I recently attended a meeting where the facilitator asked each of us to summarize our backgrounds and the number of years we had served in parish ministry. At the time, I thought of my response as a matter of fact and without embellishment. As I reflected on the event later, however, I recognized within me a deeper motive of pride in my past accomplishments. As it turned out, I was the only volunteer leader among a group of professional lay ministers, and I unconsciously felt the disparity in position and wanted to elevate myself in their eyes.
In I Kings 19:9-13, we read about Elijah coming to stay in a cave on the mountain of God, Horeb. Outside the cave, he hears, sees, and feels a driving wind, an earthquake, and fire. Yet, Elijah determines that God is in none of these. Rather, upon hearing a “tiny whispering sound,” he hides his face in acknowledgment of God’s presence. One take-away message is this: God is present in what can appear insignificant. Looking at the flip side, one might say that God does not seem to care about some of the things we value, like position, title, experience, wealth, possessions, fame, or abilities. Even the most “insignificant” person who does God’s will is great in the kingdom of God.
Things That Matter
People matter to God, and it’s not because of anything we do or say. It’s by virtue of His love. He created us in His image, bestowing upon us a value and dignity that nothing can elevate nor take away. But we can honor or dishonor that dignity through our actions.
Jesus told his followers a parable about the final judgment (Matt. 25:31-46). At one point, Jesus says to those whom He invites into His kingdom:
Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me. (Matt. 25:40 NABRE)
Christ identifies Himself with the least among us. He looks at what is in the heart rather than at our external appearance.
An Attitude of Gratitude
In reality, everything we have has been given to us. We think we have earned our position and title, but did we create the abilities and opportunities that led to that honor? We take pride in our experiences, but it is through God that we gained both the opportunity and true benefit of those moments. God bestows on us our charisms and abilities. We might claim our cooperation with His work, but even here, our faith and obedience come in response to the action of the Holy Spirit.
Some Catholics think that they elevate God by making themselves appear lower through the disparaging comments they make about themselves. We are all weak and broken people who can claim nothing as our own. Rather than obsessing over our faults and making insignificant comparisons to those around us, let us instead raise our eyes up higher to a mighty and infinite God. Let us set our thoughts upon God’s amazing generosity and His gifts to us. To be alive and made in God’s image should fill us with awe.
The film, Chariots of Fire (Twentieth-Century Fox, 1982), portrays a conversation between Scottish runner and missionary, Eric Liddell, and his sister, Jenny. When Jenny expresses concern that the fame of Eric’s competition might take his eyes off of God, he responds:
When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.
Restated, we might also say:
When I use God’s gifts for his glory, I feel his pleasure.
Gratitude gives us eternal purpose and meaning and frees us from the tyranny of self-absorption. Let us set our minds and hearts to thankfulness and praise!