Grace Before Greatness

I recently read this the story of African-American singer Marian Anderson. She started in a poor section of Philadelphia and sang in a church choir. People saw her innate talent and raised one hundred twenty-six dollars in pennies, nickels and dimes (remember these are poor people) to send her to voice lessons.


At eighteen, she sought to be mentored by a famous instructor but was rejected. She then sang in a town-hall concert but received scathing reviews from the critics. There was one time in Washington, D.C. where she was barred from singing because of the color of her skin.


Anderson wallowed in self-pity until her mother said, “Marian, I want you to think about your troubles and your failures a little—and pray a lot.” Then the mother said something she never forgot: “Marian, you must learn that grace comes before greatness.”


In time, Marian Anderson became a famous opera singer, performing for the Eisenhowers and their guests in the White House. She was also appointed a delegate to the United Nations and received a Medal of Freedom. These happened because she took her mother’s lessons to heart.


In this Holy Week, what are the lessons we must take to heart? The Bible is laden with encouragements and promises about grace before greatness. Here are but a few:

· “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12).

· “Let us not become weary of doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

· “Consider [Jesus] who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3)


Devotional writer Stephen Davey reminds us, “Learning to fail, yet to persevere, comes as we learn to live a life of faith. Times of trial are not only necessary to teach us humility, but they remind us where our true possessions lie—in Christ. What better example than Christ—the Model—who shows us that grace comes before greatness…. humility before honor.”


Take time to ponder at Jesus Christ, Who went through astonishing opposition and difficulties, even the ignoble death on the cross. You may be in a very exasperating period of your career or of your life altogether.


But even painful times are a gift from God. He specializes in redeeming the pain, if you will learn the lessons well. In time, that crown of thorns on your own head will be transformed to a crown of honor.


P.S. That’s Marian Anderson in the top photo.

Photo credit: Philadelphia Magazine

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