There are times when we will be seen, and times when what we do or experience will be unseen. I have come to understand there is a place for both of these things, and that the way God sees this is different from what we naturally perceive with our human eyes. 1 Samuel describes,
“… For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel chapter 16, verse 7)
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Dichotomy of the seen and unseen
On one hand, we appreciate human acknowledgement and encouragement. On the other hand, we know that God sees even what others do not, and that there is treasure being stored up in heaven for the things unseen. We want to please God, but we also want a reputation and a testimony before people. So are we living to be seen, or unseen, or are we missing the point?
In her sermon, “Annointing vs. Gifting”, Christine Caine says this:
“You don’t need to be discovered, you need to be developed, conformed, and transformed into the image of Jesus Christ.”
Christ-like transformation has aspects that are unseen – the private time we spent praying, reading the Word of God, resting in the presence of God. It also impacts our lives in a way that is visible – our lifestyle, what we choose to read or listen to, how we speak. In certain circumstances, God’s call on our lives will lead us to do things that are unseen – an act of kindness or kind word spoken to someone without anyone else knowing. It might also lead us to do things that are publicly visible – to lead a group of people, serve on a worship team, speak out a message to a group of people.
The focus is not on whether or not we receive what we perceive to be a rightful reward for our efforts. Rather, why do we do what we do? Is it something we just want to do for ourselves, or are we aware of the calling and purpose God has placed on our lives. If we know what the Father has called us to, we know that the most satisfying thing is to be right in the center of God’s will, doing whatever He has called us to do at this time whether it seems “big” or “small”.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.”
(Proverbs chapter 3, verses 4-5)
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When we are seen
I remember that feeling of discomfort I had when I realised how people valued “stage ministry”. So strong was this feeling, I initially tried to avoid people who were wanting to seek me out after the service. That was many years ago and I have since learnt a lot about what it means to be service in place where people can see you!
It has been quite a journey and I am so thankful for the many people that God placed around me to teach and exemplify what it looks like to serve faithfully and lovingly in a public ministry. So here are some of the things I have learnt:
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Be faithful to live for God on and off stage | Consistency is a testimony. As we exhort people in a public setting, we can also exhort people privately. As we proclaim the goodness of God on a stage, we can also proclaim that goodness of God in our daily lives through thanksgiving in prayer and sharing testimonies with those around us. As we declare that we will follow Christ in song, we can live that out daily and it is something people will see more in more than a single Sunday service.
Don’t be afraid to step out in faith | “You don’t have to be someone you’re not, but don’t be afraid to step out in faith.” The context; that the worship team might be encouraged in stage presence to worship God, but also be aware that we were up here for a reason. While worshipping, we also had a responsibility to encourage the congregation to worship God. That might mean we lift up our hands, smile, step forward and share with them some joy in our enthusiasm and celebration of our God. Stepping out in faith might not be comfortable at first, but in understanding what God has called us to do, we also lay down our fear, uncertainty and discomfort to let Him use us fully as He desires.
Develop the gifts God has given | It is a vulnerable place to be when serving in a place where we are seen. Weaknesses are more easily exposed, but this is a fantastic opportunity to be grown in character. Someone once described being willing to “lay our gift on the table and let others speak into it”. When we do this, we humbly submit ourselves to a process of development and the outcome is incredible. I learn so much from the team around me – not just musically, but spiritually and we encourage and build one another up.
Remember to treasure time in the secret place | Rosters and commitments to various things can make life busy. However, it is important to remind ourselves that our first and foremost purpose in life is to love God and be loved by Him. I know I keep reminding myself of where everything started – my journalling, my own private worship sessions with God. Sometimes it gets busy, but I try to protect some time where it can be just me and God. I realise this time has to be intentionally set aside, or it can be easily lost in the flurry of ministry activities and life.
Use the opportunities God gives | If someone happens to notice us because of what we are doing, great! We have an opportunity to meet with someone and share with them the testimony God has given us. Taking time to genuinely listen to someone and appreciate them is part of living out God’s command to love others. Why not use every and any opportunity to show people they are loved. No-one has a ministry that precludes them from this, but we are all called to love those around us whether those we have known for a long time, or someone who is new to us.
One last thought about being seen; we are all witnesses for the kingdom of God. We might not desire fame or publicity, but like it or not, we are witnesses and our testimony will be noticed by people. So, regardless of whether or not we want a “public ministry”, we all have one in the testimony of how we choose to live our daily lives.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
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When we are unseen
What about the unseen things that we do? One person who really inspires me in this is my mother. While her loving and faithful nature is clear to see, I am not sure people necessarily know just how much she does without complaint or boast. Away from the public eye, she is praying constantly – thanking God for every small blessing, praying for people continually, encouraging people in private conservations and praying individually with them. She does not necessarily get acknowledgement for all of this, but day after day she perseveres in prayer, and she does so joyfully because she is spending time with her Father in Heaven. How amazing it is to have a contentment in Christ like that!
The temptations of serving in “unseen” ministry include jealousy, and discontentment. There might be a desire, as we mentioned earlier, about wanting to be “discovered” rather than developed and transformed in the image of Christ. However, there is a great comfort in knowing that nothing is hidden from God. Luke 16 says this:
“He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.” (Luke chapter 16, verse 10)
We do not always see the impact of what we do on earth, but when we obey God’s call, we know we are part of building His kingdom. Ananias obeyed God and prayed over Paul who subsequently encouraged many churches, and spoke the gospel to many cities. Billy Graham came to know Christ at a meeting where evangelist Mordecai Ham was speaking. The legacy of Billy Graham and the people who gave their lives to Jesus at his crusades is well known today. We do not know what God might do with what we perceive to be small acts of obedience, but we can trust that His way is good and that He always has a plan and purpose.
Whether or not we perceive the opportunities God gives us to be small or big, we all have a calling to obey and to do whatever is before us with all our strength. We might plant, we might water, but God is the one who makes things grow.
“And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” (Colossians chapter 3, verse 23-24)