Did you ever get advice you didn’t want to hear? A wise lady once told me, “Paula, you don’t have to be famous; you just have to be faithful.” It has taken me forty years to come to terms with this reality – following Jesus may mean being a nobody.
The apostle Paul got this. Even though he was a brilliant, highly educated Jewish leader, he realized that his highest calling was to be a bond slave of Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1) A bond slave was a slave who had earned his freedom, yet chose to remain a slave the rest of his life because he loved his master. Once a slave made this choice his master pierced his ear with an awl. The post in his ear was a sign to all that he was a slave for the remainder of his life, because he loved and respected his master so much. (Exodus 21:5-6)
I’ve struggled with being a bond slave. I always figured I was smart, popular and talented, but God had other lessons for me to learn. It seemed every position I had in a church or education came to an end before it should have. People liked me, but then we moved. I applied for a couple of positions, but other people who I felt were less qualified got the jobs. Some jobs I loved ended up being unbearable because of certain difficult situations that were never addressed by those running the show.
Then I got the job of a lifetime teaching Bible and theology in a private Christian high school. The first week on the job I had a sore throat. Six months later I was still so sick I switched to working part time. By June I was so sick I had to resign in tears.
“God, what are you up to? You are wasting a valuable asset, namely me,” I screamed at the sky. But it seemed God was not listening, so I started yelling at my mom who was in heaven by this time. Then I recalled the advice I received years earlier: “You don’t have to be famous; you just have to be faithful.”
Thoughts of my mom’s humble life flooded my brain. She married the wrong guy, and that really screwed up her life. He divorced her. She worked weekends and summers at a grape juice factory to put food on the table. She sometimes took in needy families. When a group of African American singers visited our church they stayed at our house. Next Mom got a job teaching in a Christian school. When we kids went off to college she applied to teach missionaries’ kids in Peru. She only got the job after explaining that she did not file for divorce but was divorced. Her official label was “teacher”. Back then no divorced person could be called a missionary.
She never learned Spanish well enough to speak it, so for a long time she felt she wasn’t really doing any mission work. As time went by many of the local Peruvians began inviting her over for dinner. She even brought Peruvians to the United States helping them with college and careers. Later she traveled to Ireland for six months. Two young women came back with her and found a full life in the United States.
At age 75 my mom had a stroke and lived as an invalid five more years. We held her funeral in the town where she had not lived since the stroke. To our astonishment about 150 people showed up. Many of them shared how she was the one who had led them to faith in Christ.
So now I am trying to be faithful, not famous. I am willing to be a bond slave to the great God of the universe. I appreciate the folks who shake my hand at the door of the church. I appreciate the lady who took care of my two babies in the nursery for several years, even though she never had any children of her own. I am thankful for the folks who clean up the kitchen after the covered dish suppers. I value the pastors who can preach at funerals and visit nursing homes.
Do I have any idea who will turn up with something to say at my funeral? No, and it doesn’t matter. I keep working to be a faithful bond slave in whatever role God has for me. When my husband and I were married we had a rather unusual hymn sung. It is the path we have followed for almost forty-five years now. We have chosen to be bond slaves to Jesus Christ.
O Master, let me walk with thee
In lowly paths of service free;
tell me thy secret; help me bear
the strain of toil, the fret of care.
Teach me thy patience; still with thee
in closer, dearer company,
in work that keeps faith sweet and strong,
in trust that triumphs over wrong;
In hope that sends a shining ray
far down the future’s broadening way,
in peace that only thou canst give,
with thee, O Master, let me live.
Washington Gladden 1879