“The Significance of Insignificant People”
We all at some point question our importance, our achievements, our meaning, our significance. It all starts in kindergarten when we play “I’m the King of the Castle”! But even those at the peak of accomplishment ask those questions—the best biblical example being the writer of Ecclesiastes, Solomon. In modern times, there are many who reached the top but were broken people!
When it comes to the notions of significance we need to clarify what we really mean by that term. One dictionary definition states: “Sufficiently great or important to be worthy of attention; noteworthy.” But, we cannot leave it there! We need to ask three critical questions: 1. worthy of whose attention? 2. noteworthy by what criteria? and 3. why does it matter?
It is remarkable how so many “significant” people in the Bible were raised up for God’s purposes from insignificance and who became very significant in circumstances orchestrated by God. Shepherds were considered to be on the lower rung of social importance but God chose Moses, David, Amos to be his instruments of blessing. And then there was Rahab, a woman of disrepute who became a believer and became part of the lineage of Jesus. And also Ruth, an alien Moabite woman, faithful to her mother in law who committed herself to God and also was part of the lineage of Jesus.
Throughout scripture, it is remarkable how God draws near to the insignificant and works the life of Christ into their lives. Even the disciples that Jesus chose were somewhat of a motley crew at first but progressively they were transformed by the Holy Spirit to be agents of blessing and change which has unfolded over 2000 years!
In Isaiah we read of God’s perspective: “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word. For this is what the high and lofty One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit….’” Isaiah 66:1-2, 57:15
And then there are the nameless one’s whose names are never mentioned but who changed history in their time and have made it into the scriptural record—sort of like the hockey hall of fame! Read the stories of Naaman’s captured slave girl (2 Kings 5:1-3), Saul’s servant (1 Samuel 9:3-8), the poor wise man (Ecclesiastes 9:13-18), the poor widow throwing in her pittance of an offering (Mark 12:41-44)
We could also bring to mind, both from ancient times and modern, individuals who came from obscurity but caused severe damage to humanity and changed the course of history adversely.
We are told in Philippians 2:7 “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Jesus made many comments which elevated insignificance to significance: Matthew 10:42, 25:37-40, 6:5-6, 23:12, Luke 9:46-49.
Paul noted in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 that not many of the believers were anybody special by the world’s standards and he encouraged them to recognize that their true value and identify was to be found in Jesus Christ.
There are a few principles that we need to consider:
- What is significant to people or society might not be significant to God and conversely, what God considered important, society may scoff at.
2. Our significance should not be made the goal. Jesus made this quite clear. If we focus on ourselves, we risk the pitfall of comparing ourselves with others and then we can become either proud or discouraged.
3. We should be determined to have the commendation of Jesus—for him to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
4. Our significance may never be apparent until long after we have passed on! No worry, God will continue the legacy!
Poets often encapsulate truth in but a few lines. William Ross Wallace (1819-1881) wrote:
“Woman, how divine your mission, Here upon our natal sod; Keep—oh, keep the young heart open Always to the breath of God! All true trophies of the ages Are from mother-love imparted, For the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.”
Think of the willingness of Mary, the mother of Jesus! We always need to wonder what was behind someone who accomplishes a big or little thing. Consider the mother of the boy who offered his five loaves and two fishes for the Lord to feed the crowd!
As we ponder the significance of life or what we have or shall accomplish, we need to be sure to maintain the right perspective: “Did I allow God to work his will in our lives and the character of Jesus into ours?”
And now, a word of caution! We are programmed from childhood to measure our value by what we accomplish. This can translate into our thinking spiritually. Many faiths and denominations fall into the pitfall of seeking not just significance but salvation through good works: how we behave or what we accomplish. “Am I good enough to get into heaven?”
The Bible is clear that our salvation is solely based on the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf— his life, his sacrifice of himself on the Cross and his priestly work as the resurrected Saviour. cf. Titus 3:5
Another poet and hymn writer, William Cowper put it this way:
“To see the Law through Christ fulfilled And hear his pardoning voice Transforms a slave into a child And duty into choice.”
The essence of these lines is to show that the reason for our seeking to do the best and to be obedient to divine ways is not to earn our place in heaven but to honour the One who paid the price on our behalf.
Three aspects, then, that figure into our significance:
- Be yielded to Jesus Christ. Only that way can the Christ-life and true significance be worked into our lives.
2. Be faithful in the ordinary. Most of healthy and successful life is ordinary. Consider reading Brother Lawrence’s book “Practicing the Presence of God”.
3. Be sensitive to God’s commissions which may be big or small, and they may come at a moments notice in the marketplace or at home.
Jesus Christ, the Logos, the Word of God, left the unimaginable glory of the heavenly realm to become ordinary. Although he was the agent of Creation, he became the agent of Re-creation by the ordinary and the difficult.
And that is God’s intent for us: to live faithfully in the ordinary of life. Then, as we make the transition from this life in Christ, we shall enter the glory that he is preparing for us. “He who dies believing, dies safely through His love.” (Bernard of Clairvaux in “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”)
At the beginning of this meditation three questions were raised: When we consider significance, worthiness or importance, we need to ask: worthy of whose attention, noteworthy by what criteria? why does it matter?
Simply put, it God’s attention that is important. His criteria are what count and it matters because we will be accountable to Him how we lived this life, who we became and how we blessed others by our existence.