A while back, I read the story of Oie Osterkamp. He went from running Job Strategies, a large company that was envied as number 7 on the 2001 Inc. 5000 (list of the fastest growing companies)—to jobless, broke and divorced. It happened because he chose to make the right moral decision over the right business one.
“I had no job, no prospects, nowhere to sleep,” he says in an article published in Inc. Camping in his former business partner’s extra bedroom, Osterkamp recalled his mother’s advice: “Whenever you feel bad, go serve somebody who has it worse than you.” So he started doing missions for his church. Osterkamp wrote and published an inspirational book called Being a Sharefish in a Selfish World. He also founded Sharefish, an organisation dedicated to making a lasting impact. “This small group created an organization to improve education, nutrition, housing, medical and economic opportunities in …impoverished communities.” He remains president of Sharefish but also, as Executive Director of Ronald McDonald House of Durham, has a steady income that allows him to continue to serve God. At the end of the article, he said, “I’ve gone from success to significance.”
So what does it mean to be a person of significance? Back in the 1940s, there was a baseball legend named Jackie Robinson. He was a great athlete—the first African-American to play baseball. Yet he had to endure acute prejudice, racial taunts, abuse, even death threats. But he handled all that with character and dignity. In summing up his life he said: “A life is not significant except for its impact on other lives”.
These two illustrations tell me how important it is to care for others, rather than make a name for ourselves.
Serving Others Is the Key
The Bible often comes up with some startling statements that make us stop and say, Did I hear right? How does that work? And one of those can be found when Jesus was talking with his disciples and said in Mark 9:35: “If you want the place of honour, you must become a slave and serve others!” An older translation of the same verse says, “Whoever wants to be first must be the very last and the servant of all.”
I have a feeling it means: We are called not to be successful but rather to be significant in people’s lives.
The only way you know you’ve really become a person of value and significance is if you sense God’s approval. How great to know God approves of us. And it means having an impact on others’ lives.
That’s why Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be first must be the very last and the servant of all.” It goes against most of what we think from day-to-day and requires thinking in a new way. Very often it seems that the values that Jesus teaches run against the grain in the way we operate.
How does this work, First be last? Isn’t that strange? Can you think of other statements that Jesus makes that fall into this category? Here are some:
- If someone strikes you on one cheek then turn the other one.
- It’s hard for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of heaven.
- To save your life you must lose it.
- Whoever is not against us is for us.
- The Son of Man came to serve not be served.
- The shepherd leaves the 99 sheep in the fold and goes to look for the one that is lost.
- If someone asks for your coat, give them your shirt also.
I suppose this is what makes being a Christian so challenging and at the end of the day explains why many people walk away from the life it calls one to. Not because they think that Christianity and Christian values are a bad idea, but because it feels too hard to put the teaching of Jesus into practice. To be a convincing Christian is not easy—it takes courage and determination.
(Read Are You a Person of Significance? – Part 2)