because of the pride which still counts itself something. If once we learn that to be nothing before God is the glory of the creature, the spirit of Jesus, the joy of heaven, we shall welcome with our whole heart the discipline we may have in serving even those who try to vex us. When our own heart is set upon this, the true sanctification, we shall study each word of Jesus on self-abasement with new zest, and no place will be too low, and no stooping too deep, and no service too mean or too long continued, if we may but share and prove the fellowship with Him who spake, “I am among you as he that serveth”.
~Andrew Murray, “Humility”

May I always be CONVINCED that Jesus truly meant what He said: that servanthood is the path to greatness. May I always jump at the chance to serve others and consider their needs as more important than my own. For this is the way in which my Savior lived and I seek to emulate Him in all ways.

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

7 Comments

  1. Thank you so so so much for sharing!
    The Lord has been working with me in this too and your blog is another tool he used in reminding me to be humble and at peace where ever I am and whatever I am doing.
    Thank you again and God bless you and your growing family!

    -Kass (Writer)

  2. Sarah Hart

    I truly needed to hear this. God has really been working on my heart in this manner the last few months. He’s really been hammering it home that I need to “bloom where I’m planted”. I have a hard time being content with where God has placed me because I’m ambitious and want to do “great things”. And sometimes its hard to see past the diapers and endless laundry. I feel unimportant and reduced to a homebody. But he’s been showing me that my ministry is to my family and to the people around me. it doesn’t have to be on stage unless its His choice to put me there. But I’m STILL a vital player in His ultimate story of His grace to the world, just because I’m not on stage doesn’t mean I can’t minister effectively in people around me. You’re still a vital player because you’re making history through supporting your hubbie in his ministry, the generation to come through your children, and those that read these meaningful posts. Hang in there. I had a hard time with the second child coming along too and have dealt with resentment from time to time for having children right now because they can be such a challenge (although I still love them dearly, please don’t get me wrong). This post sounds almost like you’ve been reading my mind. Lol God will give you the strength you need to be that servant. I think its all part of His plan to refine us into His image.

  3. Anonymous

    Hi Kelly,
    alot of your testimony has blessed me, and i thank God for you.
    However, i have trouble relating this teaching to motherhood/parenthood.
    I would think that with one’s own children, one shouldn’t have to take on a servant-hood attitude to get through the sacrifices and demands that it brings. Unlike with servant hood, these are one’s own kids, long awaited and prayed for, and blessings, not chores endured for compensation.
    Isn’t the servant hood attitude/teaching, of a deeper sacrificial significance? such as Jesus’s washing of feet? and often not to people we easily and are obliged to care for?

  4. Happy birthday Kelly!

    I’m always so blessed and thankful for your blog posts! I’ve been praying and working on humbling myself before God. Especially with so many distractions going on, I’m thankful to have some time to read your post and pray about it!

    Once again, it was lovely meeting you in San Jose back in January! πŸ™‚ I also hope you have a blessed Good Friday today as well!

  5. Anonymous

    Happy Birthday Kelly Needham!Thank you so much for blessing me with your beautiful words.

  6. GREAT WRITING KELLY!

  7. Katie

    I just had my second daughter three weeks ago, my first daughter is almost four years old. I so needed to read this today! I have been getting frustrated quicker, and wishing I had more free time. Servanthood and love is what Jesus came to teach, I know this post is exactly what God wanted me to read today, I will be meditating on this for a while, and praying about it. Thank you so much πŸ™‚

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