The whole world pushes us to have grand achievements and gain recognition, but how does that match with the Bible’s commands?
“The fellow who led me to the Lord was a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman,” Carter Conlon, pastor of Times Square Church and World Challenge boardmember, said in a sermon. “He came to my house every Wednesday for somewhere between two and three months, persisted in winning me to Christ, and eventually succeeded.
“In the latter part of his years, I remember talking to him one time, and he was lamenting his life. He said, ‘You know, you’re the only person I ever led to Jesus.’
“I could tell his head was down. He felt so bad about that. He had served in the same church his whole life; he had walked with God; he had done what he was asked to do; he was a servant to the Lord, but I was the only one he had ever won to the Lord. And I can picture him now—because he has died—appearing before the throne of God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, I’m just so sorry. I had such plans for my life. I felt like I had such a future, and I had a vision of what my life should be, and yet all it amounted to was that I led this one guy to the Lord…’
“Only to have him [God] say, ‘Oh no, my friend. No, no. There’s lots more that has happened here than you realize. You see, that one guy you won to the Lord pastors 10,000 people in New York City and has traveled around the world and seen many people come to Christ.
“These that your son in the faith won are all your grandchildren and great grandchildren.’
The Ambition of a Loud, Celebrated Life
On The Gospel Coalition, theologian and podcast cohost Chad Bird muses over Paul’s startling advice to the early church “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life” (1 Thessalonians 4:11a, NIV).
“Were he writing that epistle to an American congregation, instead of Thessalonica,” Bird points out, “he probably would’ve needed to buy an extra scroll just to expand on this verse….
“To lead a quiet life doesn’t mean we lower our expectations; it means we lower our eyes. We look beside us. We look around us. Rather than gaping upward at the next trophy we’ll win, the next raise we’ll earn, we look beside us at the people whom God has placed in our lives for us to serve. We shift our gaze from the ‘next big thing’ to all the little things we miss when we’re mesmerized by the idols of bigger, better, bolder.”
While we might agree with him in theory as believers, we are surrounded by a culture that constantly promotes certain types of achievement.
Olympics athletes are modern day heroes and so are movie celebrities with their mansions and top businessmen with their fancy cars. Schools give out awards for stellar students, and social media platforms give special perks to influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers.
Nothing is necessarily wrong with these things, per se. It’s never wrong to reward good work. The Bible even talks about the prizes that believers will receive in heaven (1 Cor. 3:11-15, 1 Cor. 9:24-25, 2 Cor. 5:9-10, 2 Tim 4:8, Rev. 3:11-12, Rev. 22:12).
In our human nature, however, is the strong propensity to make those rewards the reason why we work. This faulty view is frequently compounded by an insistence on some kind of material or immediately felt reward. Bring on the trophy, the bonus check, the public attaboys, the bumper sticker for my car!
The world holds up those who achieve as the object of envy for all around. Believers are not immune from this often soul-crushing shift in attention.
Most Valuable Profession: Missionary or Janitor?
Even if you do work for a church or Christian organization being an accountant, secretary, assistant, project manager or janitor—the dozens upon dozens of positions that quietly work to make a company run smoothly—you may occasionally feel as if your job gets demoted to a lower level of spirituality than living in the howling wilds of Siberia as a missionary in a Yakuts village.
First off, the calling to work in missions is a wonderful one, but so is helping that single mother move out of her apartment or making sure that everyone at your company gets the correct paycheck.
Unfortunately, one is sometimes prized above the others because it’s more visible and has been strangely romanticized by our society (talk to any actual missionary, and they’ll have more than a few stories about how profoundly unromantic working the field can be when things like food poisoning strike on a jam-packed bus in the middle of the jungle).
Second, this view of spiritual-job-hierarchy frequently leads to two unhealthy responses. One is to strive for some kind of leadership role within the church or a religious organization as the thing you have to do to be “a good Christian,” even if you’re not gifted in or called to this work. The other response is to shrug off all evangelistic responsibility because you’re not a pastor, ministry worker or missionary.
While the former often use the biblical promises of reward as justification for their actions, Paul’s exhortation to live quietly usually shows up in the latter group’s defense for their lack of action.
John MacArthur writes about this issue, “The purpose underlying Paul’s exhortation on work and motivating all his other injunctions—to love, to live quietly, and to mind their own business—was evangelistic, so that the Thessalonians would behave properly toward outsiders. For him, the key to evangelism was the integrity Christians manifest to a sinful, confused, and agitated world (cf. Job 2:3; Ps. 26:1; Matt. 5:16; Phil. 2:15–16; 1 Peter 2:12).
“When believers display diligent work attitudes and habits and live in a loving and tranquil manner that respects others’ privacy and does not intrude or gossip, it constitutes a powerful testimony to unbelievers and makes the gospel credible.”
Our work, be it ever so humble or unnoticed, is the most glorifying business we can attend to day in and day out.
No Ministry Is Too Small for Us
Urban legend has it that the great reformer Martin Luther was once asked what he would do if he knew that the end of the world was tomorrow, and he responded, “I would go out and plant a tree.”
If we truly believe the words of Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,” we will find that our position or circumstances matter much less. While we may have dreams, goals and ambitions, they no longer rule our decisions or command too much of our thoughts.
As Pastor Carter Conlon concluded after reflecting on the life of that dear and faithful man who led him to Christ, “What you do in ministry doesn’t end with you…. So don’t let the devil ever tell you that your life is of no value, that your ministry is too small.”
We will find a greater peace as we throw ourselves diligently into our work, seeking to honor God no matter how great or menial the task may seem.