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The Desire for Greatness

We live in a world where everyone seems to want to build their own brand, grow their audience, and achieve some sort of significance. But we’ve seen over and over again that when that desire becomes the focus, it leaves a trail of harm behind in the pursuit of power and glory.

It’s so easy to point my finger and shake my head when another influential leader is exposed by some public disgrace. But in the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,

“before we condemn them too quickly, let us look calmly and honestly at ourselves, and we will discover that we too have those same basic desires for recognition, for importance, that same desire for attention, that same desire to be first.”

I am convicted and challenged by those words. I see in myself that desire for significance. I see in myself the temptation to turn my focus to the numbers and the praise. I see in myself the capacity to be led astray by the seductive lure of power and status and to leave a trail of harm in my wake. I see my own humanity.

We have to be honest about our own motivations if we want to live differently. The only way to overcome the darkness is to shine light on it. Once it is exposed, God can heal it and lead us in a new way.

I love the call from Dr. King as he looked to Jesus’ example to reorient our priorities and to seek a new definition of greatness…

“Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be first in love. I want you to be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity. That is what I want you to do.”

The only way to achieve true greatness is to keep our eyes on Jesus, to keep pursuing his kingdom above all else, to keep choosing love even when it costs us. It’s counter-cultural and it’s counter-intuitive, but I think we’ve seen that our cultural norms and natural inclinations have often let us down. Instead, may Jesus, who is love embodied, inform our measure of greatness and lead us in his way of humility and peace "so that we can make of this old world a new world."


All quotes from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermon entitled “Drum Major Instinct”

Thanks to Reconcile Church for sharing Dr. King’s sermon at another great MLK Prayer Breakfast!

Cover Image by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash


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