I wrote about the temptation to become great beyond our ability here. But there is something even more tempting which is the drive to become great beyond our calling. Well… “great.”
Perhaps what I really mean is “famous.”
There is, after all, a substantial difference between “great” and “famous.” While walking with Christ, His disciples quibbled over who would be the greatest in His Kingdom. His reaction was not to rebuke them for desiring greatness. Instead, it was an inverted formula from what the world would otherwise have told them.
He washed their feet.
He pointed to the back of the line.
He gave them a towel and indicated the hundreds and thousands of feet they themselves would one day be called to clean.
And this is the expectation of us all. We must strive for greatness. It is in our coding.
But fame, on the other hand. Fame only comes to a few and it costs much and gives little. Stephen Miller (not that one, the one that loves Jesus) wrote in one of my favorite books on worship, to date, “Fame is a fickle friend who stays with you as long as you pay up, then bails when it loses interest.”  It is hard on family life, and harder on professionalism. Consider how strange it is to suddenly wonder if you have a wedgie, only to realize that there are no less than thirty camera phones unsubtly trying to film you. At some level, we desire fame. At some level, that’s ok, too. Imagine if Mozart had never sought the limelight for his composing, or if Shakespeare had been content to reserve his poetry for more intimate purposes. At a base level, we desire fame, but it is because our hearts are pointing us back toward God. Miller writes,
At some basic level, we all know that fame is fleeting. That it will stab us in the backs when we aren’t looking. That it only wants to take and never wants to give. But even if for a moment, it feels very good to be be wanted, applauded and loved. 
In the 1850’s a man was born in America who was destined to either grasp at fame or live in unknown affection of the commands of his God. Judson Van DeVenter would grow up seeing the horrors come home of the civil war and hear the drums begin for the awakenings in America. When he reached adulthood, he stretched out his legs to begin seeking fame in an artform he could contend with the other greats of his time for the limited spotlights available. While he wrote, he also taught. He taught art in a public school and served in his church.
The people with whom he attended services insisted that he had a special talent for evangelism that needed full time engagement to truly reach its potential.
For season after season, Van Deventer balked at the chance, knowing that if he threw his lot in with the Gospel, that his work of becoming a famous composer and artist was all but finished.
Here at the crossroads of greatness and fame, Judson Van DeVenter weighed the options and made a choice that we all must make at least once in our lives. Only in the truly rare occasions does our greatness also chase down an avenue of fame. More often, our greatness takes us down lonely paths with just a few. It’s service in a small parish, or leadership in a startup business. It’s teaching classes to 20 children at a time.
For me, it’s writing, a thousand words at a time and publishing it to a cold dark internet, hoping that at some point in time it is available for someone to use for an important moment.
For Van DeVenter, it was giving up fame and living a life unto Christ. It was a living sacrifice commanded in Romans 12 and accepted by the throne of Grace. The lives we give aren’t just glorious deaths, but sacrificial lives. The glory of the life of Judson Van DeVenter is found in moments that only God and the men and women he led to Christ know. They are lost in time, but not to the heart of God who cherished every single moment. They were moments famous in the eyes of God.
And let’s be frank. If I’m weighing the counts of times my blogs are read by people and the times I know that God was sitting with me while I typed, I have a pretty consistent winning publication record. I have the rapt attention of the King of the universe. Everything else is icing.
That means if you’re reading this, I think you’re sweet.
Sorry… dad joke…
In the gravity of the moment in which Van DeVenter chose to live a life of quiet sacrifice, there was music from heaven that filled his ears.
Is there a foot that needs washing that will cost you fame? Is there a path toward greatness that will keep your name from being known among the many? Are you willing to give him your everything to do with as He pleases? Are you willing to make the sacrifice of fame that God may use it? Are you willing to give up fame so that He may hold you in one place? What is out of bounds for God to dictate? What is it in your life that you really want to see Him use?
Maybe it’s time to talk with Him. Maybe it’s time to surrender it all.
- Stephen Miller, Worship Leaders, We Are Not Rock Stars, (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2013) 17.
- Ibid., 18.