How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints..
I will sacrifice a thank-offering to you and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people..
(Psalm 116. 12-15,17&18)
I recently heard this phrase used by a preacher who was referring to the Scottish athlete and missionary, Eric Liddell, a man who surrendered himself to the call of Christ to make disciples of all nations, and followed his parents to the mission field in China – where he would die in a Japanese interment camp at a relatively young age.
Liddell, and many others over the centuries, have been literally “buried” for the sake of the gospel, as they died in the lands to which they went – African deserts and Ecuadorean jungles – sometimes of disease, and other times deliberately martyred by those who opposed them. Some, like Jim Elliott and his colleagues, had their stories broadcast to the world, and God used their dying as a witness to the living, of how powerfully the gospel inspires and what an amazing gift it is we have to share. But so many others have died invisibly, silently, and only God knows their story. Does that make their lives and deaths of any less value?
The psalmist would certainly not say so! His words in Psalm 116 are such a tender declaration of God’s care and delight in every individual child, they always touch me deeply. But I think they also reassure me that my life is precious in God’s sight! So many of the figures in the bible narrative are people who lived ‘small ‘lives, in a limited geographical area, without political or military power, and who were barely noticed while they lived, let alone died. And yet, time and again, our attention is drawn to them as the story of their lives is woven into God’s great plan for redemption. Consider Rahab, the woman of Jericho, whose courage protected the spies and who would be absorbed into the people of Israel after the destruction of her city. Or the young girl – whose name we do not even know – who sent her master Naaman to seek out the prophet Elisha, and receive healing. There is Mordecai, in exile and under continual threat from powerful opponents, who yet was used by God to protect and deliver all the Jews in captivity.
As our family prepare to leave the city for a new ministry, these examples of ‘small ‘ lives, faithfully lived in obedience to God are an encouragement to me.
It does not matter whether the world considers that we are burying ourselves in a small place and a small work. What is small about sharing the transforming power of Christ with the people for whom he died?! It is no matter to us whether we are called to 5,000 or 2,000; our worth does not depend on the number of people in our parish, but on the love which God has for us, his beloved children. We are called to obey: to pray for lives to be touched by the gospel: to make disciples, through teaching and walking alongside them: to walk closely in fellowship with God ourselves, so that our own lives might be a story by which the gospel is told. All of these are valid whether anyone is watching or not; and our worth does not even depend upon the fruit of our labours, but simply on God’s love for us.
Yes, it will be hard if we are called to work without seeing what God is doing, to sow the seed and trust that someone else will tend the crop and reap the harvest in God’s good time. But it is our calling simply to fulfill our vows, to obey, and to find our contentment in knowing that – however faltering the effort – our heart’s desire has been to say ‘ Yes Lord, I will.’ Our inspiration is the cross and our reward is his constant, loving presence.
Upon that cross of Jesus, mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One who suffered there for me;
And from my smitten heart, with tears, two wonders I confess –
The wonder of his glorious love, and my own worthlessness.
I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of thy face:
Content to let the world go by, to know no gain nor loss –
My sinful self my only shame, my glory all, the cross.
(from “Beneath the cross of Jesus”, E.C Clephane 1830-69)