I recently wrote the following article for SBTC Crossroads magazine; it will be printed in the upcoming issue. However, as most of you do not receive this particular magazine, I am posting it on my blog for you to ponder. Be blessed.
Obscurity is a double-edged sword for God’s servant. On one side it is a joy rarely embraced … even though what it offers is of tremendous value. On the other it is a peril that often results in feelings of depression, drudgery, even hopelessness. Few actively seek obscurity; many fervently crave notoriety. The search for significance permeates our 21st century church culture with the idea that languishing in some obscure piece of geography that even God struggles to find is to be avoided at all cost. I have witnessed this in others and I have slid down both sides of the sword myself. Perhaps now that I am further down the road, I can shed some light on the precious value of time spent serving in obscurity.
Serving God in obscurity is one of the greatest training tools for ministry in existence. Please don’t misunderstand, I value formal education tremendously and can be quite opinionated in this area. I have long held that if someone has opportunity to advance their knowledge in a conservative seminary classroom and chooses not to do so, little wisdom is found in that logic. Formal education is of immense value as we study to “show ourselves approved.” No price, however, can be put on the value of hands-on learning in a real pastoral setting.
At one time, the young seminary graduate typically left the classroom to accept a call for service in a rural country church with eager anticipation. They would arrive on the field, experience the culture change, learn from the congregation and begin their pastoral residency training. There they learned how to make hospital visits, do weekly outreach visitation, perform funerals, hold the hand of those experiencing death, and write sermons. They learned the value of a cup of coffee for decision making and conflict resolution. But also, they learned when to speak up and, by all means, when to shut up, none of which can be taught in a classroom. This obscure setting is where the minister and real ministry would first meet to form an inseparable bond.
Serving in this type setting is where humility in ministry is learned. With little encouragement, we ministers can so easily begin to think too highly of ourselves and our polished skill set. We might even begin to see God as fortunate to have us on His team. Today, the idea of leaving big city lights and traveling to places where the only lights at night are stars is unthinkable for many. The thought of serving in a place where the telephone book is so small its not even a good fly swatter, where you see more livestock than humans, or where traffic moves so slowly that the dogs can nap in the road is the undoing of many young men entering ministry service. They cannot handle the obscurity because they have been trained to think far bigger and they have missed the importance of touching lives one at a time. If not careful, pride in their ability causes them to disdain the smaller place of service. Yet, God has a way of teaching us minister’s humility as we serve those who value truth, integrity, and stability even more than flashy sermons and high-minded ideals.
An obscure place of service is where God also teaches His servant who’s really the boss. Every church has people of great influence in the congregation; they are not the boss. The pastor has to learn that no man is boss, only God. In my years of ministry I have been confronted with local power brokers who seek to negatively leverage their influence against the body of Christ. Early on I had to determine who was going to be the boss, an individual or the Lord Jesus. Without fail and without regret I have always sided with God as the one who calls the shots in the local church. This comes through a natural dependence on God above all else. Dependence of this sort does not emerge during times of ease, but when the cannons are thundering and the rifle fire is intense. Here is where the minster truly touches the heartbeat of God for His church. Recently I read where Henry Blackaby said, “The heart of God and the heart of the one God chooses must beat as one.” This only comes through absolute surrender and devotion to duty. God does not strengthen the rebel, but He solidifies the courage and resolve of the dependent servant who recognizes Him as Lord and boss!
One final point, confident service in a place of obscurity is a testimony to the sovereignty of God. It is a bold statement to those watching your life, and there are more than you know, that God Almighty is in control and able to deliver his servant from obscurity in a moment’s notice. Take Joseph as the Scriptural example. At 17 he was sold into slavery and separated from his father’s house. He then languished obscurely for 13 years, being falsely accused, unjustly imprisoned and forgotten. But one day – a day like any other – Joseph’s life changed with sovereign precision. On that day he was extracted from prison, given clean clothes and a shave, and marched into the presence of the greatest king on earth – Pharaoh. On that day he was utilized to give Pharaoh not only the interpretation of the forthcoming famine but also a direct plan for how it should be handled. On that day he was promoted to the second highest position in the land – from the prison to the palace – all in one day! What a tremendous testimony that God knows our exact position always.
Do you trust in the sovereignty of God in your place of service? Do you believe your sovereign Lord sees you in the obscurity of your prayer closet? If God can see you when you pray, don’t you think you should trust that He sees you where you serve? I do not know your circumstances, but I do know the God who reigns above all trials and troubles we will ever face. So stay focused and alert. Work with diligence and faithfulness. Keep your eyes on your master because joy comes in the service not in the location. And should God choose to change your circumstances, never doubt what He can do in just one day.