by Jeff Heslop
– God has designed many testings in the Christian life. By these testings, God means to build the character of the believer into a greater likeness of Christ. One of these testings is obscurity. By obscurity I mean a lack of appreciation in one’s own Christian work. The Christian who labors hard for the sake of Christ and yet appears to receive little appreciation or recognition may become discouraged or even bitter. This testing plays on the human frailty that seeks personal significance. And many seem to fail the test.
Dr. C.I. Scofield described this testing, along with two others, when he wrote an assessment of D.L. Moody as an evangelist. D.L. Moody was born Feb 5, 1837, born again in 1856, and died on Dec 22, 1899. Some consider him the greatest evangelist of the 19th century. Scofield had met Moody during one of Moody’s evangelistic campaigns in St. Louis. The two labored much together after that. In time, Scofield, by invitation from Moody, became the president of the Northfield Bible Training School founded by Moody.
Dr. Scofield wrote, “Three supreme testings await strong men in this life: the testing of poverty and obscurity; of prosperity and applause; and of suffering. Many who enter life conscious, even though dimly, of great latent capacities, turn sour and bitter under neglect, narrow circumstances, and lack of appreciation [emphasis mine]. Others who pass that first trial successfully are corrupted or enfeebled by success and adulation. Many who stand erect alike in obscurity and success, fail utterly under the testing of suffering. Mr. Moody, by God’s grace, passed unscathed through them all.” (1)
Lack of appreciation is definitely a kind of obscurity. For many of us Christians, this turning sour and bitter from lack of appreciation for our labor in ministry might be our most common failing in God’s providential testing. As Charles Ryrie correctly noted, most of our Christian lives are lived in the routine and unappreciated events of life. But as in all our testings, we should fix our eyes on Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2) and learn how He faced the testing of obscurity.
I am writing on Christmas Eve. So let’s look to Jesus regarding His miraculous yet obscure birth. The angel Gabriel announced to an obscure young virgin that she would have a son conceived by the Holy Spirit, Lk 1:26-38. An angel of the Lord appeared to an obscure group of shepherds. Although this appearing was so glorious that they were terribly afraid, and the news was of great joy, it was still an obscure announcement made just to these nobody shepherds, Lk 2:8-14.
Jesus was likely born in one of the many caves around Bethlehem. Luke tells us that their were none of the usual accommodations available. And after Jesus was born he was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a feeding trough for animals, Lk 2:1-7. When we look back on these things we are all warmed by these precious events. But these events were hardly appreciated by the world at the time. There was nothing impressive about them. These events were obscure to the world.
And the life of Jesus remained obscure until the time that He was announced to Israel by the preaching of John the Baptist. Matt 3:1-3. Although a few recognized Jesus as Israel’s promised messiah, most had no appreciation for His glory. Isa 53:2-3 reads, “…He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” Certainly to the world, Jesus was obscure. But Jesus was even obscure to most of the very people He came to save.
Did Jesus feel the pain of obscurity and lack of appreciation from the ones to whom He ministered? Did He ever wonder if his ministry was making a difference? He surely did! Remember Jesus was tempted in all things just as we are, Heb 4:15. Knowing that the LORD had called Him from His mother’s womb to show His Father’s glory and to gather Israel back to the LORD (Isa 49:1, 3, 5), He still confessed, “I have toiled in vain, I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity” (Isa 49:4). Who would ever have thought that such words would come from our Savior Himself?
So how did Jesus pass the testing of obscurity and lack of appreciation? He trusted in the promises of His Father. Jesus said, “Surely the justice due to me is with the LORD” (Isa 49:4b). And right after Jesus complaint of lack of results in His ministry, the LORD replies, “‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’ Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and its Holy One, to the despised One, to the One abhorred by the nation, to the Servant of rulers, ‘Kings will see and arise, Princes will also bow down, Because of the LORD who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen You.’” (Isa 49:6-7). One day the LORD will cause the labor of Jesus to be appreciated and praised by even the greatest on earth.
If you think that such marvelous promises of fruit for our labor is only for the Son of God, remember these encouraging words, “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints” (Heb 6:10).
Any work done for the glory of God will never, ever be obscure in the eyes of God. We must be careful not to always expect appreciation for our labor in this age. The testing of obscurity will only be passed by keeping our eyes upon Jesus as our example and the sure promises of God as our reward.
(1) The Shorter Life of DL Moody http://library.moody.edu/digital/ebooks/shorter_life_dl_moody.pdf