It seems that everywhere you turn lately there is a women’s book or article that touches on the subject of being unknown or unnoticed. In this world of heavy media bombardment where everyone clamors for their 15 minutes of fame, it seems we Christian women have bought into that idea and are nurturing an unhealthy compulsion within our hearts for having our moment in the limelight. Perhaps it’s not totally unhealthy. Our Creator fashioned us to have a longing to matter, but have we let sinful self-focus cause that balloon to become stretched beyond recognition? Have we allowed a legitimate, God-given desire to morph into an ugly, self-gratifying longing?
Our society has moved to an unhealthy place in how we relate to one another. We have fewer deep relationships. We allow communication by technology rather than face-to-face to dominate our existence. Depression is widespread among us. We tend to throw up walls and hotly debate our positions rather than having true discourse or dialog that allows us to understand one another. This, as well as families living further apart, leaves us feeling lonely, longing for a personal touch from someone. This desperation can draw us to find unhealthy idols (such as that tendency toward grasping to be known) to fill our lonely, depressing lives.
But what if we allow these negative feelings to draw us to the Father Himself to fill those empty places within us?
What if our lust for recognition, fame, and glory is stealing that glory from God Himself?
What if God will be glorified by a person being unknown?
Are we willing to be obscure? Overlooked? Forgotten? Unknown? Lonely?
What if living a simple life, obedient to Christ and hidden from public praise is what God will use to make His Son Jesus Christ known to the world through me?
Allow me to share what prompted this train of thought in my heart…
Have you ever heard of Charles Gaillard? No? How about Lough Fook? No? Me neither. I’d never heard of either one of these men until 3 weeks ago.
At my daughter’s house I picked up a book that introduced me to these 2 amazing men. Charles Gaillard has 7 pages written about his life, and Lough Fook only 6 pages. These men lived around the time of Abraham Lincoln (in other parts of the world). They are virtual unknowns to us today, but they had a profound effect in the kingdom of God.
Gaillard was a missionary to China in the 1800s whose soul desire as he stated himself was this, “When I go to heaven, I do not want to go alone, but to collect a whole army of this people to go with me.” But that was not God’s plan. He ended up facing many difficulties: struggling with the Chinese language, armed conflicts within China that drove him from his home, the death of a child, and finally, being crushed to death in his own home during a typhoon. From our perspective, his ministry was short – only 8 years there – due to this untimely death. And although he preached a sermon nearly every day and faithfully trained his church members in the Christian disciplines, he had very few converts to show for all his years of service in China, not the “whole army” he had hoped for. Gaillard did not live long enough to see how his ministry would continue through one he discipled. That disciple? Lough Fook.
Lough Fook was a Chinese orphan who’d had a hard life. During the 1860s many Chinese men were selling themselves into indentured servitude to British colonies in South America. These men, called “coolies,” were transported to the other side of the world and would work for 5-7 years to pay off the cost of their emigration before they could earn their freedom. Lough saw this as an open door to share the gospel. He sold himself as a coolie, a laborer on a plantation, to be able to evangelize his own people who were moving to South America. He began sharing the gospel on his ship and continued it when he arrived. He started the very first Baptist church in South America, led worship services and taught the Christian disciplines that he had been taught by Gaillard. Many believed. Four different congregations were formed from these believers who all exercised a disciplined faith in living holy lives and spreading the gospel themselves. At Lough’s death there were 200 Christians in his congregations, who gave more than $2,000 each year to missions and actually sent missionaries from among themselves back to China. Lough fook died at the early age of 43. He had come to Christ at age 16, and was a faithful servant of the Lord for 27 years.
Two men. Leading obscure, short, but faithful lives for Christ. Their lives are still having an impact to this day.
Your life as well, lived sold out for Christ, will have meaning and purpose. Whether you stand before adoring crowds or faithfully serve day in and day out unseen and seemingly unappreciated doing menial work, know that you were created by our loving father with a plan and purpose for your life.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” Jeremiah 29:11-14 NIV
He has great plans to use us for His glory, but He doesn’t do it our way. He doesn’t necessarily use the brilliant, the popular, the polished, or the expected ones. In scripture, he used the unexpected persons: the stutterer, the shepherd boy, the hothead, the one who ran away, the discouraged, the doubter,the hated tax collector, the young teenaged girl, and on and on I could go. God has His own ways.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth,so are my ways higher than your waysand my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV
So your assignment, my assignment, in this life is to empty ourselves of our will and allow His plan for our lives to unfold in His way, at His time, even if we feel overlooked and forgotten. At those times of obscure loneliness, we seek His face, wholeheartedly, and find our source of joy and fulfillment in Him alone. We trust Him with the results! David Brady says it well, “God is weaving together the threads of our faithful service. His plans stretch far into the future beyond our wildest imagination!”
Be brave! Be patient! Be faithful! Be unknown if Our Lord so dictates! He will bear fruit through you!
Editor’s note: We do need to be aware of this societal trend towards feeling unnoticed. However, we must let this realization spur us to fulfill God’s 2 great commands to us – to love God and love others – rather than allowing it to make us more self-focused than ever. This idea should prompt us to go out of our way to reach out to the new folks in our congregations, to listen to the lonely, and to acknowledge and befriend the overlooked. This mindset, like that of Christ Jesus that we see in Philippians 2:1-8, will propel us to humble ourselves instead of grasping for recognition and to lay down our self-will, our very lives, for people – people whom the Father loves.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Philippians 2:1-8