In high school, I finished second in my graduating class. And while that may seem like an accomplishment, and I was indeed proud of it– still, it was second place. Not first.
In college, I auditioned to be an emcee for a special show. I encouraged my roommate to also audition, who felt insecure. Guess what? She got the part! I was happy for her- she did a fantastic job.
But I felt also that I had failed.
God used those circumstances, and similar ones afterward, to draw me closer to him.
What was he teaching me? That failures more often define our character than success. That coming second (or third, or fourth, or last) has just as much value as being first. That new hope and new life come through the difficult tunnel of hardship and failure.
After all, God reminded me that he chose a man with a stutter to be his spokesperson (Moses.). He chose a childless couple to be the father of a new nation (Abraham and Sarah), and blessed them with a child in their old age. God chose a barren woman (Hannah) to have a child (Samuel), who became a prophet, and anointed David as King. He chose Rahab, a prostitute, through which the lineage of Christ would come. Rahab’s son was Boaz, Boaz married Ruth, (a Moabite woman), and their son Jesse would be the father of David (who was crowned King). Wow. What a story!
Consistently, the Lord used the least of these. And consistently, it is through trials and hardship that I see and experience attributes of God I might not otherwise have known.
Would I know His comfort if I had never any need of it?
Would I know His grace if I had never any need of it?
Would I know His mercy if I had never any need of it?
And that which gives me need are the harder experiences of life.
In fact, the Lord used the humblest of means to bring his message of hope and grace to the world– through an infant born in a humble manger. Jesus’ life was simple, not fancy and full of worldly success. From the beginning, the message is that there is more to life than succeeding, winning, being first, or being the best.
So that is where the pursuit leads– to the message that truth and fulfillment cannot be found in the temporal circumstances in our world, but in the arms of Grace.
Jesus was not first. He chose to be the last.
Being last, in fact, resembles his likeness more than being first, the best, or winsome, or handsome or beautiful. What characterized his life was this: forgetting himself and putting himself last to pursue the higher calling of the One who called him.
Being second, or third, or last… it has significance and meaning. It means I am in the same place as Jesus, as his co-heir, as an adopted son… a beautiful place to be.