Jesus says to his disciples in Mark 10 that "Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all."

Paul in Philippians says that we are to "have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus" who "emptied himself" and became a servant.

Why is it so hard to take the last place, to be the least among others, to become a servant?

I think a lot of it boils down to mattering.

We all want to matter. To be the focus of respect, esteem and interest. Thus we spend a lot of time trying to show others our best side. Think about Facebook, how we fill our profiles with happy pictures, notices about our successful children and beautiful photos from vacation.

And what if it is hard to matter in the ways our culture defines "mattering"? What if you don't have a job, don't have kids, or a spouse, or money for the Instragram-worthy vacation?

How do you matter in this culture when you have to take a bus, have your electricity turned off, or need to ask others for food?

Well, you find other ways to matter. For example, I have a friend who doesn't have a great deal in his life--he's poor, has no job, no family to speak of--that would commend himself to others. So he tells stories. You know these stories aren't true, but you don't want to burst his bubble because these stories give him something to share, some news of interest from his week. Most of us have things about family or work to share with each other at church. He doesn't have any of that, so he confabulates to participate in the social mixing. And though his stories don't jibe with reality, you listen attentively and express interest and concern. Because he wants to matter.

I have another friend, in similar circumstances, who uses injury and accidents to matter. Any given week his arm might be in a sling or he might be on crutches. And when you see him you inquire about his most recent injury. And he tells you the story of the accident. And you listen because this is how he matters.

Occasionally I drive a van for our church Freedom Fellowship on Wednesday. Driving that route has taught me that sometimes we matter because of what we know. And even the smallest, thinnest epistemological edge can give you this sense of mattering. At the start, being new to the route the regular passengers knew the locations and best routes to get everyone that needed to be picked up. The first few times I drove I needed help about where to go next. People helped me and it made them feel like they mattered. They knew something that I didn't. Their knowledge allowed them to help me, placed them in a superior position.

But as I've driven more and more I need directions less and less. But still the directions come. I know I need to turn left, they know I know that I need to turn left, but I'm still told to turn left. Why? Because telling me how to go helps them matter. And they are going to hold on to that mattering for as long as possible. And I'm not going to rush them. Sometimes I ask for directions when I don't need them.

Tall tales, new crutches, giving directions. There are ways to matter to others when you feel you don't have much to commend yourself. But this isn't any different, just more transparent, than what all the well-dressed, successful people are doing at church when they visit with each other. We're all just trying to show off and impress each other. It's more subtle and more socially skilled, but it's all the same thing. We all want to matter. For one person it's the crutches for another it's having the Honors student or the new iPhone or the golf score from the weekend or the new dress or the witty remark or the latest gossip or the concert tickets or the new car or the fresh nail job or the recent promotion or the new tan from the cruise.

Look at me, pay attention to me, see me as interesting and worthy of attention. I want to matter.

And I do the same thing. I'll check my blog statistics. How many hits? Subscribers? Comments? Links? Tweets?  I'll check Amazon. Book sales? Reviews?

I want to matter.

Behind it all is a deep-seated insecurity, a dread that if we aren't noticed that we aren't worth anything. And if that's the case, let's revisit Jesus' commands and example from above. How can we become insignificant and small--how can we rest into being unnoticed--given our massive insecurities?

Because I don't think we fail to follow Jesus because we are wicked and depraved.

I think we fail to follow Jesus because we want to matter.

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15 thoughts on “Mattering”

  1. The difficulty in helping Christians grow out of the obsessive need to matter is that too many see the church as their little pond. In their work, sometimes in their own families, they feel small, and the church becomes the place of being noticed, of being "somebody". And tampering with someone's "need to be somebody" can stir up a very destructive anger, where they feel totally justified in "doing what they must do to protect themselves". It is then that the gentle ones, the little ones, as Jesus called them, whom they attack must be defended, and, if need be, watch those who need to matter walk away. If Jesus could not keep them all, then we should take from him that sometimes love frightens the "strong" away.

  2. Even on a more secular level, I think the need to "matter" often keeps us from making the decisions that will make us happiest. In my line of work (academia), this usually means pursuing the highest levels of research and defining oneself by publications and citations. In fact, the whole system of citations is set up for researchers to assure each other that they matter and that their work has meaning and importance. I see so many people who pour themselves into this not because they love the work, but because they need to be told that they matter. In fact, they'd be happier if they were content with doing good work that they could be proud of, taking more time off, doing more teaching, and simply enjoying the bounties of the academic life and atmosphere. I am sure similar situations exist in most lines of work.

  3. "I think we fail to follow Jesus because we want to matter."

    Or, perhaps, if we dig down one more layer, perhaps it's because we fail to believe that we do.

    Among the greatest lyrics ever written IMO:

    I have gone from rags to riches
    in the sorrow of the night
    In the violence of a summer's dream,
    in the chill of a wintry light,
    In the bitter dance of loneliness
    fading into space,
    In the broken mirror of innocence
    on each forgotten face.

    I hear the ancient footsteps like
    the motion of the sea
    Sometimes I turn, there's someone there,
    other times it's only me.
    I am hanging in the balance
    of the reality of man
    Like every sparrow falling,
    like every grain of sand.

    Bob Dylan, Every Grain of Sand

  4. Great post. This has been on my mind lately. I love how NateW brings it full circle.

  5. You wouldn't believe what happened to me today...and while you're at it, turn left, and I mean it! :)

  6. Not sure that we fail to follow Jesus because we want to matter. However I do agree with the point being made here. God created us all to need him. I think as "Christians, we fail to allow our faith to matter to us. When others look to us, we look just like everyone else. Does our faith allow us to Know that we do matter to Him, and it makes a great difference in us.

  7. Or perhaps following Jesus is what matters, and these other things that we think matter so much, don't.

    In another case of thoughts converging from opposite sides, I've been playing with the use of the word "matter" in both its physical sense and its moral sense. On that note: be careful that you do not become opposed to matter, and so become a Gnostic ;) Jesus mattered. Enough puns for today.

  8. "I think we fail to follow Jesus because we want to matter"

    I suspect this is oftentimes true, but for me, asking myself Why I wanted to matter; Why I longed for love; Why beauty left me so awestruck and speechless ~ all these Why's (and more) have played a part in taking me from a place of unbelief and despair to a place of stubborn, defiant hope [that It's all *really* real and true.]

  9. Thanks Richard, this is an incredible post and such great stuff to be reminded of [or maybe taught for the first time] - we have a blog at where we focus on issues of where FAITH meets FINANCES [with a healthy side order of JUSTICE] and this post strongly fits in with the conversation we are trying to have there so I hope it's okay for us to reproduce it and link people back to here... thank you for a strong message, love brett fish

  10. Quite agree, though its hard to pick just one Dylan song for that title. : ) Mississippi ranks up there for me too as does "What Good am I?"

  11. Tomorrow I am leading a study on 1 Corinthians 13:5a "Love is not arrogant or rude" and I think I might quote this blog to add some perspective. It's given me some. Thanks!

  12. Dan is right, Jesus mattered. But Jesus was not trying to matter, in the way we try to matter, need to matter... Jesus sought to matter to God, and as a result, he ended up mattering much more to the people than he ever could have had he sought instead to matter to them directly. Politicians try to matter to us directly... but Jesus is followed by members of many different political parties, races, so on. Perhaps following Jesus is largely about seeking to matter to God.

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