Deep in the human heart lies a desire to be significant, to have our lives matter. What good is our four-score years if spent in obscurity without any impact on our world or other people? The shy ones might claim to be happy without a spotlight, but they still want to matter.
As I think about the ways I used to grab center stage, I have to laugh. In high school, I wanted the best marks, to win all arguments on the debate team, to beat everyone in arm wrestling (all 110 lbs of me), and get the prizes in the various 4-H clubs I joined. Later I wanted to be the best artist, the best wife and mother, and when I became a Christian, the best at that.
It didn’t take long to realize that the best of anything is up to God. Human efforts may accomplish some things (I could beat everyone at arm wrestling, even the boys), but eventually someone comes along that is better or faster or stronger, and the trophy topples. Besides, winning like this does not satisfy.
As a Christian, I can see the paradoxical in most of what God calls me to do. On one hand I’m weak (and feel it) and on the other He tells me I can do all things. As for being significant, the Apostle Paul said of his own life and ministry, “ . . . as unknown, and yet well-known . . . .”
He knew that fame was an odd thing. He was well known before he met Christ, at least well known to the Jews as a devout follower of Jewish law and tradition. He also persecuted Christians who, up until then, didn’t know anything about him.
Then Christ confronted this man and changed his heart and his direction. Paul gave up all the things pertaining to his former life, things he once considered significant. As he rejected them, the Jews and Pharisees rejected him. Then, at first, he was unknown to the Christian community, but not for long. Eventually he was well-known and well-loved by all those who follow Jesus Christ. Unknown, yet well-known.
How can this odd paradox be explained? I just finished reading Linda Hall’s novel, “Margaret’s Peace” and she does the same thing as James Scott Bell in at least one of his books. She writes a story that is not the slightest preachy and says very little about God, yet He is so obviously involved in both the plot and the writer’s heart. Unlike secular mysteries, this story, without saying “God did it,” brings out the details that show how God works. It is life as seen from inside the kingdom, life that demonstrates God who is behind and upholds life.
I think that if a person blind to God looks at a Christian they would see insignificance, at least most of the time. For them, importance is measured by bigger, better, best, awards, power, and all the stuff that Paul rejected, and I am learning to reject. But for Christians, God gives significance in the little things.
Yesterday we drove an hour and a half to an anniversary. Our presence there seemed insignificant. We didn’t know anyone except the couple celebrating. However, we sat at a table with young parents we had never met before and will likely never see again. As we chatted, my husband mentioned something he knows about future work in a particular realm. The wife and husband exchanged glances. In their eyes we could see a certain sparkle, a renewal of hope.
We have no idea what was behind that glance, but the hope was obvious to both of us. This young father he was not unemployed, but he does work in that realm. Was he worried about job security? Were they concerned they might not be able to take care of their family? We might never know that, but we did know we were supposed to be at this afternoon party. Perhaps the only reason was to unwittingly encourage this young couple who didn’t know us.
Paul lived his Christian life like that, doing what God wanted him to do and not always sure of the reason or what might result from his obedience. People could embrace him, or reject him, honor him or toss him out of town. While being known and loved and on a podium is okay, unknown is okay too. That is one mark of walking by faith, and describes the wonderful way God works in a world where only His people are given small glimpses of what He is doing.