When the church appointed its first deacons, they were looking for people to distribute welfare. Nothing about the task was essentially spiritual. In theory, trustworthy pagans could have done it. Yet the early church carefully selected Christians of outstanding caliber. Each was of high character, ‘full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom’.g One of them, Stephen, was further eulogized as being filled with faith, grace and power. He had a ‘signs and wonders ministry’, and under the Spirit’s anointing was such a persuasive speaker that the church’s enemies regarded him, rather than any of the apostles, as their greatest threat.h Not only was he martyred (an honor I have graciously offered to defer), he attained this glory before any of the others. Another welfare distributor, Philip, was a powerful evangelist with a miracle ministry. He pioneered work in Samaria, turning the whole city right side up.a Such were the men chosen to oversee the material needs of widows. So the divinely authorized history of the early church inspires us to esteem seemingly unspiritual administrative work as exalted service. How easy it is to underestimate a ministry.
I fear lest I fail to extol the most trivial act. Since doing the little we can to cheer hurting Christians is equivalent to cheering Christ himself,b to down-play such acts is to slight the King of kings. Moreover, a large part of Jesus’ earthly ministry was that of a servant.c So in this sense, too, to regard a servant’s ministry as inferior, is to insult our Lord. Of course, the risen Christ left his servant duties behind with his grave clothes. Or did he? As John’s gospel closes we catch our final glimpse of the triumphant Lord of glory, and what is he doing? Cooking the disciples’ breakfast.d
In fact, Jesus taught that the supposedly lowly ministry of a servant is the route, not to obscurity, but to undying greatness.e
Levites were the tabernacle’s cleaners, laborers, caretakers and door-keepers. Their tasks were the type people queue up to avoid. Yet not even prophets were recipients of holy tithes, like the Levites.f Priests, whose duties were even more sacred, surrendered their lives to the odious drudgery of butchering livestock – beast after beast after beast. Even kings, on pain of death, were barred from priestly duties. It is almost as if the tasks we are inclined to disregard are the ones God chooses to exalt.g
Put bluntly, the main reason we undervalue many important ministries is worldliness. The world looks for human recognition.h We do lip service, for example, to the power of prayer, yet view an evangelist basking in the limelight more favorably than the prayer-wrestler hidden in the back room. We exalt the virile missionary and sneer at the withered old lady whose paltry dollars God multiplied to carry that missionary to the field. If we’re blinded by carnality, heaven isn’t. To measure success in terms of human acclaim is to serve man, not God.
The most powerful ministry is probably intercession. And the world’s greatest intercessor could be the ‘no-body’ sitting next to you in church last Sunday. Only the spirit-realm comprehends what Christ’s sacred service agents accomplish behind closed doors and behind enemy lines.
At church, it’s usually the car-park attendants who most inspire me. Most of us would make faithful preachers. We’d be prayerful, punctual and well-prepared if called to flaunt our talent in a flashy ministry. But how many of us would have the humility and strength of character to be faithful church parking attendants? Their task makes flossing your teeth high adventure. I’d feel like a second-hand Kleenex.i With a face so long it gets caught in my belt, I’d be the constant brunt of Satan’s malicious whisperings that this service is just too degrading and embarrassing; that I must be the scum of the church. Could I successfully resist such slander? How I admire those saints, those Christ-like overcomers, every Sunday.
We are all subject to the Deceiver’s relentless barrage. If he fails to intoxicate us with pride, he’ll do all he can to induce a downer – maligning our ministry, telling us we are contributing nothing to the kingdom. Either way, surrendering to his persuasive lies will impair God’s work.
Imagine the consequences if in the midst of the battle Moses’ helpers had said, ‘I can’t fight like Joshua. I can’t lead like Moses. I can’t sing like Miriam, or engrave like Bezaleel. I’m just a run-away slave. Whoever heard of a stick-holding ministry! Life’s passed me by. Forget that stupid stick, I’m going back to my tent!’
Don’t conclude that God doesn’t have more spectacular things in store for you. What you are doing right now, however, is probably far more valuable and potentially more satisfying than you realize. You may be the only Christian presence in your work place, the only mother that precious child will ever have, the only one praying for that forgotten man, or the only one willing to encourage that person of unknown potential.
Lost in prayer, David Brainerd did not see the reared rattlesnake poised to strike his face. Watching wide-eyed with glee, were hate-crazed savages who had snuck up to the tent for the express purpose of murdering him. Unexpectedly, the snake suddenly veered and slid away. The Red Indians also silently retreated, awed by the snake’s reaction and intent upon spreading the word about this pale-face who so clearly had the Great Spirit’s protection. Oblivious to the entire episode, David broke camp and continued his journey.10 Yes, that was unusually dramatic, but are you any less ignorant of what takes place in the unseen spirit-world and within the sealed vault of people’s minds as you go about your normal affairs with the touch of God upon your life?
What was the greatest event in human history? Jesus’ death. Yet in a sense, it was nothing. People wanted him killed; he let them. It was no epic of human endurance. He even failed to drag his cross the required distance. There was no display of artistic skill. Other religions find it offensive. Intellectuals ridicule it.a Yet, in God, it is of incalculable worth.
Since we are sufficiently enlightened to view Jesus’ ministry as God sees it, let’s endeavor to be equally enlightened about our own service.
The church has a million unsung heroes. Their exploits, unknown on earth, are the talk of heaven. These resolute, Christ-like conquerors cannot be bought. They refuse to trade eternal acclaim for temporal applause. Heaven’s megastars may be so inconspicuous, you’d think they’re in training for the Pew Warmer of the Year Award. No one would guess the shock-waves they send through Satan’s camp when these spiritual gladiators plunder his kingdom. Everyone scrambles to be in the limelight, except these saints: they are light – the light of the world.