Presidential campaign slogans don’t often come to mind when I’m reading Scripture. A passage in Acts, however, recently reminded me of then-candidate President Trump’s words. “Make America Great Again.”

Acts recorded the Apostle Paul’s unexpected words spoken in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch:

“The God of this people Israel…made the people great during their stay in Egypt…”Acts 13:17

The process of making greatness isn’t so great.

Great is not the word I’d choose. Seventy people of the household of Jacob/Israel, a wealthy man, moved to Egypt during a severe famine to avoid starvation. Joseph, Israel’s son, was second in command in the land at the time and the family enjoyed the best Egypt had to offer. (Genesis 45:17-20)

As time passed, new leaders gained power, the family’s favor with authority diminished, and oppression began. Eventually, freedom gave way to slavery, very dire circumstances, and boy babies murdered due to a government-imposed genocide. Instead of serving as shepherds, their traditional work, they were forced to do hard labor.

The people cried out to God in desperation and He heard their pleas. Four hundred years after they first arrived in Egypt, God sent Moses, a murderer-on-the-run, as their deliverer. (Exodus 2:23-3:10)

When “great” looks anything but…

The word translated as “great” doesn’t indicate high rank or position or even accumulated wealth. It indicates an increase, or “lifting up,” in spiritual honor, dignity, and happiness.

God used adversity and suffering to make the people great.

Selah. Ponder that for a few moments.

When Israel and his children arrived in Egypt, he possessed enough accumulated wealth to buy anything his family needed. He had enough money to send to another country for provisions for seventy people. Jacob could take care of himself, his family, and their servants. He didn’t need to depend on God. He could depend on himself.

During the next four hundred years, Israel’s descendants moved from wealth to abject poverty. As slaves, they depended upon the government for work and provision. They lived in terrible circumstances. Gradually, God used their suffering to move them to a state of desperation in which they cried out to Him for help.

Can suffering bring happiness?

During their time in Egypt, the people dabbled with the faith of the Egyptians, who worshipped idols. Their false gods could neither save them nor deliver them. Desperation drove them back to the faith of their fathers in a way affluence never could. By the time Moses arrived to lead the people out of the country to seek and serve God, they were sick of their circumstances and ready to return to Him.

Suffering and desperation drove them to seek God and, in their searching, He gave them His presence and a higher spiritual position before Him. They left behind the Egyptian government’s requirement to kill their male babies. Infanticide ended and the birth of a male child gave them joy again. The provision of God reminded them of their worth before Him and restored their sense of dignity.

Even in the desert, the temptation to worship false gods drew them back into idolatry. Forty years later, after those who would not obey had died, their children entered the promised land on God’s terms. It took more than four centuries to make them great, but God accomplished what wealth and power could not.

Is America great?

We need only look in our schools to assess our own greatness. Students feel compelled to carry weapons because they’re afraid to walk outside their homes alone. Teenagers eat Tide pods despite the known risk. As a society, we’re a gluttonous people with all the accompanying consequences. Addiction is rampant, as is rage, sexual and physical abuse, and violence.

Love and servanthood are in short supply.

If suffering brings greatness, how will America become great again?

Greatness does not come from big bank accounts, huge houses, many possessions, or high positions. It cannot be purchased or earned. It can only be given by God, and only on His terms.

Greatness comes through obedience and surrender to God.

The children of Israel did not become great because of their own actions, but because of what God did for them and in them. The same word is used to describe the “lifting up” of Jesus on the cross. (John 3:14) The obedience and surrender with which Jesus approached the cross made it possible for Him to be exalted, lifted up, and made great by the cross.

No nation becomes truly great, in the sense of happiness, dignity, and honor, on their own merits. Only God can bestow those blessings through faith in and obedience to Him.

How can we make America great again?

True greatness is birthed in humility and surrender, often in the midst of suffering and hardship. The Great Depression, World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam, 9/11, Afghanistan, school shootings, Katrina. The trials of the last 200+ years drove some of us to our knees, but not all. We haven’t yet had the severe suffering the children of Israel endured.

I fear true greatness by God’s standards will come only if our reliance on ourselves is broken.

We can choose greatness

We could make America great, if we would, but it would require a tremendous cultural shift in a new direction. Humility and an extravagant love for both God and our fellow man, accompanied by servant hearts, are required.

The greatness born of surrender and humility is not typical American-style “greatness.” It rarely comes with power and wealth, big bank accounts, or material possessions. It more often comes with obscurity and relative poverty, but it brings spiritual honor, dignity, and happiness. It’s fruit is love, joy, peace, gentleness, patience, faithfulness, self-control.

The greatness God gives is good. Loving. Kind. Greatness from God sees hungry children and feeds them. It sees men and women in bondage and works for deliverance. It comforts the brokenhearted, heals the sick, and gives hope to the hopeless.

The greatness God gives looks a lot like Jesus because He’s the source.

Let’s make America great again.

I’d like us to make America great. We’re certainly not there yet, but we could be. One bent knee, one bowed head, one act of humility at a time, we can move toward greatness.

But will we?

Are we willing to persevere through trials and suffering long enough to be refined and made great? Are we willing to forsake pride and choose humility?

Making America, or any other nation, great can be done – one bent knee, one bowed head, one surrendered heart at a time. We cannot stay the same, for we aren’t truly great — not in God’s eyes nor in the eyes of the watching world. Our leadership reflects our citizenry, and gives a shocking picture of us.

Pride must be replaced with humility.

The lust for pleasure must give way to the joy of relationship in Christ.

Shameful vulgarity and lasciviousness must be removed from us and modesty and fidelity returned.

Only God is able to do what must be done. We can, however, be the change that begins our journey toward greatness, if we will. Today, let’s ask God to show us our own hearts as He sees them and remove anything that displeases Him. Ask Him to do what must be done to bring spiritual honor, dignity, and happiness to our lives and commit to sharing the peace He brings with all who will listen.

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He shall lift you up.” (James 4:10)

You might also enjoy:

Prayer and Politics: How to Pray the News and Why We Should

Sliding Down the Slippery Slope and How to Stop the Descent

Why We Should Choose Humility and Let Go of Pride

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