Brighten the Corner Where You Are

For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. – Matthew 23:12

Early in my university student days, I remember singing the gospel song “Brighten the corner where you are,” and thinking: “This is what is wrong with Christianity. We Christians are too timid. We should be planning great things to make the name of Christ renowned in society. Too many people are content to stay in the corners.” Now I wonder. My attitude then may have had more to do with what society counts as important than what the Bible says.

Christ’s warning about the perils of exalting ourselves should be repeated in every Christian school. Teachers should be telling their students: “Don’t try to make a name for yourselves, but labor to put others first and thereby make Christ’s name more respected by the watching world.”

Is this what schools are doing? I hope so, but sometimes I wonder. Whenever schools heap praise and awards on their best students and athletes, may they not, however unintentioned, be sending a very different message to their students? It’s a small step for students to take from feeling legitimate satisfaction in work, to reveling in all the attention that good work brings. In fact, students may well conclude that superior effort on their part entitles them to be praised.

Some years ago, I surveyed hundreds of students and teachers in several well established Christian schools. What I found was disturbing to me. Student ideals often followed the ideals of the larger culture. Personal peace and affluence, as Francis Schaeffer has pointed out, seemed to mean more to some students than service to Christ and to others. These students expected their education to equip them to lead comfortable lives.

What turns students from being self-absorbed and proud to being purposeful and humble? Are any responsibilities given to them in school that causes them to shift their concern and interest from themselves to others? James 1: 23,24 tells us that “anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” Schools should provide opportunities to help students remember what they “look like.”

Schools that wish to cultivate humility among their students may begin by taking the spotlight off them, and putting it on the needs of others within their communities. When schools give students opportunities to help meet those needs, very often another benefit happens as well: students grow to love putting the well-being of others before themselves. Well-run service learning programs can help to achieve this servants’ heart attitude among students.

A kindergarten teacher tells the story of one of students who was diligently sweeping the classroom floor. She thanked him for good sweeping and he replied, “I’m sweeping for Jesus.” “That’s so nice,” the teacher replied. “Yes, I want our room to be clean in case Jesus comes back today.” Somehow (probably thanks to the teacher), this student has a larger Christ-centered sense of the world and gladly takes a servant’s role within it.

Schools that help students gain an other-directed sense of things are being educationally counter-cultural in the best sense. And their students are being counter-cultural as well: they are ready to brighten the corner where God puts them.

I ask Thee for the daily strength, to none that ask denied, and a mind to blend with outward life while keeping at Thy side; content to fill a little space, if Thou be glorified. – Hymn by Anna Laetitia Waring

Stephen Kaufmann
Covenant College