(My commence address at William Carey University. Saturday, August 10, 2019)
“He who would be great among you, let him be a servant.” “I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22)
When I was a freshman in college, I learned a sad lesson about myself. It was the second week of the fall semester and the dean brought all the freshmen–several hundred of us–into the school auditorium. He announced we were going to elect class officers. No advanced notice, no campaigning. I thought, “Maybe I’ll be elected president.” I had been on campus all summer, working, and I knew almost everyone in this class. But no one nominated me. “Well, I’d take vice-president,” I said. Again, no one nominated me.
Next, the floor was open for nominations for secretary. A guy named Randy Scott nominated me. I won in a runoff. “Well, it’s something,” I said.
Better than nothing.
One month later, our class met in the same auditorium. Our newly elected class president called us to order, then looked in my direction. “We will dispense with the reading of the minutes of the last meeting.”
My heart stopped.
Minutes of the last meeting? I was supposed to keep minutes of the meeting? No one told me there was actual work involved.
Of course. I was the class secretary.
I didn’t want to do any work. All I’d been interested in was the honor of being elected.
Not a good thing to learn about oneself.
A few years later I came across something in the Reader’s Digest that has stayed with me all these years. A man told how he had taken his daughter off to college the last fall, and soon received a questionnaire from the school. They wanted to know all about their freshman class, the letter said. One question asked, “Would you say your daughter is a leader? or a follower?” The man wrote, “I don’t know whether you’d call her a leader or not, but she’s a great team member. She works hard. You definitely want her on your team.”
A few days later he received a personal letter from the dean. “Sir,” the letter said, “We thought you would be interested in knowing that the freshman class of 250 young adults is composed of 249 leaders and one follower. Your daughter.”
That man was learning the same lesson that most of us have had to pick up along the way: If you want to lead, you’ve got a problem. No one wants to follow. But, if you are willing to serve, the good news is everyone loves to be served.
Our Lord Jesus, who deserved all the accolades and honors this world could offer, said, “I did not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give my life a ransom for many.”
Go and serve. Make a difference in other people’s lives. No matter what field you choose as a career, be a servant. A servant works to make others successful.
Do not spend your life trying to gain honors and awards and recognition, those little trinkets which satisfy nothing inside you.
Dr. James Dobson says when he went to college, his goal was to become the best tennis player on campus and get his name on the loving cup in the athletic building. In time, he pulled it off, twice. His name was on the cup two times.
Many years later, Dr. Dobson was back on campus and decided to find the loving cup and see his name on it. Inside the athletic building, he found the awards case. But there was no loving cup. He looked and looked, and finally found it: in the trash can. They were throwing it away.
Dr. Dobson took the cup into the office and asked if he could have it. “I keep that cup in my office,” he says, “as a reminder that sooner or later, life has a way of trashing all our awards.”
In my last church, the First Baptist Church of Kenner in metro New Orleans, I was cleaning my office one day and pulled out a large drawer underneath the counter. It was filled with plaques I’ve received over the years: from churches I’ve served, associations, colleges, the chamber of commerce. There must have been twenty of them. What in the world do I do with these things, I wondered. That’s when I decided to do my children a favor. Rather than force them to decide what to do with them some day in the future, I threw them all out in the trash.
This world’s awards and recognitions are merely trinkets. They satisfy nothing inside us.
Yesterday, I attended a funeral in the church in Greenville, Mississippi which I pastored exactly fifty years ago. I met a lot of old friends, including people who were teens when I was their preacher. They’re now seniors and retired. Two or three of them are now older than I am! A woman came up and introduced herself. The name was not familiar. She said, “Over 50 years ago, I was a young mother with three children. You visited in our home and led me to faith in Christ. Thank you for doing the best thing for me anyone ever did.”
A little foretaste of Heaven. In Heaven, they’re going to be coming up to you to thank you for that witness you gave, the sermon you preached, the lesson you taught, that note you wrote, a song, a hug, a prayer. You may not even remember it, but God used it.
I pastored in Mississippi from 1967 to 1986, then moved away for thirty years. Three years ago, I returned to Mississippi and married Bertha Fagan (Dr. King pointed her out in the audience). Within the first six months, two things happened to me, things almost identical.
In the bookstore, a man walked up and introduced himself. “Thirty years ago,” he said, “you counseled a young college student not to have an abortion. I was the daddy of that baby. Later we got married and had the child. That child is now our daughter 31 years old and the light of our lives. I’ve remembered your name all these years so I could thank you.”
The other time was in the grocery store when a man walked up, introduced himself, and said, “Over thirty years ago, a young woman came to you. You counseled her not to have an abortion. I was the daddy. We married and had the child. She was born handicapped and lived 11 years. But every day of her life, she was the joy of our hearts. And I’ve always wanted to meet you to thank you.”
I said to both of these men, “You know, I don’t recall this.” They understood and it was all right. “But,” I said, “I sure hope I’m the right person who did this. I want this on my record!!”
The Lord Jesus promised a reward for those who serve the lowly, the handicapped, the helpless. “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:14). You have a payday coming. God pays all His debts. That payday will be “at the resurrection of the righteous.”
I ask you somewhat facetiously, can you believe that strong? Can you wait that long? Can you sing that song?