“Young man, what do you do here?”
That was the question I overheard from the other side of the curtain. I was in the middle of inspecting the wound of Bill, a longtime diabetic who was three days out from a partial foot amputation. The query had come from Mabel in the next bed over, an elderly woman who’d fallen and broken her hip. She’d received a partial hip replacement the day prior.
Most rooms on Unit 21 had two beds, separated by a thin curtain. Not much privacy. Some of my patients were recovering from joint replacements, while others had broken bones repaired. All of them needed help with pain control, bowel movements, and learning how to walk again. That was how I came to overhear Mabel's question to the janitor who was cleaning her room.
“Who, me?” he replied in his thick Filipino accent. “Oh no. I no doctor. I just cleaner, ma’am. I just wash floor.”
“Well,” Mabel replied in articulate, polished speech, “You may push a broom or mop the floors, but you are not ‘just’ anything. What is your name?”
“Fernando, ma’am,” he replied nervously.
“Fernando, let me tell you something,” Mabel continued. “It takes a team of professionals to heal the sick and fix bones, in addition to the many other miracles you do here every day.”
“No, you no understand, ma’am. I no go to school. I from Philippines and…”
“Nonsense. Don’t underestimate your value, Fernando. Do you know what would happen if you weren’t here? Garbage would pile up, the operating theaters would never be cleaned, and everything would grind to a halt! You are just as much a part of the health care team as the doctors or nurses. And so, I want to thank you, as I’ve thanked everyone else I’ve met here, for fixing my hip and taking such good care of me.”
I could almost hear Fernando blush.
“I… uh… thank you, ma’am. You’re welcome.”
“Just remember, young man,” Mabel continued, “everyone in the hospital is here to save lives and relieve suffering. That includes you, Fernando. Say it: ‘We save lives.’”
“We save lives,” he repeated.
“Good. Now, when anyone asks you what you do here, from now on you will reply, ‘We save lives,’ because that’s exactly what you do here. Okay?”
“Okay, ma’am. I will.”
“Yes, I promise.”
With that, I heard Fernando gather up the garbage from her room and push his cleaning cart back out the door. With Bill’s bandage replaced, I quietly left and caught a glimpse of Fernando as he entered the next room. Even through his surgical mask, I could see him smiling.
Years later, Mabel’s words still resonate within me, particularly because she identified a timeless truth of the kingdom of God: every member of the body of Christ is important and valuable. There is no task too menial for God’s glory.
God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. (1 Cor 12:18-20, ESV)
All believers work for the same common goal: saving souls. We each have individual roles, based on our unique gifts, abilities, passions, and interests, and every one of them is essential to God’s plan for humanity.
Back when Israel was journeying from Egypt to Canaan, a young man named Bezalel probably felt his passion for fine art was wasted on him. In a nation of ex-slaves, where an Israelite’s only value to his Egyptian master was how much manual labor he could accomplish every day, I’m sure there were moments he wondered if he’d ever live up to his full potential as an artisan. However, God had a plan for him.
Moses said to the people of Israel, “See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft.” (Ex 35:30-33, ESV)
Bezalel’s talent wasn’t military leadership, priesthood, prophecy, or any other “useful” skill in ancient Israel. It was arts and crafts. Nonetheless, this young man was anointed. In fact, this passage is the first biblical instance of someone being filled with the Spirit of God. As such, Bezalel was instrumental in constructing the intricate designs of the tabernacle, the very place God chose to dwell among his people. What was once unfulfilled potential in Egypt as a slave was realized as a full-fledged member of God’s kingdom.
In such a hurting world, the church is the great spiritual hospital. Broken hearts are able to be ministered to by believers (i.e. the physical representation of Christ’s body on earth) and receive hope and healing. In this respect, every member of the church is important: teachers, administrators, worship leaders, receptionists, Sunday school teachers, missionaries, pastors, ushers, greeters, hosts, cooks, and cleaners. No one can adequately do the job of the other, and each of us would be hopelessly lost without everyone else.
When I was on a medical mission trip to Zambia, I met an airplane mechanic named Jim. Who would have thought he could use his skill set in the middle of rural Africa? However, without him the whole air ambulance service that the mission hospital depended on wouldn’t work. Jim’s skillful hands enabled a child with a life-threatening bowel obstruction to be flown to the capital city for proper treatment.
Or consider a woman in Bethany named Mary. She had no special talents or abilities. She didn’t even have a good reputation (Lk 7:39). All she had was a jar of perfume, which she used to anoint Jesus before his crucifixion. She was thereafter remembered for this act of worship.
Wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her. (Mt 26:12, ESV)
Whatever role we find within the church, whatever skill we have, whatever our resources, we are able to use it all for the glory of God.
It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world. (Phil 2:13-15, ESV)
Similarly, let’s not be too proud to wash dishes for Jesus.
Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God… Everyone among you [should] not think more highly of himself than he ought to think. (Rom 12:1,3, ESV)
In the Old Testament, all soldiers who went to war shared equally in the spoils, regardless of whether they fought in the battle or stayed behind with the luggage (1 Sam 30:24). In the same way, as we all share in the suffering and work of Christ, we’ll all share in the reward (Rom 8:17).
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Col 3:23-24, ESV)
Sometimes we don’t realize the potential our gifts can have for the Lord. We should never underestimate our role in God’s kingdom. The preacher and the toilet scrubber work together to serve the same Lord. As Jesus said, the first will be last and the last first (Mt 20:16) - some tasks may seem menial, but pushing a broom for the Lord may be more impactful than the televangelist we see on TV.
There are no insignificant gifts in God’s kingdom. Everyone has something to contribute based on their individual skills, passions, and abilities - athletics, academics, teaching, childcare, hospitality, conversation, humor, music, fine arts, computer sciences, medical sciences, administration, cooking, counseling… the list is endless! Like Fernando, Bezalel, Jim, and Mary, let’s keep in mind that we’re all in the business of saving lives no matter what we do for the Lord.