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  • Justin Smith

what mlk taught us that most people won't learn

I've learned a lot from the life of Martin Luther King Jr. He's a personal hero of mine. I encourage anyone who hasn't listened to his sermons, read his books, or just done their research into his life to do so. It's well worth it. If you take a closer look at Dr. King, you'll notice something about him that many others don't. Most people simply think he was a charismatic leader with a passion for racial justice and a unique gift for public speaking. Of course these things are true, but they aren't what made MLK who he was.


What made MLK different was his willingness to die.


It sounds weird. I know. But stick with me. I remember the first time I stood where Dr. King was shot in Memphis. I was a kid. I was outraged at the horror that such a great leader would be taken from us before he was finished. I assumed that MLK was at the top of his game with a big dream for America's future and that white man with a rifle robbed America of our chance to hear more. "Poor Dr. King," I thought, "poor America."


As I've grown up and learned more about Dr. King and the way of Jesus, I've realized that though his death was a tragedy, it wasn't unexpected. He saw it coming. He even welcomed it! At some point along the way, MLK realized that he would have the opportunity to earn one of the most prized titles in Christian history, martyr.


The night before we was killed, he gave a speech in support of Memphis sanitation workers on strike. The last words of that speech were


"Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."


Do you hear it? Want to know what you hear? Faith. The faith to believe that no matter what happens to him, to do God's will is all that matters. He believed Jesus' promise that those who lose their life for Jesus' sake will gain it.


Now I don't assume that he always had that faith. In fact I know he struggled. Who wouldn't? Death threats on his family surely caused some moments of doubt. But my point isn't that Dr. King was perfect, but that he ultimately believed.


Dr. King knew what God wanted from/for him. He knew what God wanted from/for America. And instead of pursuing what he willed, he pursued what God willed. And it cost him. But it didn't cost him more than he gained. Jesus promises that.


While most people (Christians included) will acknowledge and even celebrate the great contribution of Dr. King, they won't take the real lesson of his life to heart. We'll continue pursuing our comfort, our happiness, our will. And we'll likely get what we pursue. But we'll miss out on the reward Dr. King received.


Now I'm not saying that we all should go looking to get assassinated. That's not the message of Jesus. But the Jesus' message is that true life is found in dying. Whether it's daily dying to self or physically dying for the Kingdom, Jesus' call on us is to die so that we may truly live.


Let us trust God as Dr. King did. Let us believe Jesus when he says to take up a cross is worth it. Let us give our lives for the one thing that matters most, doing God's will.

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