Judge Sherman Finesilver (1927-2006), United States District Judge for the District of Colorado once stated: “Do not confuse notoriety and fame with greatness. . . . For you see, greatness is a measure of one’s spirit, not a result of one’s rank in human affairs.”

Well-known motivational speaker and author James Arthur Ray agrees greatness and expertise cannot be defined by accolades or societal rewards. It cannot be defined by money or material things acquired. Greatness does not drive a certain brand of car or have a certain business or career path. In fact, a quick perusal of history will prove that even those who society now eulogizes as great, were never spoken of that way until they departed from this world. At the same time, many who were truly great were never known or recognized by society. But they were known, even if it was only by you or me. In fact, that someone may be you.

So what is greatness and how does it apply to being the best? Greatness can be defined as the ability to achieve what you choose to achieve in the area you choose to achieve it and to achieve it with excellence and a level of expertise. Here are some thoughts on greatness I found and want to share with you:

You’ve no doubt read articles about narcissistic individuals, and you’re probably fed up with self-important people. But, let’s leave outward grandeur and focus what people are on the inside. It is not narcissistic to pursue greatness in your life. Human beings are on this planet for a very short time. And, many of us yearn to be important in some specific way. So how can anyone do that if they’re not rich or famous? First, look at how some create their greatness by playing a role that others admire.

There are some who take the Celebrity Route to Greatness. When we look at celebrities and see why they are so special we wonder how great their lives really must be? As in Tom Cruise who must live an interesting life. We look at all these stars, read about their loves, losses, children and more. They become a symbol of greatness to their fans. But the greatness is in the roles they play, not they themselves.

Others take the Sporting Route to Greatness. Nowhere are people admired more than in sports. We may love a recording artist or a movie star, but the All-Star in baseball, basketball, or football is our ticket to greatness – by proxy. For instance, Morgan Freeman does not “belong” to Boston, but Tom Brady certainly does. That’s why cheating is so problematic. We need sports clean so we can idealize. Like the great Aaron Rodriquez of the Yankees, once they cheat, even the most admired athlete falls.

Then there is the Money Route to Greatness. America is the land of capitalism, and we do admire (and are envious of) people with money. The big house, the expensive car, the leisurely vacations, the way they are treated in public and at charity events; all this adds to their “greatness.” It’s probably why colleges have produced too many finance majors in the past fifteen years. But, make no mistake, you may want more money in your pocket, but remember – the rich have their problems and worries too.

Trying to find greatness vicariously through others just doesn’t work. Root for a good athlete, applaud a great performance, but keep greatness as a project unique to you. Each of us can be great. It is deeply human to find that path. It’s a crazy and confusing world. There are five billion people here and we are all, ultimately, wisps of protoplasm passing from birth to death. How can any of us achieve greatness? What does it mean and why does it matter? The human drive for dignity – for greatness – is sidetracked when we idealize others like celebrities, or when we feel special for dysfunctional reasons. Let’s look at how you or someone you love can discover their greatness.

We shouldn’t idealize greatness in others as something we can use for ourselves. One of the great psychoanalytic thinkers of the last century was Heinz Kohut, an Austrian Jew who barely escaped Hitler’s rise to power. Kohut tells us that all small children naturally idealize their parents. After all, they are small and helpless – and their mom and dad are so important and reliable. Soon, they feel comforted in the “greatness” of mom and dad. Healthy children idealize their parents and feel bigger and safer because of them.

We must also realize that greatness is not synonymous with fame. That is an ancient and false equation. Yes, there were great leaders like Churchill, Lincoln, Jefferson, Ben Gurion, Mandela, Walesa, and others. While their greatness was defined in the public arena, most heroic acts are infinitely more private. They’re found in small lives that are elevated out of the human will to always do their best. It is true nobility.

So what does it really mean to be truly great? It means to be a servant. Really! How can you be considered great and be a servant at the same time? Unfortunately, much of the world has the wrong definition of what greatness really is. The Bible tells us that true greatness is being a servant, and the greatest person of all time is Jesus of Nazareth – the Messiah. Being a servant is having an attitude exemplified by Christ, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.1

Isn’t it extraordinary when a CEO is a true servant of those that they are called to lead? Think about it this way – have you ever had a boss in the past that cared so much about your success, cared so much for you as a person, that you didn’t want to work for anybody else? That boss is being a servant! To care and to show love is what greatness it all about. And it begins with serving God because our love for God will be expressed in our love for others. And that, my friends, is true greatness. True greatness merely refuses to change in the face of bad actions against one—and a truly great person loves their fellow beings because they understand them.

After all, doesn’t the Bible tell us that God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.2 So by creation, you are already great.

One of the wises and most stalwart men in the Bible was named Job. He faced obstacles that you and I will never witness, let alone go through ourselves. But he never lost hope in God restoring him to his original place in the lives of this family and friends. In speaking of God Job said, “God thunders wondrously with His voice; He does great things that we cannot comprehend.3

And later, King David who suffered for years waiting for God’s time to make him King of Israel and Judah did not despair. He once told God, “You will increase my greatness and comfort me again.4 David knew where his original greatness came from and that all the greatness God has for us is never exhausted.

And after all the persecution and attempted disgrace that the prophet Jeremiah had been through, yet he relied on being restored to greatness because God had already told him, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to make you great and not for failure, to give you a future and a hope.”5

So when Yeshua the Messiah came, His followers no doubt wanted to know what He thought of greatness. How could they be great in His eyes and God’s eyes? So one day they went to Jesus and asked Him who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? That’s when He called a child out of the crowd to him, He had the child stand in the middle of them and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”6

Why is it important that we remember this? Because while He was teaching on the side of the mountain in Northern Galilee, Jesus made it clear that anyone who tries to take a shortcut so they don’t have to practice what they preach and teach others that they can do the same without penalty will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.7

And to get their attention Yeshua pointed to the way worldly people run things. Those who achieve positions of power then use that power to get their way over others. But His followers were not to have this kind of attitude. They should aspire to get no higher among their fellow believers than God wants them to get. Rather, to find as many ways as they can to help others achieve their goals. That will give them a much better chance of getting promoted. Then pointing to Himself, Yeshua, the Son of God, the Messiah stated that He did not come to be served but to serve, and eventually to give His own life so they might live.8

But Yeshua wasn’t finished. He advised His followers not to try to become another source for the truth when He is the only source for truth. If they want to be great then they must become servants, or as we would say today, facilitators or mentors. That’s because whoever those who strive only for the top of the pile will end up at the bottom, and those who are happy to remain at the bottom will often end up on top.9

This enlightenment led the Apostle Paul to write the conclusion on being great that he had come to. For years he had tried to be great on his own. The best he could achieve was to be known as a hothead zealot who riled against the new Jewish sect called “The Way,” whose members believed an unknown prophet from Galilee named Yeshua was the true Messiah. But after he saw the light on the way to Damascus to persecute these followers of Yeshua, he realized that he had no greatness within him at all.

So in his letter to the Galatians, he openly confessed that he allowed all of that to die, all his personal aspirations and desires to be great. Then he invited Christ to come and live in him, to be his source of inspiration and motivation. And he no longer attempted to be great by what he did, but by what Christ did through him.10 In other words, Paul learned that when looking for something within ourselves to be the sign of our greatness, we should look for how much of God we have within us as a sign of His greatness, not ours. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

1 Philippians 2:6-7

2 Genesis 1:26

3 Job 37:5

4 Psalm 71:21

5 Jeremiah 29:11

6 Matthew 18:3-5

7 Ibid 5:19

8 Ibid. 20:25-28

9 Ibid. 23:10-12

10 Galatians 2:20

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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