The Paralympics are about to start this week, and no doubt there’s a lot of people being inspired by the feats of achievement and the defying of odds on display. No doubt these athletes have achieved some amazing things, and it’s worth celebrating each one of them. But it’s worth pausing and asking the question, what is the essence of inspiration?
I once saw a video of someone who rode his recumbent trike from Kathmandu to Mt. Everest base camp and return. No small feat. Even more significant considering he had acquired a disability from a climbing accident, and has lost some function down one side of his body. We are often inspired by people who do big things, especially when there is some measure of adversity involved, and no doubt many people would find this man inspirational. But for me? Impressive, yes. Inspirational, no. Not that I have anything against the man, or what he did and I don’t wish to belittle his efforts. But, as someone with an appetite for adventure, I understood he was just out there doing his thing. Doing what’s “normal” for him. This led me to think, where do I find inspirational?
There have been a number of people who have inspired me. And I won’t embarrass them by naming them! But it’s worth reflecting on their character. These are people worthy to be put up in an ivory tower to be respected and revered by all. But they make themselves available to others, and use their God-given brilliance, not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of others – even those who may be considered unworthy of such attention. People who have an intellect capable of plumbing the depths of Scripture and teaching it effectively, yet make the time to teach the Bible to children with intellectual disabilities. People who may be expected to guard their personal space, yet share it for the benefit of others. It’s not the people who do big things that inspires me. It’s the people who do 100 small things a day, using their gifts and abilities, their greatness, for the benefit of others.
It seems to me that it is this theme of using one’s greatness for the benefit of others that Paul was reflecting on when he wrote these words:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, 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. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! – Philippians 2:5–8
Jesus, the eternal divine Son of God, was worthy of anything he claimed for himself. Even equality with God, because he was God. But he didn’t. When Peter defended Jesus by cutting off the high priest’s ear, Jesus rebuked Peter saying, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:51-53). You see, Jesus could have easily used his greatness to avoid being arrested and consequently crucified. But he didn’t. He was concerned to use his greatness, not for his own benefit, but for the benefit of others. Even those least worthy – sinners! This benefit is, that upon repentance, sinners can now enjoy an eternal relationship with God the father.
On occasion, people have called me “inspirational”. Now, if by my achievements, people are persuaded to take up formal Bible study, or take up cycling, all well and good. Praise God! But, whether it’s my academic work, my cycling, or my travelling, for the most part, I’m just another nutter doing my own thing. Doing what’s “normal” for me, and not really seeking someone else’s benefit. Inspiration, in the biblical sense, isn’t doing the big things. It’s doing the small things, the insignificant things, the costly things, for the benefit of others. That’s the essence of inspiration that Jesus has for us.
There are many ways that as churches, we can be biblically inspirational. We can become aware of the needs in our surrounding communities, and partner with Jericho Road in meeting those needs. We can learn to be more inclusive of people with disabilities where every member of the church belongs, and has an active role in contributing to the church. We can volunteer at Allowah Presbyterian Children’s Hospital. Get involved with supporting refugees. Help support people in times of crisis. Become equipped to care for others, along with many other ways.
It’s not the big things that will inspire people for Christ. It’s the 100 little things we do each day for the benefit of others that will inspire people for Christ.