The Secret of Greatness
We’re beginning a new series today called “Building for Life.” Every single person wants to live a great life. It’s born within us. We may not believe that we’ll live it, and we may be full of feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, but every single person has a desire to achieve greatness.
Now, greatness is more elusive than ever before. It used to be that if you were to be great, the competition was pretty limited. If you wanted to be the best doctor, the best athlete, the best hair cutter in town, you had to compete with a very limited number of people. The lid has been blown off the numbers of people that you need to compete with for greatness. Add to that the explosion of information and the complexity of the modern world, and greatness can seem like an impossible dream.
I’m here to tell you that you can achieve greatness. I’m not speaking as a motivational speaker. I’m not the Anthony Robbins of preachers. But I believe that God’s intention for your life is that you would lead a life of greatness.
How do I know this? Well, the Bible records the story of a man named John the Baptist. John the Baptist was a great man. Yet Jesus one day turned to his followers and said something absolutely unbelievable. He told them, “I tell you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John.” Hold on for the rest: “Yet even the most insignificant person in the Kingdom of God is greater than he is!” (Luke 7:28) Of all the people who had lived up to the time of John the Baptist, no one had fulfilled God’s purpose for man better than John did. And yet Jesus said that the most insignificant person who follows him can live a life even greater than what John the Baptist lived. Today we’re going to look at the secret of greatness.
Why are we doing this? We’re doing it to define what true greatness is. The second reason is so that we can learn what ingredients we need to build into our lives to be truly great. In fact, the next few weeks we’ll be unpacking each of the ingredients of a great person. We also want to look at the power we need to live a great life.
How can I build a great life? Three keys:
1. CHOOSE THE RIGHT STANDARD OF GREATNESS
If you’re going to live a great life, it begins with choosing the right standard of greatness. I’d like you to turn to your neighbor for a second and pick two people that you consider great. Now, I don’t want you to be like the little boy in Sunday school. His teacher asked, “What’s brown and furry and jumps from tree to tree?” The little boy replied, “Well, it sounds like a squirrel, but I know I’m supposed to answer Jesus.” Don’t give me the pat answers. Talk to your neighbor for a few seconds and pick two people that you consider to be great.
Now whom did you pick? You may have picked a personal hero from the past such as Albert Einstein or Winston Churchill. You may have picked somebody famous today such as Vince Carter or Pinball Clemens – a man who’s respected both on field and off. Or, you may have picked someone who has given their life to help other people such as Mother Theresa. There are many types of people that we think of when we think of greatness.
The Bible teaches us a lot about what it takes to be great. The first thing that you need to know is that Jesus defines greatness differently than the world does. Jesus said in Matthew 23:11, “The greatest among you must be a servant.” To Jesus, greatness doesn’t come from what you accumulate or accomplish. To Jesus, greatness comes from how much you serve. To be great in Jesus’ eyes you have to be a servant.
The next thing that you need to know is that greatness in God’s eyes isn’t measured outwardly. Greatness in God’s eyes isn’t measured by your accomplishments. Greatness in God’s eyes is measured by the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at a person’s thoughts and intentions.”
I’d like to look at two characters in the Bible who illustrate what it’s like to be great in God’s eyes. Both were extremely successful. They both came from small, insignificant families, and one of them wasn’t even appreciated by his own family. Both were considered to be very handsome. One was called “the most handsome man in Israel” (1 Samuel 9:2), and the other one was described as being ruddy and handsome. Both became the heads of their nation. Both had personal charisma and were followed by the masses. Both looked successful, but only one was great in God’s eyes. Their names were Saul and David.
What made one great and the other not? It certainly wasn’t what they accomplished. Neither one of them were slouches when it came to accomplishments. Depending on the standards you choose, both were very significant individuals. But only one chose God’s standards for greatness. That’s why to this day he is considered to be a great man.
Despite all his accomplishments, Saul disobeyed God. While outwardly he looked successful, God looked at his thoughts and intentions and found someone who just didn’t measure up. 1 Samuel 13:13-14 records a prophet’s words to Saul:
You have disobeyed the command of the LORD your God. Had you obeyed, the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your dynasty must end, for the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart. The LORD has already chosen him to be king over his people, for you have not obeyed the LORD’s command.
Saul missed out on greatness. He had all the trappings and characteristics of success. If he were alive today, he would have made it on the cover of Opulence magazine. And yet he blew it. The epitaph of his life was failure, because his greatness didn’t extend to his thoughts and intentions. Because of that, Saul failed as a man.
Contrast that with David, the man who succeeded Saul as king. David accomplished every bit as much as Saul. He was a king, a shepherd, a poet, and a general. He wrote the most loved book in the Bible – the Psalms. The united two kingdoms that had been divided. He expanded his nation and became the greatest king in the history of his nation. All other kings were compared to him. He had an incredible lineup of achievements. David was by any standard a great man.
But God wasn’t impressed with any of those things. What impressed God was David’s heart. God isn’t anti-achievement. But what impresses God is not your achievement. It’s the state of your heart. In Acts 13:22, David, God says, is “a man after my own heart.”
I need to pause and ask you how you define greatness in your life. God doesn’t want you to be a slouch. God wants you to succeed at the purpose for which he’s put you on this earth. But God isn’t impressed by your achievements. That’s how people will judge you. But God judges you differently. God looks at your heart.
Are you a person after God’s own heart? Do you want to be? What’s your goal in life? Greatness begins with accepting the right standards for greatness. Greatness begins by focusing on the heart.
That’s the first key to greatness. I need to choose the right standard. The Bible also gives us the second key to building a great life:
2. COMMIT TO DEVELOPING THE QUALITIES OF GREATNESS
David ended up becoming one of the greatest people who ever lived. How? Because over time, David developed qualities that all great people need. David possessed qualities of the heart that made him great. We need to develop these qualities in our own lives.
There are a lot of characteristics we could look at in David’s life. We could look at the way that he handled stress. Nobody faced more stress in his life than David did. He had to fight giants, run from Saul, and hide in caves for years. But whenever he was stressed out, he trusted God. David knew how to handle stress.
We could look at how David responded to service. David could have lived for himself. He was the king. But David chose to live for other people. Most importantly, he chose to live for God. God said of David in Act s 13:22, “David…is a man after my own heart, for he will do everything I want him to.” David was obedient to God.
We could also look at how David handled success. I think it’s safe to say that if failure won’t ruin you, success will. David had one success after another. He was a national hero. But David never let success go to his head. In Psalm 115:1, David wrote, “Not to us, O LORD, but to you goes all the glory.” David gave God all the credit. He had a humble heart.
We could look at all these qualities that David developed in his heart. But today I want to look at one quality that really made him great. It’s not how he handled stress, service, or success. It’s how he handled sin.
Everybody will face the issue of sin – no exceptions. The Bible says, “No one is good – not even one” (Romans 3:10). I can guarantee that every single person here has sinned and let God down. The question isn’t whether you’ve failed God or not. The issue is your response to that failure. Your response will determine whether or not you become a great person.
What was David’s response to sin? David’s response to sin was a repentant heart. When David blew it, he admitted it. He didn’t hide it. The thing that made David such a great person isn’t that he sinned less. David committed more serious sins than most of us. David was a king, a poet, a great leader. He was also a liar, a betrayer, an adulterer, and a murderer. The Bible shares David’s successes, but it also shares his failures.
What made David great wasn’t his lack of sin. What made him great was his response to sin. He was very sensitive. He was very quick to get right with God. David was a great sinner, but he was also a great repenter. You don’t have to be perfect to have a heart after God. You just have to be a great repenter.
Psalm 51:1-3 says, “O loving and kind God, have mercy. Have pity upon me and take away the awful stain of my sins. Wash me, cleanse me from this guilt. Let me be pure again. For I admit my shameful deed…” (Living Bible). This is David’s prayer after he committed adultery, and after he had conspired to commit murder. He laid all of his cards on the table. He blew it. He didn’t excuse it. He didn’t blame others. He admitted his sins before God, and that’s what made him such a great man.
The Bible says, “People who cover over their sins will not prosper. But if they confess and forsake them, they will receive mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). The Bible is a book that is brutally honest. You’ll never find a book that has more murder and rape and incest and problems. It’s all in there, because the Bible tells the truth. Aren’t you glad you don’t have to be perfect to have a heart after God? Psalm 51:17 says, “God will not reject a repentant heart” (Good News Bible). Don’t rationalize your failures before God. Don’t excuse them. Admit them, and turn away from them. Jesus died to wipe out your failures. And if you come to him and admit your sins, and allow him to wipe them out, you will develop a great heart.
What does God do when we confess our sins and turn away from them? Colossians 2:14 says, “He canceled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ’s cross.”
Jesus came into this world to handle your sins. Your failures don’t surprise him. They don’t make him love you any less. When you come to God and admit your failures, and turn over control of your life to Jesus Christ, then you get a fresh start in life. Your sins are gone. They’re nailed to the cross. Jesus pays the price for your failures, and he makes you into a new person. It’s by doing this that you develop the qualities of greatness.
There’s one more key to living a great life:
3. CONNECT TO THE POWER YOU NEED FOR GREATNESS
Greatness requires that we choose the right standard for greatness: that we choose greatness of the heart, and that we commit to developing the qualities of greatness, especially a repentant heart. There’s one more key to building a great life. It’s connecting to the power you need for greatness.
If you’re going to live a great life, it’s going to involve connecting to the right power. A week ago, I was doing something that I rarely do, when something fairly significant happened in our house. I was vacuuming when the fuse blew. No problem, I know how to change a fuse. So I did. Next problem: every time I put a fuse in, a fire started in the electrical panel. There were holes in the bottom of the fuse that I put in. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that I had a problem that was beyond my ability to fix.
For most of last week, we lived without power in that portion of our house. Eventually, an electrician came around and discovered that the little metal strip that sits between the fuse and the bar in the electrical panel was missing. There was no contact between the fuse and the bar that carried the electricity. The result was arcing, burning, and ultimately no power.
I’ve learned in my life that if I’m going to live a life of greatness, I need to stay connected to the power that will transform my life. Where will I get that power? My power is limited. True power doesn’t come from your efforts or will power. True power comes from God.
Ephesians 1:19-20 tells us:
I pray that you will begin to understand the incredible greatness of his power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him at the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.
The same power that was used to raise Jesus Christ from the dead is available to be released in your life. God’s incomparably great power is available to help you. There is nothing too difficult for him.
This past week I sat and listened to a twenty-six year old pastor who pastors a church in downtown Los Angeles. The church is called the Dream Center, and their building is a hospital that has been closed. When he went to that church, there were 28 people, all white. Fourteen of those people left the first week when he inadvertently moved the organ from one side of the platform to the other to make more room.
But in downtown L.A., Matthew Barnett began to serve the community. The first day that he came to the church, someone was shot dead on the church steps in a drive-by shooting. Matthew Barnett took an offering among his congregation and came up with $20 to give to the mother of the slain man. As he crossed the street and walked into the gang house where the mother was, he thought that he was a dead man. But he gave the $20 to the woman and got out of there as soon as he can. But not before the gang members stopped him and asked him to pray with them.
Matthew Barnett started by praying a wimpy prayer – “Lord, bless the flowers and the trees.” But midway through the prayer, God said to him, “You wimp! Where’s your courage?” And that kid-pastor started praying a prayer of repentance. He figured that is he was going to die, he was going to die in a blaze of glory. And before he left that gang house, he led every single gang member there in a prayer of repentance as the gang members committed their lives to serving Jesus Christ.
Today, the Dream Center is active in the seediest parts of Los Angeles. At night they go out to prostitutes and give them red roses and tell them that they’re beautiful people and how much God loves them. They have rescue vans that go out and bring prostitutes who want to escape into the safety of the Dream Center. The pimps always chase them, but they change their minds when they see the security at the Center. nobody wants to mess with dozens of ex-gang members. Since starting the Dream Center, crime has gone down in their district by 73%.
At 26 years of age – much younger than most of us – Matthew Barnett has achieved greatness. Where did he get the power? What caused him to move his desk from the safety of his office onto the street so he could get to know people? What caused him to put his life in danger so that he could put up with being stalked by a crazed man for a month – a man, by the way, who later committed his life to Jesus Christ? Who gave him a love for the welfare of hookers and gang members? What caused him to be the ultimate example of paying it forward?
The same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead has given Matthew Barnett the power to make a difference in downtown Los Angeles. And that same power is available to you.
What kind of life do you want to lead? Do you want to live a shallow-self centered life? Or do you want to commit to following God, and tapping into his power, to begin living a great life, beginning today?
A poet once wrote, “Some men die in ashes; some men die in flames. Some men die inch by inch playing silly little games.” How are you going to live your life? There’s another choice. You can build a life of greatness.
Over the next week, we’re going to learn how to build a great life. But it begins today. It begins with dealing with your heart. You can’t go any further until you redefine success as the condition of your heart before God.
Why would you turn down this offer? God says that you can turn to him with your failures. They do not surprise him, and they’re not too great for him. And if you humble yourself today, turn away from your sins, and ask Jesus to cleanse you, you can have a fresh start today. You can live with a new power in your life.
Would you pray this prayer:
God, I want to live a great life. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and discover that all my accomplishments were a waste because I neglected my heart.
Today I humble myself before you and admit my failures. Today I turn away from my sins, and give total control of my life over to Jesus Christ. I pray that he would become the director, the manager of my life. Today I commit to following him, and I pray that as I do that you would give me the power to live a great life. I pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.
As we conclude, we’re asking everyone here if they will complete the communication card that you were given when you came in. We won’t release your names to anyone, and we won’t send anyone to visit or call you. We just want to pray for you. And if you’ve prayed the prayer that we just prayed in your heart, I want to congratulate you. I’d ask you to check off the box that says, “I’m committing my life to Christ.” We’d like to send you a package on how to get started in the Christian life. Let’s pull that out as the band gets up to play.