Stand Out of the Crowd to Jesus
I love reading biographies of amazing Christians…most of the time. The stories of great disciples, missionaries, and martyrs throughout church history are wonderfully encouraging, but only when I take them in through a Biblical lens. They are excruciatingly painful when I don’t. They can easily turn from books leading me to celebrate Jesus to agents of temptation leading me to doubt, self condemnation and disappointment in a moment. The difference depends on how I look at them. When I focus on Jesus’ standard for His people while reading, they bring joy and peace. When I lose sight of Jesus’ view of me and replace it with anything else, anxiety, discontent, and regret crash in on me. This is why it so important to understand how God judges His followers. It is so markedly different than the way the world rates people that mixing the two standards always leads to trouble.
For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 6:7
I am Not a Number
The world determines your worth based on statistics. The culture looks you over and adds up the numbers on the things it values. You get positive or negative points for appearance, personality, accomplishments, successes, and acclaim. The world then tallies up the numbers to say whether you are good or bad, a success or failure, prominent or a nobody, wealthy or poor, in or out…the list of conclusions is long. It is a silent accounting process that society relentlessly repeats every day. The special people in society are those with high totals after the evaluation. This sort of thinking led to Saul being asked for by the people to be the first king of Israel. He had all the statistics the society valued in a person, he had high numbers, so he was their natural choice.
God never works this way. He does judge the worth of His people, but through the lens of the Cross of Jesus. It took Jesus’ body on the Cross to pay for you. Therefore, every one of His people are valued in relation to this unthinkable cost. You are always priceless to God because of Jesus!
But God is also all knowing and just. He sees all of His family and knows there are differences among us. Jesus spoke of the greatest and the least in the Kingdom of God. Though you standing before God is certain, it is also true that there are Christians who are extraordinary in their walk. They stand out to God and to the church. There are also those who are less so. They are just as beloved by God a children, but for whatever reason, they are stuck in neutral in their walk. They are not living on fire for Jesus, growing in their faith, and enjoying the richness of life in Christ. One of the biggest culprits behind this condition is missing God’s message about what they should strive after. It is bringing the secular version of outstanding into the Church and then chasing after it. It is applying the same sort of statistical analysis to yourself and to others in the Body of Christ to determine who is least and greatest in the Kingdom.
This takes the settled and secure worship of God as God and turns it into a rat race. It is a never ending process of adding up the deeds, talents, personality, and works of a person to see if they are impressive enough. The only difference in the church version is you use Christian statistics to judge a Christian in the Christian world. A person who has a great voice to lead worship, smooth delivery to deliver a sermon, or seems to have life all together is viewed as outstanding in the Church, regardless of what is going in private. A church that is growing in attendance or a ministry that has influence or affluence is seen as blessed because of the number of boxes they check on the clipboard analysis. It becomes all about the numbers and they belief that they don’t lie.
Yet, this is never how God rates His people. He does not love His servants more or less based on the output of their labor…even in their church work or ministry. He doesn’t see a person He created as cool and holy based on a talent He gave them. He does not look on the outward. God judges Christians based on one simple metric – their hearts for Him.
It is not the amount of work that shows the quality of your walk with Christ. It is your love and trust in Jesus alone.
The Father esteems a fully committed heart:
For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. 2 Chronicles 16:9
This is great news!
It means you can be an extraordinary Christian…if you choose. God will view you as outstanding if you have such a heart, no matter your limitations, opportunity, past, present, successes, failures, or statistics. You can be an amazing Christian, regardless of how the word sees you.
This is also challenging news!
It means the ability to be an extraordinary Christian is in your hands. It is your choice whether to shine like the stars in the midst of a wicked and crooked generation, or not.
Are you willing?
What did Jesus Admire?
God’s focus on your heart is shown through Jesus. There was little that caused Him to marvel in the Bible. He did many things that amazed others, sure, but Jesus was not Himself awed by them. They were His works through His power. In fact, the word translated as to marvel in the Bible, meaning “to stand amazed” or “wonder at” is used often in the New Testament to describe responses to Jesus. The crowds were frequently in awe of Jesus and stood amazed at His power. This makes perfect sense as He is the God of Wonders and His miracles were awe inspiring.
Yet, surprisingly, the Bible also records Jesus Himself reacting with awe or amazement on two occasions. Can you wrap your mind around the eternal King of Kings marveling at something? It is a challenging concept. Perhaps even more unexpected is the cause of this reaction. It is likely not what you would suspect as a modern Christian. It was not great works, spectacular miracles, or exciting revivals. It was not influential ministries, large crowds, or dizzying intellectual discussions. Rather, it was the hearts of simple people toward Him. Jesus took notice of the reaction of the people of Nazareth and a Roman soldier to Him and it led the Lord of Hosts to amazement.
The first example is not a positive one. In Mark 6, Jesus returned to His hometown of Nazareth. His own people heard the Messiah preach to them in the synagogue. They were in a great position to rejoice over Jesus’ identifying Himself as the Messiah since they knew Him so well. Despite this privilege, their familiarity led them to be offended by Jesus. Not only that, they also violently reject Him, going so far as to try to throw Jesus off of a cliff. Yet, it was not their attempted murder Jesus commented on. It was the hearts that motivated their actions.
And He marveled because of their unbelief. Mark 6:6
The Lord certainly did not miss their evil work. Yet, Jesus took notice of, stood amazed by, and specifically commented on their hard hearts. Since Jesus is your Lord and Savior, it is worth seeing the connection. Their hearts were filled with disobedience, rebellion, and anger. They clearly did not love or trust Jesus. This heart condition led the attack on the Lord and Jesus was amazed. They knew so much about Him, were incredibly privileged, and still hated Him.
The Centurion of Luke 7 caught Jesus’ attention for the opposite reason. He had nothing like the blessings, history, and position of those in Nazareth. He was not only a foreigner, stranger, and Gentile, but was also a member of the army oppressing Israel. Outwardly, his place was not to approach the Jewish Messiah much less cause Jesus to stop in wonder. He was the embodiment of the enemy in every sense. Yet, the Centurion shows Jesus more in this one interaction than many do in a lifetime. He understood Jesus as Lord better than even the closest of His disciples. It started when the Centurion brought an impossible problem to Jesus with amazing faith:
When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” v. 9
You may know the backstory to this praise. The Centurion had a beloved servant who was sick. A message was sent asking Jesus to come and heal the servant. Jesus agreed and began traveling to the man’s home, only to be intercepted by another message:
And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. 7 Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” Luke 7:6-8
Do you see the heart expressed in this short statement?
The Centurion knew he was not worthy of Jesus coming to his home. He was honestly humble. Yet, he did not stop there. This foreign soldier then laid his faith out clearly. The Centurion trusted absolutely that Jesus had the power and authority to heal however and wherever He chose. He knew with certainty that the things that were impossible for any man were done with a simple command from Jesus. This is amazing faith!
The Lord noticed his faith and struck by it,
I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!
Jesus declared the Centurion’s faith great and marveled at him. Yet, please notice there is no mention of the Centurion ever doing great works or accumulating high statistics. There is no record of the man ever even joining one of the early churches or forsaking his role in the army. He did nothing other than trusting Jesus with all of his heart. This is what impressed Jesus so much He was amazed. Jesus measured and applauded the man’s heart rather than numbers. Since this is what the Lord valued, shouldn’t you also?
“The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him. By God’s help, I aim to be that man.” D.L. Moody
Give Glory to God…for Waste?
William Borden’s life was considered a waste by many. His was born into fabulous wealth. His family hoped that William would take over their thriving business when he came of age, but God had other plans. William was saved as a teenager and decided to dedicated his life to missions. He felt called to China. In college at Yale, he started Bible studies on campus that eventually reached 1,000 of the school’s 1,300 students. His family and friends used this work to try to pry him away from the mission field. He could not be persuaded and set off for China upon graduation. When a friend heard of Borden’s departure, he replied simply:
“What a waste!”
Can you understand the logic behind the friend’s statement in some ways?
It would be very easy to reason that William Borden should have used his family’s money to do a lot for the church or the poor. He could have worked for Jesus in the business community or founded a church to put his money and influence to good use. He also already had a ministry where he was with the students. Why would he leave that behind? Maybe he was hearing God incorrectly? These objections made a certain sort sense from a pragmatic perspective. Yet, William Borden was certain of God’s call so he did not let them derail him. He loved Jesus with all of his heart and trusted His plan.
Borden boldly set out by ship for China. Now, this is the part of most missionary stories where you hear about the fruit of their ministry. The number of people preached to, those who came to Christ, and the legacy of the disciple are laid out in great detail. The secular accounting process can creep in and after adding up the statistics, you can be comfortable in concluding that the missionaries radical faith was validated. He did this and that and this many people came to Christ so the math makes sense. This is not an option with William Borden. He contracted meningitis on the way to China and died at the age of twenty-six.
He did not even step foot in Asia
Success or Failure?
How do you feel about William Borden’s life? What is your honest reaction? Is part of you joining in the chorus saying:
What a waste?
If you are human, there probably is part of you that wonders. You have the nagging doubt that his critics were right. Borden would have been better off in the US, he left for nothing, and he wasted his potential. You may also suspect that Borden heard God wrong in the call to China. He had nothing to add up to prove that giving his life for Jesus and that seems to make little sense.
Was William Borden a failure?
That is the world’s judgment, certainly. Yet, thankfully, Jesus never views His people this way. Borden was as extraordinary on that journey to China that was cut short as he was when the entire school joined Bible studies. His trust was in Jesus entirely, in success or failure, including with fruit of any ministry and that is what matters to Jesus.
A letter was found among William Borden’s possessions after his death. In it, he expressed how he viewed success as a Christian. His goal was to serve Jesus with:
He determined to hold nothing back from Christ, to never retreat from His call, and never allow opportunity to regret not following Christ, as a result. He fulfilled his goals superbly. He had the sort of faith that would have caused Jesus to marvel. He chose to truly love God and his life was formed around that love.
Choose to Be Extraordinary
How do you judge yourself or others in the Church as successes or failures? What does being an extraordinary Christian mean?
If you are judging by numbers and statistics, you are using the world’s standard. God alone deserves glory for the harvest, the size of which often has nothing to do with the servant. If you start rattling off what amounts to a behavior accounting checklist, you are choosing an unreliable indicator. Outward acts often bear very little relationship to a person’s inward condition. The only measure that matters is that which caused the Lord to marvel – the state of your heart. Jesus stood amazed at the Centurion because of his faith alone. You can trust He will have that view of your heart if you follow his example and that of William Borden. No Retreat, No Reserves, No Regret – All for Jesus!