We sat side by side staring at the empty amphitheater. A guitar case was propped open, the setting sun reflecting off the varnish of the wood. I shuffled my feet, squishing dozens of ants. Hundreds of their fellow workers swarmed towards us, emerging from the cracks in the cement. Cassidy cleared his throat.
“Well, should we call it a night?”
I drummed a quick beat with my hands of aluminum bench.
“But there are so many people here.”
Cassidy smiled and rose to his feet. It was Sunday morning, and it was the third Sunday in a row that no one had showed up to our worship service.
I walked over to my open guitar case. A mirky film covered the once bronze luster of the strings. The strings needed changing.
“Well, that didn’t really matter tonight.” I whispered to myself. Closing the lid, I fastened the latches on the case.
This summer I served with a Christian Ministry in the National Parks. This ministry sends out hundreds of college and seminary students to spread the gospel in some of the most breathtaking parts of the country as both employees and preachers. I envisioned myself in the middle of the woods, proclaiming the gospel to the crowd of men, women and chipmunks that flocked towards us. Bears would rumble by, salmon leap across the podium and, and wolves howl at the perimeter of the clearing. Instead I found myself in the middle of a desert in Arizona, trying to reach out to people who seemed indifferent to Christianity. And because it was different than my expectations, I also missed seeing the story God was telling.
Such as the story of a housekeeper whom I met while working in the lodge. Her name was Lula and she cleans toilets, mops floors, and dusts furniture with an ear-to-ear smile. Every morning at 5:40 I would walk from employee housing to the lodge to begin my shift at the front desk. My first stop was always the break room, and each time I would see Lula in the corner, her head bowed over something as she talked to herself. After one month, I finally confronted her one morning.
“Lula,” I said. “What’cha reading?
“Oh, just my daily word.” She answered pointing down at the Nook reader in front of her.
“Your daily word? What word?”
“The Bible!” she said her face lighting into a smile. “I always got to start the morning off right with some verses from the Bible. See?” Grabbing the nook, she turned it towards me. The screen was turned to Philippians 3: Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord!
“I want people to see Jesus as I’m working. I want them to see my joy. They notice that, you know. Then they ask you about it.”
I later learned that Lula had been praying for her coworkers every single morning for over three years. And then there was me, who had barely been in Arizona for a month, I wanting bigger things. Better things. And when there few visible results, I was upset. C. S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, “…Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.” Oftentimes God’s purpose for my life seems boring and unrewarding. But if we miss the work that God has prepared for us, then we are missing out on the blessing as well. A couple of days ago I was talking to someone who learned a similar lesson.
Seth Henry leaned forward in his swivel chair. I settled myself comfortably on the couch.
“There were times,” he said, “when I couldn’t help but notice the success all the other cabins were having. The kids were excited, kids were coming to the Lord, and my cabin, well, we were just doing all right. That was hard.”
Seth paused and looked down at his basketball shoes. He had participated in camp team over the summer, and I was getting to hear about it for the first time. Seth looked back up at me.
“But something a speaker said at one of the camps really hit me. He told the story of the wedding at Cana. You know the story. At a certain point in the celebration, the wine runs out, and Jesus told some servants to fill up six enormous stone jars with water. Now it wasn’t a glamorous task, they weren’t in the wedding party, but the Bible says that the servants filled up the containers to the brim. And through their faithfulness he was able to do amazing things, because they were willing to do what God asked of them. We would do well to follow their example. God calls us to be faithful in the mundane.”
Even if that means preaching to an empty amphitheater.