This week’s news has been dotted with stories covering the life and career of former Heavy Weight Boxing Champion Muhammad Ali who passed away last Friday from protracted health issues. Arguably the first of a vanguard of flamboyant ‘trash talking’ athletes, Ali was known for taunting his opponents openly both inside and outside the ring, boldly declaring himself to be “the Greatest of All Time.” And, you know, he was right… for a while.
But that was a long time ago, and as he learned, (and the rest of us will learn if we live long enough), time has a way of stealing away things in which we once took great pride and satisfaction. Oh, these things don’t have to be limited to athletics. They can be beauty, intellect, dexterity, imagination, creativity, or a host of other things. Even for those who are skilled and fortunate enough to somehow against all odds reach the pinnacle of their career, and to ride the fading wave of fame and fortune while garnering the admiration of millions, they all soon find out that being “the greatest” just isn’t that great anymore.
That’s why scripture emphasizes the need to focus beyond this life and warns against deriving worth and value from the things of this world. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven- Matthew 6:19-20
Jesus knew the fleeting nature of life and cautioned His followers against placing their trust in their ability to amass things in it for ourselves. Instead, He reminded those who follow Him that the only way we can achieve true greatness is by leaving a lasting mark on eternity.
While His words seems counter-intuitive to everything this world lauds as valuable, Christ pushed aside temporary pursuits as He pointed us to the way of true greatness in Matthew 23:11-12. “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Instead of boasting in our efforts and ability, believers become truly great when, in an attitude of humble faith in God, we set aside ourselves and stoop to serve.
So while the Lord has surely blessed many of His children with wonderful and dynamic gifts that range from the creative, to the intellectual, and yes, even the athletic realms, we must always be vigilant to guard against the tendency of our natural selves to be proud or even arrogant and elevate ourselves above others. (James 4:6). When we switch focus and learn to lift others and point them to Christ, the impact of our lives is guaranteed to reverberate far beyond our years.