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Laboring in Useful Obscurity

“This is also what I have seen of wisdom under the sun — and it was great to me. There was a little city and the men in it were few. A great king came toward it and surrounded it and he built a great siege tower against it. Yet, there was a man in it who was impoverished but wise and saved it — the city by his wisdom. Yet, the man was not remembered for he was a poor man. And so I say that wisdom is better than greatness though the wisdom of an impoverished man is scorned and his words are not heard.”

(Ecclesiastes 9:13-16)

Which is better? To be useful and forgotten or to be a fool and remembered forever? How often, in our modern age, the desire to be remembered is so great that many embrace foolishness just so that they will be remembered. Yet, what kind of legacy is that? We all have a natural desire to be remembered and to leave our mark on the world, but this hardly seems the way to do it. 

When I served as Chaplain of the Christian School in Florida, the Superintendent, Michael Mosley, used to cite a medieval phrase quite often: “to labor in useful obscurity.” His point was two-fold. First, not everyone can be the hero or the person in the limelight…and not everyone ought to be because the person up front needs people working behind him to make it possible to be up front. The second reason that he used this phrase was to be a reminder to all that the only person’s whose name needs be remembered is that of Christ’s. If our name and all of our accomplishments are forgotten, but Christ is glorified in our interactions with others, then our lives will have great meaning. 

In the case of Solomon’s story (perhaps a parable, perhaps a historic account, either interpretation will suffice), a city was besieged by a greater power and (by human standards) seemed doomed to fall. Yet the city was delivered by a poor but wise man. The deliverance was remembered, but the name of the man was soon forgotten — who wants an impoverished man as a national hero anyway? 

Solomon’s conclusion, though, is the right one. Wisdom is better than might. Nations rise and fall but wisdom endures in the hearts of God’s people. Might will bring short-lived glory, but what is better — glory for a season and then captivity or wisdom that endures and preserves freedom? Need I say any more?

Though our names may be forgotten, if Christ is exalted, what more ought we want? The right answer is nothing. Let Christ be remembered — and we are remembered in the midst, so be it; if we are forgotten in the midst, so be it. It is Christ to whom we (and our works) must point.

If you are there, God…

“On this very day I came to the spring and I said, ‘Yahweh, God of my lord, Abraham, if you are there, please bring success to my way upon which I have walked.”

(Genesis 24:42)


Many of our modern English translations will render the phrase of Eliezer: “if you will prosper my way…” yet that is not a literal reading of the Hebrew text. Literally he states: DKVv‰y_MIa (im-yeshka), “if there is you.” The impression that is being given is not so much: “Lord will you please bring success,” but, “Lord, if you exist, please bring success…”

How often have we, or have we been tempted, to pray that prayer? It is the fleece that Gideon would put out and it is the test that Thomas posed — “I need to touch his pierced hands and side…” We doubt, we fear, we worry, we wonder and then we ask God over and over to assure us of his guidance — that the path we are on is exactly the path that He has designed for us to walk.

Somehow we think that things, if we are doing God’s will, will simply fall into place and be easy. That as a pastor, my congregation will swell with membership; that as a father, my children will grow up kind and respectful and obedient; and that as a husband, my wife’s life will be filled with joy and excitement and the pleasure of every new day. Perhaps that will be so in the new creation, but here we grow as wheat amongst the tares; we live in a fallen world where trials and tragedies are commonplace and where fallen people constitute our congregations. So we cry out, “God, if you are really there, won’t you…”

The amazing thing is that sometimes, God does… Yet, in reality, most of the time God is teaching us patience and persistence as well as faithfulness through the woes of a world in rebellion against truth. He has been faithful to us and if we will but read his word, we will be reminded of his many kept promises. If we but remember the path through which he has led us in life, we too will remember that even through the darkest valleys of trial, it is his rod that has guided us and his staff that has kept us secure. The pathway that Christ chose to take to heaven led through the cross; why should we expect that ours will be more comfortable?

So, let us refocus our prayers and our lives in the knowledge that God is there and ask ourselves, “What, my Lord, are you teaching me through this trial?” and then seek to apply that learning. True, that is often easier said than done, though it has been done by many believers who have walked this road ahead of us — we are not blazing a new trail. Ultimately, the goal is to be made like Christ … how long a path we all have to go toward that end…