We all have dreams. We have material dreams – to make more money, buy that nice car, live in a better neighborhood. We dream of work that will change the world. Wouldn’t it be *great* if we could change the world?
And then reality hits. We barely make enough to pay our student loans, car loans, credit card debt. And our work is – well, ordinary. Forget changing the world, we can’t even change the mind of that stubborn person we work with. Our dream of greatness slowly dies.
Work seems to be the place where our dreams of greatness go to die. So much of daily work is ordinary, mundane, and lowly, set in the backdrop of imperfect work places and amongst broken human beings, cultures and systems.
Let’s explore how Jesus defines greatness and what this means for our daily work.
In Mark 10, we see disciples James and John jockeying for the top positions on Jesus’ ministry team. They left the family fishing business and have been following Jesus for a while now. They want to be promoted.
“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you,” they said to Jesus. “…Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (v35, 37, NRSV).
Jesus responds by saying they don’t know what they’re asking for. “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? (v38, NRSV)”
They readily said yes. They have no clue what the cup is – they probably think it’s a good cup of espresso or something – but they say yes because they want the promotion. Jesus proceeds to graciously spell out what he means.
“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (v42-45, NRSV).”
Jesus’ Definition of Greatness
Jesus recognizes the way the Gentiles lord over others. But it is not to be so among his followers. Whoever wants to be great must be a servant. In our work culture, we rank and prioritize by title, but God lifts up the lowly. In God’s equation, the servants get the first spot. The servants are called great.
Let’s be honest though. Servanthood conjures up images of forced labor, manual labor, with low to no pay.
I’m Chinese-Pilipino-American and the Philippines has a history of colonialism, as well as the enemy within. The Spaniards came and colonized the country for almost 400 years. Then the Americans colonized the country for 50. Then the Japanese and World War 2 happened. A couple of decades after the war, the very young democracy was ruled by a dictator named Ferdinand Marcos who enforced Martial Law for 21 years. He was overthrown in 1986.
How could God call me to serve when my people have known what it’s like to be colonized?
Those who lorded over my people were unjust and unloving. Jesus is the opposite. The way he exercises his power is by serving. Instead of servanthood being a subservient act, Jesus’ servanthood is his ultimate act of power and greatness. He gave his life away so we might live. And he calls us to do the same.
What does Servanthood look like at work?
I picked up this little book back in college that changed my world. It’s a book called: The Practice of the Presence of God by a monk named Brother Lawrence. This monk lived in France a long time ago and served in the kitchen most of his life. In the midst of washing pots and pans, he says, “I am doing now what I will do for all eternity. I am blessing God, praising Him, adoring him, and loving Him with all my heart.”
Brother Lawrence’s theology is not popular in our world of upgrades and flash. There was nothing flashy about washing pots and pans back in his day. And it’s not flashy today. Brother Lawrence didn’t get promoted to become top chef of the monastery kitchen.
Most days, our jobs can feel pretty mundane. We wonder if we’re doing anything significant and of value. Sometimes, it’s plain boring. Servanthood is ‘washing pots and pans’ and blessing God.
One of my jobs when I first graduated from college was as an assistant to one of the top agents in a commercial real estate firm. I did everything – made copies of legal documents, faxed them, sent them (we had paper back then), compiled marketing materials for mass mailers, lots of data entry as well. It was the height of a recession so just having an office job in an economically depressed part of the country was a HUGE blessing. But I also had a horrible boss. He worked us pretty hard, was hard to please, and paid us very little. Thankfully, I had a Christian co-worker and he and I would support each other as we worked for this man. Working with this friend helped keep me accountable to God – to do great work even in trying circumstances. We tried our best to be a blessing, we also shared our faith where appropriate, and encouraged him to seek more of God and not money. After we left, a year later, our boss became a believer.
What are the ‘pots and pans’ (literal or figurative) at your work? How can you bless God in the midst of daily work?
We dream of greatness. The workplace doesn’t have to be a place where our dreams of greatness die.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. says, “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to get your subject and verb to agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
Response to the God of Pots and Pans
I want to be with this God of Pots and Pans. Will this God delight in me and love me as I wash, clean and serve? For the work of my hands is tiring and many times tedious, and the people I serve ungrateful and demanding. In the kitchen serving, the world doesn’t see my hard work. The clean pots and pans don’t shout for glory. I don’t shout for glory.
But the kitchen is his prayer room, and maybe it can be mine. The kitchen in the monastery. For the God of Pots and Pans to reveal his glory. And for him to softly whisper, “Well done, my humble and faithful servant.”