Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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How to be Great, Day 2

It’s extremely painful to wake up every single day not knowing what’s going to happen with my mom. 

Leslie Basham: That’s what one Revive Our Hearts listener said to us when she wrote from Hungary.

Your ministry has been a blessing to me for a while. A friend of mine showed your page to me about a year ago, and since then I start my morning by listening to your podcast as part of my daily devotion.

This week we found out my mom has lung cancer. I know we’re in God’s hands, and He’s above all things, yet it’s extremely painful to wake up every single day not knowing what’s going to happen with my mom.

This morning I woke up with this same pain in my heart. When I started to listen to today’s message on Revive Our Hearts, God strengthened me with Nancy’s message. 

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth (from "Ask Nancy: Controlling Runaway Emotions"): Out of pain can come incredible beauty and grace and strength and healing and hope and means to help other people in pain.

Leslie: This listener continues: 

Please pray for my mom. And thank you! God bless your ministry.

Nancy: When Revive Our Hearts first began, I don't think any of us would have envisioned how God would use the Internet to take this message to women in countries all around the world that you and I might never have a chance to visit. I'm amazed how God can take messages we record in Southwest Michigan and send them to a woman in Hungary at just the time she needs that word. You are part of making this happen as you pray for Revive Our Hearts and as you give to support our various outreaches.

All throughout this month we’ve been telling you about a huge financial challenge that the ministry has been facing because the giving hasn't been at the level in recent months than it had been in the past. As we close our fiscal year today and begin a new budget cycle, we’ve been asking the Lord to provide $830,000 to make up that lack of giving earlier in the year. If you have been one of the hundreds of people who have given toward that need over the past month, I want to say a huge "thank you!" Please know how grateful I am and our team is for your part in helping to meet this need.

Maybe you've been thinking that you'd like to give a gift toward this need, but you just haven't done it yet. Today is the final day to make a difference in the outcome of this fiscal year. You can give us a call today at 1–800–569–5959 to make your donation. I'm so thankful for what God has provided so far this month, and I'm praying for yet a further outpouring of His provision even this day as our fiscal year comes to a close. 

You can visit us at to see the latest update on how close we are to meeting the need and you can make your donation there as well.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth asks, “In your house, are you trying to compete with everyone else, or are you taking the role of a servant?”

Nancy: Do you keep score of how much you’ve done versus how little others have done? That’s the competing way; that’s the we-want-to-be-first way. Or do you make it your goal to out-serve everyone else in the family?

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Holiness: The Heart God Purifies, for Wednesday, May 31.

Yesterday, Nancy began a series called "How to Be Great." She’s looking at three stories about Jesus and His disciples that define true greatness. Unfortunately, it’s easy for me to relate to the quarreling, ambitious disciples. Today’s teaching will encourage us to be more like Jesus, who became a servant to all. 

Nancy: We’re doing just a short series, to look at three passages in the Scriptures that have been gripping my heart and commanding my attention. It is three incidents in the lives of the disciples where there was some disputing going on as to who was the best, who was the greatest, who was the most, who was the first.

Their idea of greatness was so different than Jesus’ idea of greatness. We looked at one of those passages in the last session from the Gospel of Mark, chapter 9, where the disciples were disputing who was the greatest.

Jesus said, “Do you want to know who’s the greatest? It’s the one who is willing to put himself last, and who is willing to be a servant to everyone else. That is the person who’s the greatest." Humility plus servanthood equals true greatness.

The disciples were a lot like us, in that they didn’t tend to “get” things on the first round. They had to be reminded again and again. This is one issue where they were particularly hard-headed. This is one issue where, I’m afraid, we can also be very hard-headed.

It’s astounding to me that these discussions, these three passages that we’re looking at (we’ll look at the second one today), all take place in the context of Jesus telling His disciples, “I’m going to be killed. I’m going to be rejected, I’m going to be crucified, and I will come back to life again.”

While the whole concerns about the cosmic plan of redemption are swirling around Jesus, the disciples are acting like children. “Nah, nah,  nah, nah, nah. I’m the best; I’m the first; I’m the most; I’m the greatest.” You read it and you think, How could they be so dense?

Then I look at my own heart, my own relationships, my own conversations, and I think, Yeah, how can I be so dense? Look today at Mark chapter 10. We move to the second account, and here we have Jesus foretelling His death for a third time. It’s important to see the context in which these debates arose.

Mark 10, beginning at verse 32,

They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was going to happen to him, saying [now this is the third time He has stated it very clearly], "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit upon him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise” (vv. 32–34).

Pretty clear? Well, to us it is, to them it wasn’t. Look at what follows, the very next verse, as if they had not even heard what Jesus had just said. Jesus has just told his disciples, “I’m going to die; I’m going to be crucified; I’m going to be killed.” And the disciples are oblivious, indifferent to what’s going on in Jesus’ life. What they are concerned about are their own interests. Beginning in verse 35,

And James and John, sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

Now, you’d think their question at this point, having just heard the speech they heard, would be, “Lord, what can we do for You?”

But no, they’re not concerned about what they can do for Him, or for anybody else. They want Jesus to do something for them. Verse 36,

Jesus said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one on your right hand and one at your left, in your glory."

Now, Jesus had set his face to head toward Jerusalem where the cross awaits Him. Nothing can deter Him. But the disciples want to bypass the cross and find a shortcut to glory. When they get there, they want to have a prime seat and position waiting for them.

If you were to go to Matthew’s account, it’s the same account, but again a parallel one. In Matthew chapter 20, you’ll see that their mother made the request. Let me read to you what it says there, Matthew 20, beginning in verse 20,

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, "What do you want?" She said to him, "Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left in your kingdom" (vv. 20–21).

Now, which was it? Did the disciples come or did the mother come? The answer is, “Yes.”

Apparently, James and John, who were brothers, had used their mother to make the appeal on their behalf. Since Jesus responds to them, it suggests that they had come up with the idea in the first place. So here’s a well-meaning mother, and she’s glad to give them a little boost, to get that honor and that promotion.

I believe as you put these passages together that the whole idea was instigated by James and John, and they were using their mother as part of the process. Now, James and John were the sons of Zebedee, and they were two of the three disciples in Jesus’ inner circle . . . a privileged position.

Their mother, Salome, was probably the sister of Mary of Nazareth, which means, if that is the case, that James and John were first cousins of Jesus Himself. So you’d think that if anyone would have the “right” to make a special request, they would. They’re in the inner circle, and they’re close relatives of Jesus.

I think they were probably thinking, There’s nothing untoward or inappropriate about this request. In fact, in the previous chapter, just a few days before, Jesus has told the disciples that they would sit on thrones with Him.

Matthew 19, verse 28, “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” So, there’s nothing wrong with desiring what Jesus has said will actually come true.

The problem is that these two brothers, James and John, are seeking to be elevated above the others. They want the best seats in the house. We read about others like that among the Pharisees in Matthew 23. The scribes and the Pharisees loved the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogue.

They wanted to be recognized, they wanted to be esteemed, they wanted to be valued above others. I think part of the problem with the disciples, in this instance, is that they were thinking about a temporal, political kingdom.

When Jesus was going to Jerusalem, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, He says this stuff about dying, but really, He’s the Messiah. He’s the King. He’s going to come and overthrow the Romans.” That’s what they were thinking. They were thinking when Jesus got to Jerusalem, He was going to take over and the Romans were going to be obliterated and Jesus was going to establish His kingdom.

There were a lot of passages in the Old Testament about the kingdom of God being set up, but the passages they missed were the ones that talked about what had to come first; humiliation before exaltation. You see, Jesus didn’t come to set up a temporal, physical kingdom on this earth first—one day He will—but first He came to set up a spiritual, eternal kingdom.

The disciples, thinking this was a temporal, physical kingdom that was going to take place in Jerusalem here and now, they wanted the number one and two positions in Jesus’ administration. They figured now was the time to put in their bid. You know, the “early bird gets the worm.”

So rather than waiting for the election or the appointment to come up, “We’re just going to head off the thing at the pass and ask to have those positions now.” They didn’t realize what it took to be elevated to those positions. They wanted a shortcut.

They wanted to get there just by fiat, with Jesus saying, “Okay, you’ve got number one, you’ve got number two.” So they vied for prominence, for power, for position, for influence. They wanted to be the greatest. The were looking for honor, for control, for authority. They wanted to be in charge, to get recognition, approval, admiration. Does this sound like anything anybody here ever struggles with? Let me put my hand in the air. How often in my heart am I seeking for those very same things.

They wanted all these things for self-serving reasons. That's the world's way. That's what is natural. That's what is human. We want it for ourselves as these disciples did. We want it for those who we love as their mother did. Give them a boost. Moms may not want this so much for themselves but for their children or for their husband.

What ends up happening is we manuever, we manipulate, we scheme, we compete, we strive, we step on others if we need to as a way to get ourselves up higher. We put ourselves up so other will be put down. We will just elbow others out of the way. Now, we don't usually do that physically, although you have probably seen some of your children do that. We just do it in more adult ways. We do it with looks and attitudes and words—stepping on others if necessary in order to get to the top.

How does Jesus respond to all this? He says in verse 38 (back to Mark chapter 10), “You do not know what you are asking. (They said, ‘We want the left hand and the right hand.’)”

Jesus said, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?"

And they said to him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized you will be baptized.’”

What is all this talk about cup and baptism? What does it mean?

He’s simply saying, “There’s a cup to drink, and there’s a baptism to be endured, and it’s the cup and the baptism of sorrow and suffering. It’s the cross, and I’m never going to be exalted until I go through the cross.” Jesus knew that about Himself, but what He’s trying to tell them is, “You will never be elevated to the place God wants to put you until you’re willing to go through drinking that cup and going through that baptism of sorrow and suffering . . . humiliation before exaltation.”

There are no shortcuts. Jesus could not take a shortcut to the exalted place that He enjoys today at the right hand of the Father. He had to get there by way of the cross. God wants to exalt us. He says, “Humble yourself, and you will be exalted by God.” But we want the shortcut. We want the cheap way. We want the pain-free way. We want to get the first place of preeminence, the exaltation, the greatness without going the lowly way, the way of the humble and the meek, and the obedient path. Jesus said there are no shortcuts.

 That’s what He meant when He said, “You don’t know what you’re asking. You don’t know what it takes to get there.” And the disciples were probably too quick to say, “Oh, yes, we’re willing to drink that cup and go through that baptism.” Where were the disciples not too long after when all this was coming true and Jesus was being captured and arrested and tried and sentenced and crucified?

Where were they? Ready to drink that cup, ready to go through that baptism? No way. They were running. They were scared. They were terrified. Jesus knew their own hearts, that they didn’t know. And Jesus said, “You will have to drink that cup and go through that baptism,” which ultimately they did.

Ultimately, they did suffer for the cause of the Savior, and they came to realize that God exalts those who humble themselves, who seek the lowest place rather than the highest place. Jesus has given these words, this response, to James and John, but then look at verse 41 of Mark 10.

“When the ten heard it [the other ten, who hadn’t been involved in this discussion], they began to be indignant at James and John.” Why do you think was? Because they felt the same way! They wanted that number one and number two position. It was jealousy. They were upset that James and John got to Jesus first, to ask for the favor. “We wish we could have gotten there.”

Jesus knew their hearts, He knew the self-seeking, the self-promotion, the selfish ambition. So in verse 42 of Mark 10 Jesus calls them to Himself and says,

You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.

That word, “lord it over,” is one big, long Greek word. It means to "rule down on people," to be in your exalted place and you rule down on other people.

That’s the way the governments of that day were constructed. There were the people at the top, the authorities, the rulers, and they would “lord it over” people. In the Greek and Roman empires, pride was considered a virtue, and humility was considered a weakness. Slaves were despised and rulers were venerated. That’s the way it goes in the kingdom of man.

The kingdom of this world operates on a totally different value system than the kingdom of God. That which is highly prized by the world means nothing to God, and that which is highly esteemed by God is despised by the world.

Today, what are some of the supreme virtues? Pride, control, self-esteem, and our common view of authority today means that you have more rights than the other person. You get to control the other person, you get your way if you’re in authority.

Jesus presents a whole new view authority, which is a servanthood approach to authority. The goal is not to get your way, not to be right, not to have more rights, not to be in control. The goal of servanthood-type of authority is to protect those under your authority, to provide for their wellbeing, to lift them up, to do what you can to serve them.

Jesus says in verse 42, “Here’s the world’s way . . . the kingdom of man, they lord it over, that’s the way they exercise authority,” but in verse 43 He says, “It shall not be so among you, but whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” That’s the word diakonos, that’s the word that means "a waiter, an attendant, someone who takes direction from others."

If you want to be great, you must be the servant. And whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. That’s that Greek word doulos, the slave, the bondslave, the lowest menial despised servanthood position there could be in the whole economic system of that day.

In the world system, rulers lord it over those under their authority, and great ones exercise authority over others. In God’s system, the one who is great is a servant, the one who is first is the one who’s willing to be slave of all.

That’s so topsy-turvy from the way the world looks at position and rank and greatness. And then Jesus says that great verse, verse 45 of Mark chapter 10, "For even the Son of Man" the ruler of the universe, the Creator of the universe, the One who was equal with God . . .

Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

He is the Lord of heaven and earth, He had the right to exercise authority over every human being on the face of the earth, but He laid down that right, and He came to serve us. He gave up everything to meet our needs.

He says to us, as you’re in ministry serving others, whether as a mom or counselor, or discipler, or in the work place, you’re not in this job or this ministry for what you can get out of it, you’re in it for what you can give to others.

I need to be reminded of that in the context of ministry. I get many privileges. I get a lot of thanks and appreciation and some opportunities for travel—although the greatest opportunity for me is to stay at home. But I have to be reminded I am not in this for what this ministry can do for me.

That’s why, by the way, it’s a great privilege for me that I do not have to take a salary from our ministry. Not a dime of what people give to Revive Our Hearts comes to my salary. That’s why it’s a privilege that all the royalties from all the books I write can be given back into the ministry. I don’t take any of those personally.

I’m not bragging about that. I’m saying it’s a privilege to be in this ministry, and to say, “I’m not in it for what it can do for me, but I’m in it because God has called me to be a servant to you . . . a servant to all.” That’s God’s calling in my life, and that’s the greatest, most exalted, blessed privileged place to be.

So we have on the one hand the kingdom of man, which promotes selfish ambition, self-seeking, self-interest, self-promotion, and then we have the kingdom of God which promotes humility and servanthood.

Jesus said, “I came to model to you what it is to be great in the kingdom of God. Do you want to really be great? Be a servant of all.” So let’s make it personal. In the workplace, those of you who find yourself there . . . Is it your goal to succeed and to get benefits for yourself, or is it your goal to make the company succeed, to make your boss look good? Are you a servant in the workplace?

What about in your home? Do you keep score of how much you’ve done versus how little others have done? That’s the competing way. That’s the we want to be first way. Or do you make it your goal to out-serve everyone else in your family? Do you get miffed when you serve and it doesn’t get recognized?

That’s where I think a lot of us, as women, experience struggle. Most of us in the context of our homes or workplaces, we’re in a position where we do serve a lot. But it’s easy to become resentful about the serving. I find myself, and I’m ashamed to say this, but there are times in ministry when I become resentful of the demands of the studying, the long hours.

I’m not saying this to make you feel sorry for me, I’m saying it to make you pray for me, because I find myself sometimes just resenting what it takes to fulfill what God has called me to do. Then I have to be reminded that it is an incredible honor and privilege and gift from the Lord to spend those hours in my study, at my laptop, getting messages from God’s Word in order to feed the women God has called me to shepherd.

That’s a privilege! By the way, I get more out of that than anybody who ever listens to it, but I have to get my thinking back on track. I have to get re-oriented to think God’s way instead of the way that comes naturally.

In the church Peter says to those who are leaders, “Don’t lord it over those you are called to lead, but you are to come alongside them and serve them, as the shepherd of the flock.” (see 1 Peter 5:1–2) And as women, in our relationships in the church, is it our goal to serve or to be served?

Do you go to church for what it can do for you and for what you can get out of it and how it will bless you—as I find myself sometimes doing? If you go to church for that reason, you’re going to tend to be critical of the music if it doesn’t bless you, critical of the preaching if it’s not the style that you prefer. You’re going to find yourself becoming discontent and malcontent and causing division if you don’t go to church as a servant, to say, “How can I bless?”

I find I get such joy—and I have mixed emotions about the this, because part of me would like to just go to church and not have to be on display and ministering to other people (I know some of you go to my church, so I’m being a little vulnerable by saying this). At times parts of me thinks, Just let me go to church and be a private person. But when I go to church with the mindset on the way there, “Lord, who can I serve and be a blessing to today,” I find that invariably, week after week, I find people coming and sitting next to me, coming up to me in the aisle, between the services or after the service, and sharing their heart, and I get so many incredible opportunities to be a servant.

I come away blessed. I get so much more out of it than if I had gone to get a blessing. I do get a blessing—I want you to understand that—but I get the blessing by putting myself in the position to bless and to serve others.

So what does it mean to be a servant, to serve others? It means to be more concerned about meeting the other person’s needs than getting your own needs met. It means to be others-centered, not self-focused.

There are so many times, when I go into a group of people—and we all have this happen. We’ve got our own issues, our own needs, our own burdens and concerns, and we just want somebody to put their arm around us and love us and minister to us. I had that happen to me at church last Sunday. It’s a great blessing and God often gives that. But I find if I will go into that room of people, and I will say, “How can I roll up my sleeves and serve . . . how can I give?”

I ask the Lord to make me attentive, attuned to the needs of others, and He does. In the giving out to others, God fills my cup. He meets my needs. He blesses me in such sweet ways. So to be a servant is to look out for the needs of others, their interests, their concerns.

By the way, there’s no place more important to do that than in the context of our own homes. That’s where we tend to want to be served, or understood, or appreciated, or valued. And Jesus said, “That’s the world’s way. Give it up, give it up.”

“Even the Son of Man did not come to serve but to be served, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Oh, Lord, how we pray that you would give us that humble, serving heart of Jesus, who welcomed the children, who took the lowest position, who went to the cross and gave and gave and gave and gave so that we might be lifted up. Lord, may we manifest that heart to our families, in our churches, in our workplaces, wherever You have placed us. Let us reveal and show to others the humble, serving heart of the Lord Jesus, in whose name we pray it, amen.

Leslie: That’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, in a series called “How to Be Great.” You’ll be confronted with the world’s definition of greatness all day today. But God is calling us to a whole different definition—the type of greatness that truly lasts and truly satisfies. I’m so grateful for God’s Word that can help us know the truth about practical issues like this. And I’m thankful for Nancy’s way of expounding on that truth. If you’ve missed any of this series you can hear it or read the transcript at

Imagine a group of nine years olds in a room with the strongest man in the world. Would the boys start arguing about which of them can lift the most weight? Nancy will discuss that kind of ludicrous situation tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants you to discover true greatness. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.