We don’t hear much about the donkey in the Palm Sunday story. We know Jesus explicitly directed two of His disciples to find a specific donkey no one had ever sat on [Luke 19:29-34], but we don’t know much else. That’s OK because the donkey is a prop in this story. Its Maker, the One who created and continues to sustain the universe and the donkey [Hebrews 1:2-3], needed a ride, and the donkey got to play a role in fulfilling prophecy [Zechariah 9:9]. Granted, the donkey had no rational comprehension of what was happening, but we can still learn from it because often, Jesus chooses to partner with us too. When He does, we need to be as submissive to Him as the donkey in the Palm Sunday story.
Willingly submitting to another requires humility. Submission is tough for us rational beings because we have to deal with our egos before we can submit to another person freely. Corrie ten Boom was once asked about the difficulty of remaining humble when fame comes along, and her response was quite instructive. She said: “When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, and everyone was waving palm branches and throwing garments onto the road, do you think for a moment it ever entered the head of that donkey that any of that was for him?” Then she added: “if I can be the donkey on which Jesus Christ rides in His glory, I give Him all the praise and all the honour”.
Corrie ten Boom’s response reveals a deep understanding of a fact we should never forget: “it’s about Him, not us”. There were other donkeys in the village available to Jesus on that day. Similarly, God could easily do without us. That He uses us at all is His prerogative. We couldn’t earn such an election even if we tried [John 6:44]. Consequently, to be used by God is something that should humble us, not an occasion for self-indulgence. However, the devil will often tempt us to think otherwise, and our natural bent towards pride often makes it all too easy for him to trap us.
While we can’t all have the renown of Corrie ten Boom, God has assignments for each of His children to fulfil on earth [Ephesian 2:10]. He equips us and empowers us with His grace to perform the good works He has for us, and if we obediently partner with His Spirit, what we’ll achieve will always exceed our natural capabilities. But if we aren’t careful, our successes can easily lead us to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. We need to combat that temptation with sound judgement [Romans 12:3]. Two men model this for me in the New Testament, and we should pay heed to their examples as we seek to serve the purposes of God in our spheres of influence.
The first is John the Baptist, a man Jesus called the greatest person who ever lived [Luke 7:28]. John said of himself, “I must decrease, and He (Jesus) must increase” [John 3:30]. Elsewhere, also speaking of Jesus, John said: “I am not fit to undo the strap of His sandals” [Mark 1:7]. He truly understood the privilege of partnering in any capacity with God. The second individual is Paul, the greatest missionary in the early Church. He understood the principle John espoused as he compared himself to a jar of clay carrying a great treasure [2 Corinthians 4:7]. He insisted that everybody understood that what was happening in His life was due to the power of God, and not his abilities. Both men were keen to let those around them know that their ministries weren’t about them. They were donkeys in service of the King.
Another challenge we often face when God calls us to partner with Him is the temptation of Esther and Moses. Both initially tried to decline God’s invitation to serve His purposes in their generation [Exodus 3:11, Esther 4:5-15]. It’s all too easy to think we aren’t good enough or don’t have what it takes to do what God has called us to do. While such a posture has a facade of humility, it’s worth remembering that if God has called us, He’s aware of every excuse and deficiency we possess and doesn’t see them as limitations to serving His purposes. I have to constantly remind myself not to let my inferiority complex rob me of experiencing the good works God has in store for me. If I’m the donkey God has chosen for a given assignment, I’ll endeavour to obey and serve Him with gratitude.
If it’s true that we’re all called to serve God’s purposes, then are you emulating the donkey in the Palm Sunday story? Are you prancing around, seeking to draw attention to yourself rather than point people to the King? Are you a donkey who has declined to serve the King because you’ve got something better to do, or have you told yourself that you aren’t good enough for royal duty? Speaking to a crowd about five days before His crucifixion, Jesus said that when He’s lifted from the earth, He will draw all peoples to Himself [John 12:32]. That’s a principle worth remembering as a Christian. Jesus alone draws people to Himself and reconciles them and us with His Father, not us [Romans 5:6-11]. However, He chooses to make His appeal to them through us, His followers [2 Corinthians 5:20]. So we’re to faithfully point others to Him and step out of the way so that they can behold Him [John 1:29].