“For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up; but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.” – Psalm 75:6-7 (RSV)
There are several examples in God’s Word of people who through humility – or humiliation – became great: Job, Joseph, David, and Stephen, just to name a few. Obviously God really wants to get this precept through our thick minds and hearts. We, as pastors and worship leaders, are not to be “the show.” That honor is reserved for the Lord only. Like John the Immerser, He must become greater and we must become less. (See John 3:30)
Nonetheless, the promised result for us humbling ourselves is phenomenal: God will promote us! I know of nothing more profound for ministers to learn. Here’s a good way to think of it: The law of gravity says, “What goes up must come down.” The law of Divine elevation, on the other hand, says, “What comes down (through humility) will go up (through godly exaltation)!”
So how can we know for sure that the “success” God would bring us is preferred over the prosperity, power and popularity that society offers?
Let’s consider the second half of 1 Peter 5:6: “In due time He will exalt you.” Those seven little words contain three necessary clues. These clues will point us to three reasons why God’s success strategy is far superior to this world’s and is indeed the best and only viable option for us as believers.
Three Clues that Verify True Success
Though I’m no professional investigator, I’ve always heard that a good starting point is to ask probing questions. So to get to the “bottom” of why God’s success is true success, let’s start with the question “why”: Why would God elevate us?
To find that answer, we need to carefully examine the word, “exalt.” Do you remember God’s response to Jesus’ humility? Jesus “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..” Talk about humbling and humiliating! But because Jesus willingly lowered Himself and became a servant, “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place….” (Philippians 2:6 – 7 & 9, NIV)
Here’s the shocker: The same Greek root word for “exalted” there in Philippians is also used in 1 Peter 5:6, where it says He will “exalt” us! The Greek word in Philippians is taken from this root word. It includes the idea of elevating above others. In other words, those who humble themselves before Him will receive the same kind of lifting up as Jesus experienced! (The only difference is that He has, of course, been lifted up the highest, above all of us.)
Understanding that God elevates us in the same manner He does His Son, we now need to ask another “why” question: Why did God elevate Christ? The answer is simple: to bring glory to Himself. (See Philippians 2:11) Obviously, therefore, God’s intent in elevating us is the same as with His Son: to get glory from our lives.
So we now have Clue #1: We are elevated to bring God glory. How is that evidence that God’s success is best? The answer is simple: We were created for God‘s glory. Glorifying Him brings us the most fulfillment possible. One might say that God’s success strategy comes with a huge tag that reads, “Complete Satisfaction Guaranteed”!
The next question we need to ask is, “How are we elevated?” Our key verse clearly says that God lifts us up. But how often do we run out of patience as we wait for His uplifting? We want to forego His plan and manipulate our circumstances. However, for God to elevate us to our highest possible level, we must be faithful at each stage of experience and opportunity. Someone has said, “Success is a journey, not a destination.” We cannot expect God to trust us with great responsibility down the road if we don’t properly handle the small, “less significant” tasks He assigns to us everyday.
It’s always frustrated me when I’ve heard young “preacher-boys” and church musicians refer to their small church jobs as a necessary “stepping stone” to move them up to the more “prestigious” and more lucrative church positions. I once had a pastor drive me all over his small town and then say, “If you work here (at my church) for two years, you can go anywhere in the country to any size church you want to be in.” I never heard another word that man said to me that day. He showed me where his heart was. (Apparently, he assumed I was a “ladder climber” like him!) Sadly, that pastor left the pastorate a few years later and started selling insurance instead! (So much for “waiting on the Lord…”)
The Promotion of Asaph
Asaph was perhaps the most famous of all musicians in the Old Testament. Yet, if we were to do a careful study of every reference to Asaph, we would not find the slightest hint that he ever campaigned for any of his promotions. Yet, one day his fellow tribesmen took note of his godliness and skill and chose him from among the masses. God honored him as he remained faithful at each level of responsibility.
Throughout Asaph’s story there is a strong sense of the sovereign hand of the Lord. And therein lies our 2nd clue to true success: We are elevated by God’s sovereign will. There is nothing more comforting than to know that omnipotent God exalted us to where we are. Such knowledge takes away the stress of feeling like we have to “fight” to maintain our position. (“If God be for us, who can be against us!” – Romans 8:31b) So we can now see that true success God’s way not only brings us satisfaction, it also gives us incredible security. (I’d say that smokes the world’s version of success!)
But for the really hard-to-convince investigator, there is still one more very compelling clue we need to examine. It answers the question: When are we elevated? Clue #3: We are elevated in God’s perfect time. I Peter 5:6 says “in due time” God will exalt us. Of all the clues, this might seem to be the most discouraging — “anti-climatic” might be a better way to describe it! How could waiting and waiting for someone else to act (even if it is God) be a plus? I don’t even like waiting in line at Wal-mart! I sure don’t want to wait around for weeks, months, even years just “wasting my time” while my hopes and dreams fade out of sight! Ah, but that’s just it, don’t you see? Do you sense the fear, the impatience in those statements? That’s how the world feels; but we’re not of the world. Our God has a plan for us; our every step is already determined by Him. And in His “good time” He’ll raise us up as He sees fit.
Do you know why Clue #3 is so huge? – because it brings us serenity. Rather than fretting about the future we can focus on the present, on the awesome opportunities that are right before us now.
Before I sat down to finish this lesson tonight, I was helping at a Hispanic Crusade service. Now, this service wasn’t in some large stadium packed with thousands of people. It was at a local trailer park, and there were no more than fifty or sixty who attended. Fact is, I added nothing to my “resume” by being there this evening. So, was I wasting my time? Hardly. I got to look into the eyes of two little boys who said they wanted Jesus in their hearts. I got to pray with them and see God’s love pour all over them. Needless to say, I’m at perfect peace knowing that God has me exactly where He wants me for this time in my life. (And I’m in no hurry to “move up”!)
True success is not defined by men’s applause. And greatness is not determined by people’s approval. Jesus said, “He who is least among you all — he is the greatest.” (Luke 9:48, NIV) James 1:9 says, “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted.” (KJV) You and I will never be more exalted in God’s eyes than when we are just plain and ordinary servants….of the most high King!
*Excerpt from the Praise More Powerful worship study, pp. 152-155 (c)2006 by Dwayne Moore. To order this study, go to www.praisemorepowerful.com.