In 1878, when Scotsman Alexander Mackay arrived in what is now Uganda to serve as a missionary, he first set up a blacksmith forge among a tribe ruled by King Mutesa. Villagers gathered around this stranger who worked with his hands, puzzled because everyone “knew” that work was for women. At that time, men in Uganda never worked with their hands. They raided other villages to capture slaves, selling them to outsiders. Yet here was this foreign man at work forging farming tools.
Mackay’s work ethic and life resulted in relationships with the villagers and gained him an audience with the king. Mackay challenged King Mutesa to end the slave trade, and he did.
In Scripture, we read of Bezalel and Oholiab, who were chosen and gifted by God to work with their hands designing the tent of meeting and all its furnishings for worship (Ex. 31:1-11). Like Mackay, they honored and served God with their talent and labor.
We tend to categorize our work as either church work or secular. In truth, there is no distinction. God designs each of us in ways that make our contributions to the kingdom unique and meaningful. Even when we have little choice in where or how we work, God calls us to know Him more fully—and He will show us how to serve Him—right now.
The high school I attended required 4 years of Latin instruction. I appreciate the value of that discipline now, but back then it was a grind.
Our teacher believed in drill and repetition. “Repetitio est mater studiorum,” she intoned over us several times a day, which simply means, “Repetition is the mother of learning.” “Repetitio est absurdum,” we muttered under our breath. “Repetition is absurd.”
I realize now that most of life is simply that: repetition—a round of dull, uninspiring, lackluster things we must do again and again. “Repetition is both as ordinary and necessary as bread,” said Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. But he went on to say, “It is the bread that satisfies with benediction.”
It’s a matter of taking up each duty, no matter how mundane, humble, or trivial, and asking God to bless it and put it to His intended purposes. In that way we take the drudgeries of life and turn them into holy work, filled with unseen, eternal consequence.
The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins said, “To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory, but a man with a [pitchfork] in his hand, a woman with a slop pail, give Him glory, too. God is so great that all things give Him glory if you mean that they should.”
If whatever we do is done for Christ, we’ll be amazed at the joy and meaning we’ll find in even the most ordinary tasks.
Where I live, this is the time of year when plants defy death by remaining underground until it is safe to come out again. Before the snow comes and the ground freezes, they let go of their beautiful blooms and retreat to a place where they can rest and save energy for the next growing season. Contrary to the way it looks, they are not dead; they are dormant. When the snow melts and the ground thaws, they will again lift their heads toward heaven, greeting their Creator with brilliant colors and sweet fragrances.
The seasons of life require that we sometimes enter a period of dormancy. We are not dead, but we may feel we’ve become invisible. During such times we may feel useless, and we may wonder whether God will ever use us again. But periods like this are for our protection and preparation. When the time is right and the conditions are safe, God will call us once again to service and worship.
Moses experienced a period of time like this. After killing an Egyptian who harmed a fellow Hebrew, Moses had to flee for his life to the distant land of the Midianites (Ex. 2:11-22). There, God protected him and prepared him for the biggest assignment of his life (3:10).
So be encouraged. We are never invisible to God.
Pablo Casals was considered to be the preeminent cellist of the first half of the 20th century. When he was still playing his cello in the middle of his tenth decade of life, a young reporter asked, “Mr. Casals, you are 95 years old and the greatest cellist that ever lived. Why do you still practice 6 hours a day?”
During the Easter season, my wife and I attended a church service where the participants sought to model the events that Jesus and His disciples experienced on the night before He was crucified. As part of the service, the church staff members washed the feet of some of the church volunteers. As I watched, I wondered which was more humbling in our day—to wash another person’s feet or to have someone else wash yours. Both those who were serving and those being served were presenting distinct pictures of humility.
Recently I asked my older sister, Mary Ann, if she remembered when our family moved into the house where we lived for many years. She replied, “You were about 9 months old, and I remember that Mother and Daddy stayed up all night packing boxes and listening to the radio. It was June 6, 1944, and they were listening to live coverage of the Normandy Invasion.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life was at risk every day he stayed in Hitler’s Germany, but he stayed nonetheless. I imagine he shared the apostle Paul’s view that being in heaven was his heart’s desire, but staying where he was needed was God’s present purpose (Phil. 1:21). So stay he did; as a pastor he offered clandestine worship services and resisted the evil regime under Hitler.
When the British Broadcasting Corporation asked for examples of important-sounding, obscure, and even bizarre job titles, one writer offered hers: Underwater Ceramic Technician. She was a dishwasher at a restaurant. Sometimes titles are used to make a job sound more important.
Not long ago my wife, Janet, and I bought a quantity of beef from a friend who raised cattle on a small farm. It was less expensive than meat from a grocery store, and we put it in the freezer to use throughout the coming months.