If you think of every motivational speech you've ever heard, you'll come across phrases like:
"Follow your dreams!"
"You can do whatever you put your mind to do!"
"Do great things for God!"
"Go big or go home!" (My baseball coach's fave.)
I have that desire burning within me. I want to do great things for God! I want to go into huts in Africa and terrorist camps in the middle east and orphanages in South America. It's more than just wanting fame and notoriety. It's just doing something big. It's doing something with significance and importance. I want to travel, work with world-wide ministries, rub shoulders with influential people, make an enormous impact on everyone around me and those who are far away from me! I want to write books and go on speaking engagements all over the world. People have told me that God has BIG plans for my life and I'm destined for BIG things!
Like I said, I think most of us want that. It has been drilled into us to go do things beyond our wildest expectations. (At least, that's what I hear at every high school graduation.) We aren't supposed to live ordinary lives. We're supposed to be extraordinary.
But is that the right desire? The right goal?
I do think that's a desire that has been put into all of us by God. And oftentimes it IS framed in the right context! We want God to call us to something great! To use us in some mighty way! To give us some ministry or calling or passion or platform that will bring glory to HIS name!
But what if God calls us to something ordinary? What then? Will we accept His call on our life then? We generally think of the call of God as powerful and mountain-moving and earth-shaking! But if we really want to answer the call of God, will we resist like Naaman the Syrian? Would we need the reproach of those who are truly servants to remind us: "My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?"
What if God is only asking us to wash in the River Jordan? ...And not asking us to do some "great thing"? Are we submitted to His call enough to do it?
One is Sir Knight of the Splendid Way, and one of the chapters is called "The Adventure of Sir Nameless" (hence the title of my blog post). Look at the description of this knight in the allegory.
"When he was a young knight, he was eager-hearted as the young should be, fired with the hope of youth and fortified by the courage of faith. He dreamed of high adventure, yet not for his own glory but for the King's. What men had dared he could dare, what men had done he could do: so he set out, desiring some great charge in which he might prove himself worthy.
"But hear the wonder of the story of Sir Nameless. In a few days he found among the hills a lonely outpost of the King's, so lonely that its guardian's heart had failed and he had gone away. But it seemed to Sir Nameless that the post must be held, and he resolved that he would hold it till another guardian came. But no guardian came to hold it, not that day nor the next, nor through many days: and since the post might not be left, it came to pass that this good knight held it alone for many years, unknown and unregarded. Other men he saw go by to do the great deeds that he might have done, but for him there was no release, no call to nobler duty. So passed the years of his strength and prime, till his force as spent, and his youthful hopes abandoned. Nay, better had he forgotten them, for their memory was a torment to an eager and stormy heart, a question that he could not answer. But never for a day was that lonely post left unguarded.
"Sad indeed, as men see it, was the lot of Sir Nameless... But I have told it only as men might see it. Now hear how it seemed to the Great King, for that lonely outpost was His, and He had chosen Sir Nameless to be its guardian. 'Here is a lonely post,' He had said, 'set upon a rocky road and overshadowed by gloomy hills, so cold and cheerless that the guardian has wearied of his duty. Yet it is a guardian post for many leagues of the road. The need here is for a knight keen of honour and immovable in courage.'... So the King had chosen Sir Nameless, knowing his name full well, and had shown him the lonely charge: and he had kept it faithfully, despite the torment of an eager and stormy heart, despite the daily assaults of the Black Knight, never so dangerous as when he comes disguised as High Desire and Noble Purpose."Sometimes the King calls us, not to the fame of battles and triumphs and spotlights, but to the need in lonely outposts and far from any grateful eye.
The second book that drives this home is a tiny little volume called The Hidden Years of Nazareth by G. Campbell Morgan, in which he clears up one of the greatest mysteries of the Bible.
Have you ever wondered what Jesus was doing in the eighteen years between our brief glimpse of him as a 12-year old in the temple and the dramatic start of his ministry at the baptism of John when he was 30 years old? There are, of course, fanciful accounts and so-called gospels that paint elaborate pictures of this period and we imagine him doing a sort of childish version of all the miracles that we know him so well for...but John's gospel tells us his first miracle was turning the water into wine at the wedding of Cana.
What was he doing during those illusive 18 years that we hear nothing of and that the Bible doesn't address?
I believe G. Campbell Morgan has the answer.
He makes an interesting point that we generally think of Jesus in his public ministry when he was travelling around with huge crowds, feeding over 5,000 people and teaching in the temple, because that is the portrait we get from the gospels. However, most people of the world don't identify with that life. (Which only lasted 3 1/2 years, by the way.) Says Campbell:
"It is not given to every man or woman to serve God in public places; the great majority must live their lives outside any prominent sphere, and as part of a very small circle of relatives and acquaintances. Men will not hear even the names of the great mass of the people who are living their life throughout the world to-day."Yet we neglect to realize that for 18 years Jesus lived in obscurity too...in Nazareth! What was he doing there? We have a couple verses to give us clues...
Luke 2:51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.
Luke 2:52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
Mark 6:3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.
Luke 4:16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
Mark 1:11 And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Campbell makes the case that those 18 years of Jesus's life were composed of two things: work and worship. What can be gleaned about these 18 years with certainty? "Jesus was a carpenter who pleased God." He went to the synagogue every Sabbath and, as a child, was subject to his parents. Interestingly enough, Joseph isn't mentioned in the Bible again after Luke chapter 2. I think it likely that Joseph died while Jesus was still young and the burden fell on him to care for his mother and siblings. Jesus! God manifest in the flesh had to work to provide for his living and to provide for his family? Yes. That suddenly brings him on a level with every simple, working man. The carpenter who pleased God. Not just the son of the carpenter...for Jesus to gain the title "The Carpenter", means he had to have done his work well and earned a reputation in Nazareth on his own. You notice they didn't know him as "The Preacher" or "The Miracle-Worker" or even as "The Son of God." They were surprised when he showed back up and demonstrated all of these things. They simply knew him as "The Carpenter."
Notice what Campbell writes here:
"Does it not look hard and arbitrary that God should have put that saintly soul to such common labor? Why not have let Him face the conflict and get the victory, and hie Him back to heaven? There was a deep necessity in the whole arrangement. Let me put it superlatively, and say, Calvary's cross would have been nothing but the tragic ending of a mistaken life, if it had not been for the carpenter's shop! In that carpenter's shop He fought my battles. My hardest fight is never fought when there is a crowd to applaud or oppose, but when I am alone. Now, that was what Jesus was doing for eighteen years. There was no crowd to sing "Hosanna" ; no other crowd to cry " Crucify Him"; but alone He did His work and faced all the subtle forms of temptation that beset humankind, and one by one He put His conquering foot upon the neck of them."Does that not encourage you in the perhaps menial work God has called you to for this time? It may not be meant for you to simply rush past it all and get to the good stuff...to what you perceive as the "real" reason you're here on this earth. Maybe this time of consistency and apparent monotony IS why you're here. To work a job in seeming drudgery in order that you might be conformed into the image of the Son of God and develop a character to become more like Him.
This point was driven home to me recently in a situation that was disappointing to me.
I was expecting to go to Bangladesh on a missions trip and help out with a youth camp. People were donating and praying for me and wishing me well and nervous because of the possible dangers of the trip. But I was excited and ready to go. I was ready to get away from all the normalcy and tediousness of life...to get out of the quagmire of American culture and really focus on the will of God for a few weeks! At least, that's what I thought.
Unfortunately, a few days before the trip the horrible hostage situation in Dhaka hit the news stations. Brave young people were held hostage in a restaurant and many killed by ISIS terrorists. Immediately my phone started buzzing with people telling me I shouldn't go, that it was too dangerous and I should stay home, and everything within me bristled against this. Should I shrink back from danger? Was this the attitude of the apostles who preached the gospel and turned the world upside down? This was when the people of Bangladesh...and particularly the young people of Bangladesh...needed the ministry of Jesus in their lives the most. This was when they needed the gospel and the love of God shown to them the most! People were shaken up and vulnerable and may be in a position to think about eternity like never before! We NEEDED to go! Why fear those who can kill only the body but after that have no more that they can do? To live is Christ and to die is gain!
A lot of people didn't share my sentiments. While I was praying that the missions organization would not cancel the trip, others of my friends and family were praying that they would.
So when I got the email that the trip organizers had made the tough decision to cancel the trip, my first thought was, "God listens to their prayers more than mine!"
In all seriousness, I WAS incredibly disappointed. The terrorist situation had almost increased my desire to go. This was something big. Something worthwhile! An amazing opportunity for God to really move in a demonstrative way! There was an alternative offer to go to New York/Connecticut to help with a church plant. Not exactly as exciting as confronting terrorists in Bangladesh, but still an opportunity for God to move in mighty ways. But as I was praying about the decision, I got the very strong sense that God's will was for me to stay in Colorado. (It would seem more often than not that one of the sure signs of God's will is that it so directly contradicts my own will. A lot of times that's when I know I've hit on what He actually wants and am not confusing my own voice with His.)
Again, I was disappointed. Why, God? You want me to stay here and build fences and teach Sunday school and small group Bible studies? That's really what you have for me? I'm willing to go ANYWHERE in the world for You...and You stick me in my comfort zone? Doing things that others can do? I want to be out on the front lines for You...and I feel held back at base camp.
But that's when God's gentle Spirit started speaking to my heart. "What if that's where I want you? You say you're willing to go anywhere for Me...will you stay here if that's what I want you to do?"
Will I? Will you? I feel a twinge of embarrassment when friends get done telling me all the amazing things they're doing...travelling to other countries, hosting radio shows, writing, running camps, working with high-end businesses, getting Master's degrees at prestigious colleges, starting their own companies, curing cancer, etc, etc., then ask: "So Michael, what are you doing with your life?"
"Oh! Um...I'm er...building fences."
"Literally or spiritually?"
What does that even mean? "Um literally. You know, with screws and wood and concrete and stuff. I have decided the highest aim of my life is to keep people's dogs in their yards."
Obviously, I'm being a little facetious. My point is that sometimes God asks us live through the daily grind, making a living, showing compassion, making a difference...and that that's okay. Of course, I'm NOT saying you shouldn't strive to do great things! All I'm saying is that the priority has to be doing God's will. What He wants. And the rest will fall into place.