What makes a woman great?
This is a question I grapple with often. Is greatness about reaching some expected status like “engaged” or “married”? Is it about raising good kids who get good grades and eventually good jobs? Does it mean climbing the corporate ladder, gaining influence, and outdoing those around you?
Maybe greatness is about finding your “other thing”—your side hustle—and becoming an expert at it, either within the home, at the workplace, or on Instagram. Or perhaps it’s about becoming true to ourselves by listening to the voice within. Maybe greatness is learning how to unhitch ourselves from everyone’s expectations in order to find true happiness.
Or is it?
The World’s Idea of Greatness
These ideas reflect the world’s definition of greatness: power, influence, and self-actualization. But Jesus defines greatness this way: “whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Matt. 20:26).
Greatness is not about puffing ourselves up, but laying ourselves down.
It is not only about what we’re doing, but why and how we’re doing it. Greatness is the humble posture of the heart.
Now, this doesn’t mean we can’t pursue our interests or want to grow in various skill sets—far from it. But greatness is much more than these, for it means becoming less. It is a humble posture of service that made (and makes) Jesus great. And it is a heart-posture of humility before Jesus that makes a woman truly great, too.
A Different Kind of Greatness
Think about Jesus’s greatness. His messianic rule is (and was) great because it is motivated by sacrificial servant-leadership. Anticipated in the Old Testament, the Messiah would be a ruler to right every wrong, uphold God’s promises, and lead God’s people into rest from all their enemies.
He would be the definition and fulfillment of a great leader.
In other words, King Jesus is a different kind of “great” than what we would expect, than what the world is typically drawn to. For he did not come in power and forcefulness, but in meekness and mercy. The start of his messianic rule wasn’t a ruthless elbow-throwing climb to the top, but a willing descent to the very bottom.
Jesus is a king—and a servant. He is a ruler—and a shepherd.
A Great Good Shepherd
As you think about the whole of Scripture, does the word shepherd ring any bells? Remember that God’s people were waiting, all throughout their history, for their Messiah-King to come—but with the coming of every new leader came disappointment. At best, God’s anointed kings desired to please, love, and obey him, but still failed. At worst, they sought self-pleasure, self-love, and selfish ambition—the opposite of what God’s king should be, the opposite of a good shepherd.
This is not the kind of leader Jesus is.
No—he is the Good Shepherd, the flesh-and-blood fulfillment of God’s promise:
“I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.”Ezekiel 34:15–16
How Jesus’s Leadership Is Different
Jesus is everything the former shepherds weren’t. In every way those leaders failed, he succeeded and continues to succeed:
Israel’s shepherds were too busy looking out for number one. Laser-focused on their own interests and needs, they missed the high privilege of caring for the people God had entrusted to them, lost sheep who were weak, sick, injured, and straying. But our Good Shepherd made himself nothing to serve the sheep his Father had given to him (John 6:37; Phil. 2:6–7).
Israel’s shepherds ruled with force and harshness, ignoring their own sins and weaknesses and wielding their power at the expense of the flock rather than for its benefit. But our Good Shepherd, who knew no sin, “can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness” (Heb. 5:2). He is abundantly patient.
Israel’s shepherds couldn’t ultimately make God’s people safe and secure. But our Good Shepherd successfully seeks his sheep and brings them back into safe pasture, where they can truly rest and enjoy protection, purpose, joy, and peace forever (Ps. 23; John 10:27–28).
And he accomplishes all these things, not by power-plays, manipulation, and selfish demands, but by sacrifice, by the laying down of his very life.
Great Women Who Are Lead by Jesus
What a breath of fresh air for overwhelmed and wayward women like us who are jaded by the abuse of power around us, who find it natural and easy to be self-interested, who often have no idea what we’re doing, but are expected to pretend like we do.
We have a good shepherd with a humble heart.
This is who Jesus is for you, sister:
His leadership is great because his commitment to you is unwavering. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). You have been bought at the cost of the Good Shepherd’s life who became your sacrificial lamb. He will not leave you on your own. This means you don’t have to prove yourself—you’re already his.
His leadership is also great because his voice is clear. All of God’s commands are for your good, and everything he says is true. “The sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:4). In a culture full of loud, confusing voices, you know the one trustworthy Voice that cuts through it all. Greatness is found in listening to him.
His leadership is great because he promises you his presence. Astoundingly, Jesus shares with all his people the same intimacy he enjoys with his Father (John 10:14–15). So he gives you his Spirit to guide, counsel, and help you. He takes up residence in your soul, promising always to assist you and never to abandon you. This means you can say no to pride and selfish striving, and yes to humility and service.
With our Shepherd-King leading us, we will increasingly become women who are great as he is great: through a posture of humility that delights to serve others, and counts it our joy to do so, because Jesus has first served us.
This article originally appeared at Journeywomen and is adapted from my book Humble Moms: How the Work of Christ Sustains the Work of Motherhood.