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.
Every year our local botanical garden hosts a celebration of Christmas around the world. My favorite display is a French nativity. Instead of the traditional scene showing shepherds and wise men with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh gathered around the manger, it shows French villagers bringing their gifts to baby Jesus. They bring bread, wine, cheese, flowers, and other items that God has given them the ability to produce. This reminds me of the Old Testament command to bring the firstfruits of our labor to the house of the Lord (Ex. 23:16-19). This depiction of the nativity illustrates that everything we have comes from God, so the only thing we have to give is something that God has given us.
When Paul instructed the Romans to present themselves as a living sacrifice, he was telling them to give back to God what God had given them—their own selves (Rom. 12:1). This includes the gifts He gave them, even their ability to earn a living. We know that God gives people special abilities. Some, like David, were skilled in music (1 Sam. 16:18). Some, like Bezalel and Oholiab, were skilled in artistic works (Ex. 35:30-35). Others have skill in writing, teaching, gardening, and many other things.
When we give back to God what He has first given to us, we give Him the perfect gift—ourselves.
Afriend told me he had recently accomplished one of the things on his “bucket list” (a list of things to do before you die) when he took his sister to Europe. Although he had traveled there many times, she had never been there. What struck me was the unselfish nature of having that goal on his “bucket list.” It caused me to wonder how many of my dreams and goals are focused on others, not on myself.
Vivian and Don are in their mid-90s and have been married more than 70 years. Recently Vivian suffered a setback when she broke her hip. This has been additionally difficult because for several years both Don and Vivian have been saddened by the realization that they are no longer strong enough to be active in the life and work of their church.
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.
To some people, the term helper carries with it second-class connotations. Classroom helpers assist trained teachers in their classes. Helpers assist trained electricians, plumbers, and lawyers on the job. Because they aren’t as skilled in the profession, they might be viewed as having less value. But everyone is needed to accomplish the task.
I love playing the 5-string banjo. But it has one drawback. The fifth string will harmonize with only a limited number of simple chords. When other musicians want to play more complicated music, the banjoist has to adapt. He can lend marvelous melodic tones to a jam session only by making the right adjustments.
At her birthday celebration, the honored guest turned the tables by giving everyone at the party a gift. Kriste gave each of us a personal note expressing what we mean to her, along with encouraging words about the person God made us to be. Enclosed with every note was one piece of a jigsaw puzzle as a reminder that each of us is unique and important in God’s plan.
A group of us were helping to put together packets of material at an Our Daily Bread event in Orlando last winter when Corine greeted us. It was mid-morning, and she was sure we must be hungry and thirsty. I told her we were “fine,” and she replied, “I know you’re fine, but you need something to eat.” A few minutes later she came back with cold water and snacks.