Irving Berlin never learned to read or write music. He hummed or sang his songs to a secretary who wrote them down in musical notation. His name was Helmy Kresa, a songwriter in his own right. Mr. Kresa’s was the first published arrangement of “All of Me,” written by Gerald Marks and Seymour Simons. Mr. Kresa composed the instrumental sound track for Martin Scorsese’s film “Raging Bull” and, with Carroll Loveday, he wrote “That’s My Desire,” which Frankie Laine recorded. In 1926, Mr. Kresa began working for Mr. Berlin and eventually became the general professional manager of the Irving Berlin Music Company. Obviously, as a composer, he never reached the level of notoriety as his boss, though without his notations, there would be no songs like “White Christmas,” “God Bless America,” or “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” The question arises: would there even be an Irving Berlin without a Helmy Kresa?
Here is another question: would you or I pursue great things knowing someone else would receive the credit? Could you be content with someone else receiving all the glory for your hard work? Pride is running rampant in the world these days. Worldly accomplishments, position, financial status, talent, and looks are but a few areas where pride has taken deep roots. However, if someone has worked hard, paid their dues, mastered their destiny, surpassed their peers, and set a higher standard, should they not be allowed a little pride? The inerrant Scriptures show us a better way. Here are three ways to truly become “great” in the Kingdom of God.
1. Embrace Humility
For you and I who profess the Lord Jesus and call ourselves Christians, there is a different attitude which prevails: humility. “The Lord opposes the proud, and gives grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34).” Humility is the opposite of pride in every sense of the word. The Lord actually opposes, or assumes a military position against, pride. What you and I have to determine for ourselves is whether we want to face the end of God’s barrel. On the other hand, a humble attitude draws God’s favor and blessing of grace.
Perhaps you have heard the story of the parishioner who received recognition for being the humblest man in the church? They gave him a pin to wear. The following Sunday he wore it and they took it away from him for being proud. As soon as we think we are humble, we are not.
Biblically speaking, personal humility carries the notion of lowering or abasing oneself in such a manner as to attain a place of lowliness. Perhaps the best way to understand humility is attempting to see ourselves through God’s eyes rather than our own. The noted preacher, Charles Spurgeon, defined humility as “making a right estimate of oneself.” Another noted speaker stated that, “Humility is not denying the power or gifting you have, but admitting that the gifting is from God and the power comes through you and not from you.” After World War II, Winston Churchill humbly commented that, “I was not the lion, but it fell to me to give the lion’s roar.”
2. Embody a Servant’s Heart
In our competitive culture fueled by reality television shows like “American Idol” or “Food Network Star,” there is a push for each contestant to strive to be the greatest or best. In stark contrast, Jesus said that, “Whoever wishes to become great…must first be your servant (Matthew 20:26).” The concept of lowering oneself to serve others in order to become great is diametrically opposed to the world’s concept of greatness: winning at all costs. Jesus used the word, diakonos, which is translated as servant or minister. The English word for deacon comes from this word.
The word which the Apostle Paul uses for servant is another extraordinary word, huperetes, which means “under-rower.” The apostle’s analogy is in reference to ancient warships that were propelled by muscular men chained to their oars below deck. In their part of the ship, one hears groaning, men laboring at the oars. It is not like the upper deck, wind-swept, sunlit and fragrant with ocean breeze. Those below deck typify servants, men and women who are unseen, without applause and who are dying to self. The real power of the boat is found below deck.
3. Experience Death to Self
This experience is the killing ground of ego. Self-centeredness dies at the oars. Pride perishes in the pain. It is also here, as huperetes, that one experiences power as a steward of the mysteries of God (see Colossians 4:1-3). The death to self that Scripture demands is achieved by surrendering the ego to God. Undergoing tragedy is not necessary to experience this blessed death to self; however, self-surrender is.
If you want real power in your Christian life, seek the same death for which Paul shouted his joy: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). May you find yourself on the upper deck, dressed in the humility of Jesus, swept by the wind of the Holy Spirit and able to impart the glory of God to everyone around you.
When I was a child, I remember being a fan of Batman and Captain Kirk. Somehow during play, I always ended up being Robin or Mr. Spock, the sidekicks and subordinates. In third grade, I came in second place in my local Pinewood Derby. Other kids would tell me that “second place is first loser.” The Word of God tells us otherwise. As joint heirs with Jesus, we are convinced that second, or even last place, is the best place to be. For it is there that we truly become great in the Kingdom of God.