She was nothing more than contestant 43,212 when Susan Boyle stepped on the stage of Britain’s Got Talent. As a forty-seven-year-old church volunteer, it was a big step to sing on national television. Little did she know how that one performance would forever change the trajectory of her life. Within nine days of the audition, videos of Boyle had been viewed over 100 million times.
It’s the stuff dreams are made of. We love it when the underdog becomes top dog. We love it when somebody small makes it big, when a no one becomes a someone. Maybe it’s because we picture ourselves standing on the stage and performing in front of the cheering crowds.
I’d be lying if I told you I haven’t had those pictures run through my mind. The truth is, being known, admired and respected makes us feel important. But what if God’s plan isn’t to give me a Susan Boyle moment? What if my calling is to relative obscurity?
Obscurity can be a bitter pill to swallow. Pastors like to quote passages like the one in Acts 17 that says the early church turned the world upside down. We love to talk about great people of faith who changed their world. I think deep down every pastor longs to be part of a great movement of God. Hebrews 11 talks about people who saw the miraculous and witnessed God’s amazing power. The writer of Hebrews says these great men and women of faith conquered kingdoms, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, became powerful in battle, routed foreign armies, and even raised the dead to life.
It would be great if the chapter ended there, leaving us inspired by the exponential potential of faith. But there’s a ninety-degree turn in the middle of verse 35. A subtle, but important transition takes place in the passage with the word “others.”
Their names are not listed. They will remain historically anonymous. These “others” were still great men and women of faith. In fact, “the world was not worthy of them.” But unlike those who experienced supernatural miracles and victory, these “others” were tortured, flogged, imprisoned, stoned, and put to death by the sword. They were destitute, often homeless, and they lived in obscurity.
Interestingly, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.” None of them received what had been promised. Not yet. Not in this world. Not all of God’s promises had been fulfilled in this life.
But this life is not all there is. For them, their faith hadn’t delivered them from death; their faith caused their death. Their faith didn’t bring fame; it brought danger. And following Jesus did not bring notoriety; it brought obscurity.
One of the spiritual questions every ministry leader must answer is, “Am I willing to serve in obscurity?”
The first church I pastored was small, rural, and obscure. I came there fresh out of seminary. I was naïve, optimistic, and full of ambition. After five years, though, my grandiose visions had degenerated into the hard work of pastoring. And I wanted out. I wanted to pastor in a place that had more potential, where there was a greater opportunity for growth. I’m not proud to tell you that, but that’s what was in my heart.
During those days I remember flying to Dallas to interview with a church about a possible position. The interview took place at a hotel, and afterward I walked into the lobby and called my wife. I told her, “If I were them, I would not hire me. I am not what they are looking for.” Sure enough, the following Tuesday I received the call that I knew was coming. Even so, it was devastating. I vividly remember sitting at my desk and weeping like a baby. I didn’t want to be anonymous. I wanted to be sought out, not left out. Obscurity was not part of my plan.
I eventually did move to another church. I wish I could tell you I had learned to be fully content where I was and then God moved me. That wouldn’t be true. But in those days God began a work that continues to this day.
It is a work involving…
· Contentment in my current assignment
· The idol of church growth
· My willingness to find joy in faithfulness
· My view of “true” success
· Finding my significance in being a child of God
There is always discomfort when the Holy Spirit is refining your character. It can be hard and painful. It can force you to face some motives and beliefs that need to be crucified.
So, let me challenge you this week to sit quietly with the question “Am I willing to live and serve in obscurity?”
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