For many in this world, their superiority and greatness is mostly based on outward appearances. The way they’re raised and educated, their physical build, and the way they conduct themselves are all judged and weighed by others around them. Multitudes around the globe are passed by as a result, due to their weak stature and poor upbringing. Even though they may be competent, they are rejected when they don’t meet the standards of the prominent and affluent around them.
Yet God disregards the outward self completely. He looks at the heart. Our degree of strength, what we wear, or our charisma don’t concern Him. He especially overlooks our own efforts to achieve distinction. Jesus said, “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4). Throughout the Bible, we find godly leaders who started life in a lowly position, or were brought down to one by the Lord.
Joseph is one example. First, while a young man, his own brothers threw him into a pit, leaving him for dead. But he was sold as a slave instead, then resold later to an Egyptian captain of the guard. The captain highly favored and respected him, yet he ended up being falsely incriminated and thrown into a dungeon, where he spent considerable time and was nearly forgotten. Eventually the pharaoh called upon him and God enabled him to successfully interpret the king’s dreams which no others could interpret. He was promoted to viceroy (prime minister) of Egypt as a result, and given the use of the pharaoh’s ring (his official seal). Throughout all of this, Joseph never complained or regretted all he had to go through.
Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt as they crossed the Red Sea on dry ground, and through the wilderness for forty years, while remaining in close fellowship with God. Yet his career began as a lowly infant floating in a basket his mother had placed in the Nile River to escape the pharaoh’s murderous decree. He was soon discovered and adopted by the pharaoh’s daughter. Then he was raised and highly educated to be next in line for the throne. But this was not the position of authority God had for him.
Moses had to flee from Egypt, and then God drove him further out to the land of Midian. He married and dwelt among the people there while shepherding the flocks—a very low position. Then God called Moses to return to Egypt and deliver His people from bondage and bring them into the land He had promised to them. God didn’t raise Moses up to be a mighty leader of the Egyptians, who represented the world’s system. God humbled him instead and made him the leader of His people.
David was also of humble beginnings and highly favored by God. He started as a shepherd too, but at a much younger age. God used this period of solitude and the need to fiercely protect the flocks in David’s life to build him up physically and spiritually. As a teenager, he voluntarily stood up to the Philistine giant taunting and threatening the Israelites. He was like a child to that massive giant, yet David singlehandedly challenged, fought, and defeated him in the name of God, with a simple sling and some stones. But it was not yet time for David to move to a leadership position, because God had more for him to go through.
David was appointed to a position of ‘comforter’ for King Saul next. When an evil spirit riled Saul up, David would play soothing music to put him at ease. This wasn’t done without peril, since God had rejected Saul as king long ago and arranged to replace him with David. As a result, during Saul’s times of unrest, he’d periodically try to kill David with a spear.
David’s humbling didn’t end when he was finally anointed and installed as God’s king over Israel. Before long, his son Absalom tried to usurp his father’s throne. Rather than fight, David humbly yielded to the lesser position and was once again put to flight to avoid his son’s wrath. Yet David refused to say a negative word against Absalom, despite his treachery.
As a man after God’s own heart, David demonstrated the need to remain humble even when a situation called for the opposite. Numerous times he could have declared, “I’m in charge here and I deserve to be treated better!” He chose instead to let God handle each situation while he put his own will and selfish desires aside.
Look at the pattern God wants us to notice in these illustrations. He would either raise people up from a low position in life, or bring them to a low place in order to elevate them later. Why couldn’t God just work with them where they were, or take someone who was already great and change that person into what He desired?
The Apostle Paul hints at the answer: “…when I am weak, then am I strong” (1 Corinthians 12:10). Paul’s strength came from Christ working through him, not from any effort of his own. Whenever we try to make ourselves great, mighty, or famous, God receives no credit—because it’s all of us and none of Him. Christ said, “…he that is least among you all, the same shall be great” (Luke 9:48). This makes hope for the weak possible. The weak actually have an advantage over those who have made themselves great in this life, because they already are where God wants them to be. He told Paul: “…My strength is made perfect in weakness” (1 Corinthians 12:9).
The weak and helpless are more desperate for God than most others. This is just what He wants—a heart willing and able to be open and yielding to Him. Instead of continually striving to be prominent and powerful in this world, let’s go the opposite way and rejoice in our weakness, believing that we’ll be strong in God’s might. “For though [Jesus] was crucified through weakness, yet He liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you” (2 Corinthians 13:4).