Choosing the Lowest Place
Keeping Our Eyes on a Better Prize
Amy Carmichael — 1867-1951
Twenty-one year old Amy Carmichael watched quietly as the mission hall began to fill with people. The dedication ceremony she had planned for so long was just about to begin. It had been a whirlwind year. Amy had worked tirelessly to purchase ground and have a huge meeting hall built in order to minister to the hundreds of poor factory girls who lived in the slums of her hometown of Belfast, Ireland. Now, the hall was finally ready to be officially dedicated as a place where the factory girls could come for help, love, and refuge from their very difficult lives. Though Amy was just a young woman herself in weak health, she had achieved a tremendous accomplishment in bringing this ministry dream into a reality.
But Amy didn’t want recognition or honor for what she had done. At the front of the hall hung a banner with the words, “That in all things He may have the preeminence [first place]” (Col. 1:18). Above all, Amy wanted the name of Jesus — not her own name — to be lifted high. As local ministers and community leaders took their place on stage to commence the dedication ceremony, Amy did not join them. Instead, she found an obscure seat in the middle of the audience, taking no credit for the countless hours of labor and prayer she had poured into this new work.
Instead of grasping for the position of honor that many would say she deserved, Amy chose anonymity. She took the lowest place instead of the highest one.
Years later, when Amy began her missionary work in India, she once again made the decision to choose obscurity over earthly honor. She had received many invitations to hold meetings throughout India and make a name for herself in the missionary world. At the same time, many weak and needy children were coming into her care. She was faced with a choice whether to build her platform in India, or stay home and change the diapers of sickly babies. Very few of her friends and supporters could see any reason why she would choose the latter. It seemed like such a waste of her talents, and was such demeaning work in comparison to the honor and recognition she would receive as a Christian speaker and evangelist. But Amy remembered the stunning example of humility that Christ set when He humbly took a towel and washed His disciples’ feet.
“He took a towel,” she wrote later, “the Lord of glory did that. Is it the bondservant’s business to say which work is large and which is small, which is unimportant and which is worth doing? The question answered itself, and was not asked again.”
It may seem illogical that someone who gave up so many great opportunities for public recognition would leave a spiritual legacy that would reach millions and continue to impact the world long after her death. And yet, that is exactly what happened in Amy Carmichael’s life. As she humbly followed Christ’s example to take the lowest place instead of the highest, God blessed the fruit of her labors and caused them to multiply. She rescued over 1,000 children from slavery, impacted thousands of Indian people for Christ, and wrote many books which have shaped Christian thought and inspired missionaries for the past several decades.
AS SHE HUMBLY FOLLOWED CHRIST’S EXAMPLE TO TAKE THE LOWEST PLACE INSTEAD OF THE HIGHEST, GOD BLESSED THE FRUIT OF HER LABORS AND CAUSED THEM TO MULTIPLY.
Yet it wasn’t because Amy set out to become a famous Christian missionary that her life was so effective for God’s Kingdom. Rather, it was because she sought no other honor than the privilege of dwelling in the shadow of the Cross.
Gertrude “Biddy” Chambers — 1884-1966
As a young girl, “Gertrude Hobbs” set her eyes on a lofty goal: becoming the secretary to the prime minister of England. As she became a teenager, she studied hard and soon became one of the fastest transcriptionists in the country. It seemed she had a good chance of seeing her childhood dream become a reality.
Then, in 1908, she met a godly young man named Oswald, who gave her the affectionate nickname “Biddy.” As she spent time around this passionate young evangelist, she was stirred toward a deeper faith in Christ. Soon it became clear that God was leading her into marriage with this amazing man. From then on, instead of using her transcription skills to build a successful career, she used her gift to humbly support her husband in his calling. Each time Oswald taught on the Christian life to churches and Bible college students, she took shorthand of each word he spoke. She had no way of knowing how important or world-changing this simple act of servanthood would be.
Oswald died unexpectedly at the age of forty-three while they were on the mission field in Egypt during the first World War. Biddy felt a clear sense from God that she was to spend the rest of her life “giving his words” to the world.
Year after year, Biddy did the painstaking work of compiling her shorthand notes from Oswald’s messages in her spare time on an old typewriter, while she also ran a mission house, cooked daily meals for Bible college students, ministered to needy strangers, raised a young daughter, washed the feet of the saints, and cheerfully gave to anyone who asked, despite living on a very meager income in harsh conditions.
SHE RAISED A YOUNG DAUGHTER, WASHED THE FEET OF THE SAINTS, AND CHEERFULLY GAVE TO ANYONE WHO ASKED
At age forty-four, Biddy completed the work on My Utmost for His Highest after three painstaking years of work. She wrote the forward for the book and signed only her initials, “B.C..” “Nowhere in the book did it mention her name or her work of taking shorthand notes, typing the talks, and merging paragraphs from three different messages into a coherent reading for a single day.” As her biographer says, “The author was Oswald Chambers. She saw herself as a channel through which his words were conveyed to others. That was her way.”
Her biography continues: “Biddy rarely had a twenty-four hour period in which it appeared she had accomplished something great for God. But the total of her days added up to a towering achievement of published works and human kindness … Before she died in 1966, fifty books bearing her husband’s name had been published … Every morning people around the world opened a small book they called My Utmost to help set their sights on God for that day.”
Biddy accomplished far more in her lifetime than most people would ever dream of. Just like Amy Carmichael, the labor of her life was not merely a flash in the pan, but rather a lasting legacy of life-changing impact that still continues to this day. Once again, this staggering feat was not achieved by scraping for recognition or position, but simply by laying down all personal ambition in order to lift high the name of Jesus.
Lilias Trotter — 1853-1928
Lilias Trotter was a privileged young woman born into a wealthy English family in the Victorian era. She was a committed Christian, and was extraordinarily gifted in art. In her late teens, her paintings caught the attention of one of the most famous art critics in the world, John Ruskin. When she was in her early twenties, Ruskin became her mentor. He told her that if she would give herself entirely to her art, she could become one of the greatest painters in her generation, doing things that were “immortal” and having her name go down in the history books. He asked her to make a definite decision as to whether she was willing to completely dedicate herself to her art.
Lilias wrestled intensely with the decision. Christians friends told her it was a wonderful opportunity to use her fame and talents to speak about her faith. But as Lilias studied the words of Christ, everything became clear. “I cannot give myself to art in the way that he means and still seek first the Kingdom of God,” she wrote in her journal.
Not long after her decision to give up an art career, Lilias felt the call of God to the mission field in Algeria. Giving up all hopes of position and recognition, she left her comfortable home and circle of wealthy friends to pour out her life in obscurity for the sake of the One who had given everything for her. For the rest of her life, she lived in slums and traveled across deserts, joyfully enduring affliction and bringing the light of Christ into a dark and oppressed land.
As a result of her decision to lay down all personal ambition and choose a life of sacrificial love, hope was brought into a place of hopelessness and souls were won for eternity — men and women who never would have heard the Gospel otherwise.
Fame and fortune were literally handed to Lilias on a silver platter. But she had her eyes on a different prize. She chose the dust at the foot of the Cross. And because of this choice, her life bore eternal fruit.
The Dust at the Foot of the Cross
There is one common thread, one rare quality that is beautifully demonstrated in the lives of each of these women. It is best expressed in this quote from Amy Carmichael’s book, If:
“If I covet any place on earth but the dust at the foot of the Cross, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”
When I first read those soul-stirring words, they took my breath away.
I was in my early twenties, passionate about writing and music, and struggling to know whether I should be more self-promoting with my gifts. From the age of seventeen, I’d been told by both the music and writing world that the only way I could be a good steward of the talents God had given me was to aggressively build my own platform and make sure I got noticed.
I remember listening to a lecturer at a Christian writers conference who promised to give us the secrets to having the next runaway bestseller.
“So you’ve written an amazing book,” he said in an authoritative voice. “Now the question is — how do you show the world that you have something valuable to say? The first thing you need to know,” he continued, “is how to shamelessly self-promote your work. Don’t wait for the professional writing world to ‘discover’ you. Instead, market yourself in such a way that they won’t be able to ignore you!”
Over the next hour, we learned several techniques that would help us get our talent noticed by anyone and everyone who might help our writing career. From having professional 8×10 glossy photos taken, to creating an impressive, larger-than-life bio, to shoving our work into the hands of any influencer in the Christian world that we could hunt down, we were told not to miss any opportunity to draw attention to our special gift.
I left that workshop feeling overwhelmed. The lecturer had said that the only way to be a good steward of my God-given gifts was to shamelessly flaunt and promote them. I suddenly felt tremendous pressure to somehow prove that I was talented and worth listening to. According to what I was hearing, all of the other writers attending the conference were no longer comrades in promoting the Gospel — they were my competition. I couldn’t just learn how to be a good writer. I also needed to learn how to be a good self-promoter. If I was going to be responsible with my talent, I needed to do everything in my power to get noticed and applauded.
In the midst of all this confusion, I was feeling that Amy’s simple statement about seeking no place on earth but “the dust at the foot of the Cross” was not only timely — it was life-changing.
As I began to study the lives of world-changing Christians in history, I saw that it wasn’t self-promotion or grasping for recognition that caused their lives to make a lasting impact. Rather, it was this rare and astounding quality of choosing the lowest place, just as Jesus did. It was the result of turning their eyes away from the glittering success and fame of the world, and fixing their eyes upon a different prize, just as Eric Liddell did when he gave up worldwide Olympic fame for obscurity in China.
We often believe that seeking the highest place — the place of human honor and esteem — is the best way to steward our talents, build an effective ministry, have a successful career, or even find our future spouse. Many single women feel tremendous pressure to “market themselves” to available men through online matchmaking services and dating apps. Social media drives us to gain more “likes” and “friends” than the next person. Career-minded women are taught to elbow out their competition and climb the ladder of success to get where they want to be. Even ministry, for many Christians, has become just another way to elevate personal popularity and gain personal recognition — as I discovered that memorable day at the writer’s conference.
But as set apart women we are called to walk an entirely different path. We are called to follow in the very footsteps of our Lord and become of “no reputation” in this world’s eyes. This is not a special call for a handful of unique believers. It is simply the path of true Christianity:
WE ARE CALLED TO FOLLOW IN THE VERY FOOTSTEPS OF OUR LORD
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who … made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant …” (Phil. 2:5-7).
The dust at the foot of the Cross may not look attractive at first glance. But once we kneel at that splintery wood and feel the closeness of His presence, there is no other place we would rather be. When we truly learn to walk as He walked, all earthly accolades seem completely worthless compared to knowing Him and having the privilege of sharing in His sufferings:
“Yet indeed I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ … that I may know Him … and the fellowship of His sufferings…” (Phil. 3:8-10).
The Psalmist said, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (Ps. 84:10 NIV).
Just one day with Him is better than a thousand away from Him. Just standing at His threshold is better than sitting at the greatest feast on earth. Why would we seek any other honor?
As Jesus said to the Pharisees: “How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?” (Jn. 5:44).
Oh, may we not trade the honor of our King for the cheap counterfeit of human praise!
Living for Heaven’s Applause
When we scrape and claw for attention and praise, we might achieve a measure of success or short term honor. But it will not last. It’s only when we are willing to live in the dust at the foot of the Cross that we can make a truly lasting, eternal impact upon this world.
It’s time to decide whose applause we are going to live for … theirs, or His.
Their applause might temporarily satisfy, but it can never bring true joy. Their applause might give a fleeting sense of great achievement, but it will soon evaporate into nothing.
His applause, on the other hand, is something entirely different.
Stephen’s martyrdom in the book of Acts gives us a breathtaking glimpse of heaven’s applause.
Stephen could have easily won the favor of the crowd and preserved his reputation and his life. But his eyes were set on a different prize; an infinitely better one. He was living only for the smile of his Savior. And even as he spoke the words that would lead to his death, his face was radiant with a supernatural glow:
“All who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).
Amazingly, just as Stephen reached the epitome of worldly contempt and rejection, He was simultaneously receiving a standing ovation from the King of all kings:
“When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’” (Acts 7:54-56, emphasis added).
Choosing to forgo the esteem of the world means we are choosing a far higher honor — the honor that comes from heaven. Letting God honor us — rather than seeking honor for ourselves — means living a life of lasting impact rather than one of momentary fame.
The next time you feel driven to seek recognition or earthly honor, take a moment to think about which kind of applause is truly worth living for.
Making it Practical: Five Key Questions
Becoming of “no reputation” does not mean hiding away in a hermit’s cabin in the woods and never showing your face to society. God gives each of us a specific sphere of influence — whether it be amongst a few friends and family, or in a position where thousands know our name. Choosing the dust at the foot of the Cross over the temporary esteem of the world does not lie in our outward circumstances, but in the attitude and aim of our heart. Do we crave attention and honor, or do we delight to share in His loneliness and rejection? Are we delighting in the applause of men, or are we living for the applause of heaven?
Here are five soul-searching questions to help us determine which kind of prize we are truly seeking:
1. In social situations (or on social media) do I seek to be the center of attention?
2. Do I feel depressed if I’m not appreciated or praised by the people in my life?
3. Am I willing to serve even if I receive no recognition for it?
4. Am I willing to befriend people of low position, or do I only seek friends who can help me become more popular?
5. Am I building my life around personal success, or around pouring out my life for Christ’s sake?
If, in answering these questions honestly, you realize your life is aimed at an earthly prize instead of a heavenly one, the first step is to ask God to do a work of grace in your soul. Ask Him to reorient your life around His values instead of this world’s values. Study the life of men in Scripture, like Moses, who traded the wealth and power of Egypt for the privilege of suffering affliction with the people of God (see Hebrews 11:24-25). And Paul, who gave up a successful position as a Pharisee in order to become a fool for Christ (see Philippians 3:4-11).
ASK HIM TO REORIENT YOUR LIFE AROUND HIS VALUES INSTEAD OF THIS WORLD’S VALUES
Read stories of Christians throughout history who gave up tremendous worldly opportunities because they had their eyes fixed upon a different prize: people like C.T. Studd, who gave up his fortune and his fame as a cricket player to pour out his life on the mission field, Eric Liddell, who gave up his honor and position as an Olympic athlete in order to bring the Gospel to China, and Esther Ahn Kim, who gave up the opportunity to be protected and honored by a famous general during the second World War in order to suffer alongside other believers in a filthy Japanese prison.
Ask God to open your eyes to the awe-inspiring humility Christ demonstrated when He, the Lord of glory, wrapped a towel around His waist and washed the dirt off His disciples’ feet. And let Him replace your longing for human praise with the longing to know Him and follow in His steps.
When you truly ponder Christ’s example, “who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant…” (Phil. 2:6-7), it puts everything into perspective.
By the grace of God, let us live by the words of our faithful Servant-King who told us, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35, emphasis added).
May we seek no other honor but to dwell in the dust at the foot of His Cross.
For truly, there is no greater honor to be found.