When I was a teenager, I had a tight-knit circle of friends. Darren, Steve and Jon. We spent all our time together. My friend Jon knew how to skateboard, which I secretly envied. He was cool for the 90s. Baggy pants, chain connecting his wallet to his jeans, and army tank tops. If you’re picturing any of the actors from Dazed And Confused, you’re getting close. Jon was way cooler than I was. And I knew it.
We also had a tendency to get under each other’s skin. In frustration, he once shot at me, “You think you’re so important. You think you’re so much better than me.” It took me by surprise and at the time, I denied it. I didn’t think it was true. I was oblivious to an underlying narrative in my mind.
The truth is that Jon was right.
And if I’m brutally honest, I still think that I am so important.
While I was on vacation in July, I spent some time reflecting on what really drives me in the things I do. I desire to have a platform. I desire to be known and to be an influence. I desire importance. I desire greatness and a lasting legacy. These desires might not even sound all that unusual to you. Our culture tells us to pursue these things. And I have lived by this cultural narrative. I have worked relentlessly to attain it. I strive and toil and strive. And I have exhausted myself. Taking a long vacation is often a measure of our success. But my recent vacation was the result of me teetering on burnout.
Is the pursuit of importance and greatness a sustainable pursuit? Is it even good?
In desiring importance, I realize that I’m not much different than Jesus’ first disciples. On a few occasions they were busted by Jesus for arguing about who would be the greatest among them (Luke 9:46-48). I doubt this is relatable to any of us in the 21st century. Surely it’s just a product of their cultural moment, right? Of course not. We want to be great! And you know what? I don’t think the desire to be important is even wrong. I think it becomes detrimental only when we pursue it in the wrong way.
The disciples were arguing over self-importance.
Self-importance is the desire to be noticed and respected, the ambition to make your mark above others. That’s the catch. Others have to be below you in order for you to be better. “I want to be important” really means “I want to be more important than others.” I have to admit that I’ve been living this way for most of my life. And before I say anything else, let me say: I’m sorry. I’m sorry if my pursuit of self-importance has ever impacted you in a negative way. If it has, please reach out to me. I’d like to apologize.
A pastor of mine used to say, “You have never locked eyes with someone that does not matter to God.” If you’re pursuing importance to be noticed, like I often do, then in some capacity, you are seeking to be better than others. And as a result, you end up devaluing others. You’re drinking from a broken well. You’re eating from a tree that’s dead at the root. Not only will living this way exhaust you and possibly damage your relationships, but it won’t even make you truly important.
True importance is not about how we can excel in certain areas, or by being deemed attractive, or for having x amount of friends on Facebook. True importance is coming to terms with the God of the Universe’s unbridled desire for you not because of anything you can do, but simply because of you.
Jesus says, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28).
Jesus calls us to put aside conventional patterns and expectations of greatness. We don’t try to gain a sense of importance by being greater than others. True greatness cannot be about your name and résumé. Instead, we must come to terms with the God who came not to be served but to serve. That is who God is. God doesn’t misuse his greatness as the Creator of the Universe. He serves. He gets dirty. He washes feet. He walks into places of unimportance and says “You are important to me.” This is true greatness.
When we seek the sort of greatness that Jesus models, the sort of greatness that is found in the heart of the God who serves, we end up discovering what we have been yearning for — our desire to matter, and it kills the pursuit of self-importance. We will find that we really do matter to God. We really are important to him in a way that cannot be dismissed by any of our shortcomings or increased by any of our accomplishments. God serves us. He serves you. He serves me. We are equally important to God. And yet our equality in importance does not diminish each of our importance before God either. We are each profoundly important to God.
In light of Christ, I am so important and just as important as you. No more and no less. My importance, however, can only be found in the heart of God and not the pursuit of self-importance.