A Lowly Ministry?
The gifts of the Spirit arm us for active duty. The Spirit fits us out with that particular mix that suits our individual call. Yet we usually eye such gifts as evangelism, prophecy, teaching, miracles, and ignore the other half – helping others, administration, showing mercy, giving, serving. You may even feel compelled to check the Bible before believing they belong alongside the attention-grabbing charismata.b
The way we revere a few gifts and denigrate the rest, you’d think the ideal body of Christ consisted of a giant set of flapping gums, a fingernail emitting divine bolts of power, and a few emaciated odds and sods.
Is there really such a thing as a lowly ministry? Might it not be that the only thing that can make a ministry mediocre is a mediocre effort? In the context of ministry, Paul speaks of ‘striving to excel’.c The pursuit of excellence is a challenge from the throne of God to every Bible-believing Christian.
‘Do small things as if they were great, because of the majesty of Christ,’ counseled Hudson Taylor. He said we should even ‘hang up clothes, wash, dress and comb our hair in a way to use to the full measure of ability which God has given us to the glory of his holy name.’23 I was so impressed I chose a likely spot on the floor, rummaged through two dirty shirts, assorted books, three socks and a shoe, finally found a pen, blew off the fluff and recorded the quote. (My special gift is the ability to encourage – people come to me thinking they are the world’s worst and leave greatly encouraged.)
If you are called to be a cleaner then rise to that challenge with the grace of Strauss, the flair of Michelangelo, the persistence of Edison and the dedication of Jessie Owens. Polish with the love of a mother, the care of surgeon, and the joy of a lover. Pour your soul into your work till it gleams with heavenly glory; till God can look at your floors and see his face in them; till all of heaven exalts you as an example of what a cleaner should be.
Hopelessly idealistic? You need a concrete example. (That’s a cue to grab your nerve tablets. As spelt out earlier, I feel no obligation to limit illustrations to Christian or non-controversial figures.)
Long before he was known to television viewers, Mr. T wanted to become a body guard. So he resolved to become the world’s best. A few paragraphs could never do justice to his dedication to that goal.
Two hours every day of every week he scourged his flesh with a grueling physical work-out, emphasizing both speed and endurance. He purchased books about police work and wrote to security organizations for further information. He went to seminars, workshops, law enforcement schools. He studied other bodyguards and observed special security personnel guarding heads of state. For increased experience, he did security jobs for free. Nearly everyone in the business said first aid knowledge was unnecessary. Mr. T thought otherwise, so he became a security guard in a city hospital. He was promoted, then signed up with the National Guard Military Police for further training. So fierce was his determination that out of six thousand men he was nominated top trainee.
One of his clients was world boxing champion Leon Spinks. Mr. T spent two days before Spinks’ arrival ensuring the hotel was secure. The limo was already parked in a guarded garage nearby. He placed ten traps around it for additional security and still took time out to ensure no one had approached the car. Twice in one night he examined it. The other night he slept in it so no one could time his security checks. This was only a facet of his labors those two days, typifying his meticulous devotion to protecting his clients.
Everything down to his dress and deportment was immaculate. Here was a man who respected his client’s confidentiality, a man who could not be bought or distracted, a man of solid integrity. On assignment he would transmute into a machine scanning every source of danger, a computer out-foxing the most cunning assailant, a human shield.
‘I’ll give my life protecting yours,’ he guaranteed his every client. ‘If there’s a bullet, my body would take it. If there’s a knife, it would plunge through me.’24
How does your dedication compare?
The standard and status of nursing rocketed because Florence Nightingale brought a sense of God’s call to a job that had been regarded as little better than prostitution.25 Edith Schaeffer, wife of Francis and hostess of the Christian chalet L’Abri, believed table settings could be elevated to an art form.26 The world has yet to see how you can transform the task before you.
The world marvels at the work of a genius. It is even moved by someone who overcomes severe handicap to do something a normal person could do. But though the world misses it, ordinary people are just as capable of heroics.
Paul White – later to became renowned through his Jungle Doctor books – wanted to become a medical missionary. His financial predicament made it essential that he obtain a scholarship to pay for his medical studies. This necessitated being ranked in the top two hundred students in the final year high school exams in his home state of New South Wales, Australia. He came one hundred and ninety-eighth. To add to the drama, to attain the mark that barely enabled him to scrape in, he had not only studied feverishly, he had repeated his entire final year at high school. His grades the first year were too poor. Now to turn this into a thriller, read the conditions of the scholarship: it would terminate the moment he failed just one examination, or part thereof, in any of the six years ahead of him. In his third year, over half of the students failed. With a pass mark set at fifty, he scored fifty, fifty, and fifty-one. He had pushed himself to the limit and he still had three more years to go.
Paul White might have had unremarkable ability but, to me, his graduation is a wonder equal to an armless woman using her mouth and feet to change her baby’s clothes; as sensational as a man walking on Mars.
Rarely in life do we have the precise measures of achievement that students have, but like White, we can grasp the hand of Jesus and teeter on the edge of our ability with the daring of a tight-rope walker, to the hushed delight of angelic throngs.27