Sacred or Secular?
There is a further possibility, and it is so foreign to me that I give it less attention than it deserves. For some chosen individuals, seemingly secular work is full-time ministry.
What differentiates the sacred from the secular is not the task but the call. Perhaps you cannot fully appreciate this because you have a different destiny. Beware, however, lest you belittle a divine call on someone else’s life. To degrade a call is to degrade the Caller.
For me, writing is often pure worship. With a heart fused to Christ, I pour my life into this book in a flood of adoration to the One who means everything to me. Yet try as I may, I have failed to hoist my full-time job a fraction above the status of infuriating distraction. Had God fashioned me differently, however, I could express my devotion differently. It might, for instance, be in factory work that I feel impelled to vent my love, seeking to exalt my Lord in the quality of the labor I joyously offer to him.
It is not organ music, stained glass or living off other people’s money that makes a task sacred. The sacred is no less and no more than that labor instigated by the Lord of lords, produced in union with his Spirit, and offered to him in joyful submission, faith, love and purity. That’s why Scripture fails to denigrate even the sweat of a slave, when offered to God by a heart redeemed by Christ. A slave sold to a heathen tyrant could be engaged in inspiring full-time ministry, serving Christ with holy devotion and fulfillment while toiling for a cruel and godless man. Like other ministries, however, it would necessitate a special call and a miraculous work of Christ to reach these heights.
CHAPTER 5: GOD’S RADICAL VIEWS
It is common in our society to refer to one’s leaders as ‘superiors’. No wonder we fall for the lie that some vocations are superior. This delusion has so fogged our thinking that it would seem to require thousands of words to clear our minds. Yet just one sentence from Andrew Carnegie’s epitaph almost does it. This man started working for two cents an hour and ended up giving away $365 million. His leadership ability was the key. Before he died he ensured his tombstone read:
‘Here lies one who knew how to gather around him men who were cleverer than himself.’16
When referring to the leaders and big names of the Jerusalem church, Paul wrote:
‘... those who seem to be something – whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man –’ a
Let the truth overwhelm you: Paul was writing about the so-called pillars of the church, including Peter, James and John.b He had in mind the most intimate friends of Jesus when divinely moved to declare that God has no favorites.
Try the Amplified Bible:
‘... those who were reputed to be something, though what was their individual position and whether they really were of importance or not makes no difference to me; God is not impressed with the positions that men hold and he is not partial and recognizes no external distinctions.’
One more time, remembering that Paul was referring to apostles ranked with the greatest and most spiritually gifted leaders the church has ever known:
‘... as far as their reputed leaders were concerned (I neither know nor care what their exact position was: God is not impressed with a man’s office) . . .’17
And what of the great apostle himself? Paul reminded the Corinthians that he preached Jesus as Lord and himself, not merely as Christ’s servant but as their slave/servant.c Burn that into your brain.
Prominence in the church – even God-ordained prominence – does not imply prominence in the heart of God. Not even apostleship breaks this immutable rule.
Except perhaps for a malfunctioning part of our body, our hair usually receives more attention than any other physical part of us, even though it is the least important. This paradox, insisted Paul, is typical of the way God deliberately arranges honor, prominence and attention among the members of his church.d
Leadership is valuable, but there are a multitude of ministries of equal significance.
It is our carnal side that covets leadership. Few of us display the spirit of Francis of Assisi. When his followers had swollen to thousands they began to abandon his principles. He returned from Egypt to find that the men he had left in charge were forbidding the eating of meat and allowing the ownership of goods. His response to those wanting to usurp his authority was to humbly relinquish leadership of the order he had founded. The Friars selected another leader, to whom Francis submitted as a common brother. Even on his death-bed, some eight years later, Francis bowed to his ‘superior’s’ directive that he stop singing and face death in a more ‘dignified’ manner.18
Centuries later, George Whitefield, declared, ‘I know my place ... even to be servant of all.’a Whitefield was the powerful founder of the Methodist movement. Today he is rarely credited with this honor. To foster love and unity between his followers and Wesley’s he abandoned his leadership rights and turned the entire ministry over to Wesley. To his horrified supporters he said, ‘Let my name be forgotten, let me be trodden under the feet of all men, if Jesus may thereby be glorified . . .’19
Not everything that passes as leadership in the Christian church corresponds to Christ-likeness.
‘Fame, said Emerson, ‘is proof that people are gullible.’ Not the full harvest, perhaps, but those words are heavy with truth.
For instance, few Christians actually write the books they are credited with. Miss Hardwork could write a biography about Dr Big-un and be the acknowledged author. Instead, Big-un might ask Hardwork to change the pronouns from he/him to I/me and call the book The Big-un Story by Dr Big-un. It would not be unusual for Hardwork’s name to appear no-where in the book, not even in the section where Prof. Swellhead is thanked for scratching his nose and Sister Jane for feeding the cat. And somehow most of the royalties end up in Big-un’s bank account. That’s fair. He has so many more expenses. Simple things like clothing cost a fortune when ten thousand eyes are on you. No one sees Miss Hardwork, so her five-year-old dress and shabby shoes are quite adequate.
I’ll repent of my cynicism by pointing out that many conservative scholars believe the Bible has its share of ghost-writers – almost nameless people who, under an apostle’s direction and the Spirit’s anointing, used their own words to express the apostle’s heart.20 It’s not for us to judge Big-un. But there is a Judge, and in the end everything will pan out. Meanwhile, let’s try not to let some people shrink to nothing in our estimation while a few Big-uns fill the entire screen of our mind.
Nicky Cruz kindly insisted that Jamie Buckingham’s name appear on the book Jamie wrote for him. By the time the publisher was finished, the author’s name was not only smaller than Nicky’s, but smaller than that of Billy Graham who merely ‘wrote’ the foreword. (Actually, the foreword was written by Lee Fisher, Billy’s ghost-writer.) Jamie was peeved about that cover until humbled by the realization that God’s name appeared no-where on the cover. After that, he decided to become a holy ghost-writer. His next book was called God Can Do It Again by Kathryn Kuhlman. (I always thought she wrote that.) Jamie had his wish: God’s name was on the cover.21
As Jamie discovered, relative to our Savior, we don’t get such a raw deal. If torrential rain on foolishly deforested land causes a flood, it is ‘an act of God’. If the weather is perfect, who needs God? If someone smashes his thumb with a hammer, whose name gets cursed? If the hammer is on target – don’t talk to me about God, I’ve got work to do.
Following our Savior may take us into the shadows, but the time will come when we’ll shine like the sun.b