The wind is blowing hard, so I get up to close my office window. As usual, I pause for a moment, letting my gaze linger upon the gut-pinching view.
Sitting by the Stuff
Finding Spiritual Fulfillment in Mundane Tasks
By Shandra Kilby
The wind is blowing hard, so I get up to close my office window. As usual, I pause for a moment, letting my gaze linger upon the gut-pinching view. Every time I look out my window a desperate emotion boils up, threatening to leap from my throat, but somehow I am addicted to the sight. Haggard towers, pockmarked from bullet holes; rushing lines of traffic; countless rows of laundry flapping from countless apartment balconies in the dirty air of Beirut—the view represents millions of unreached people. As my fingers close around the window frame, a nearby mosque begins its mournful call to prayer. For a moment I consider the sheer number of people who have never heard the gospel message—people right outside my window—and my heart can barely keep itself from bursting. But obediently I shut the window and sit back down at my desk.
After all, it’s not my job to reach those people.
I work as a personal assistant for an Adventist office in the Middle East. Like countless other denominational employees throughout the world church, I complete reports, fill out statistical data forms, and collect information from our various fields. On slower days I water the potted plants and clean the windows. It’s a job that goes by many names—personal assistant, secretary, or administrative assistant—but whatever it may be called, I’m quite sure that I’m not the only one in our denomination who can sometimes feel that the stack of reports cuts a cruel dividing line between me, the office worker, and “them,” the mission of the church: those nameless, faceless people waiting to be touched by heart-to-heart ministry. We want to be out there, leading souls into a relationship with Christ—but for whatever reason, God has called some of us to jobs that have less action.
Are office workers missionaries? Are those engaged in denominational support roles really partaking in ministry? Recently I began searching God’s Word to see if it offers any advice for office workers.
Tarrying by the Stuff
First Samuel 30 tells the harrowing story of when David and his 600 men returned to the city of Ziklag to find it plundered, burned, and looted. Their wives, children, and livestock had been captured, and, as can be expected, David and his men fell into momentary despair. Hastily pulling themselves together, they determined to pursue the retreating Amalekite army—not an easy feat! Burdened down with weapons, food, and presumably a fair amount of other military supplies, they promptly departed.
The Bible doesn’t specify whether they were speed-walking, jogging, or running, but it does say that by the time David and his 600 men reached the brook Besor, one third of his men were too exhausted to continue. Rather than taking a break for his men to rest, David decided to leave the 200 weary soldiers at the brook. To lighten the load of the still-pursuing 400, he had them leave their baggage with the exhausted men. The Bible records that these 200 men tarried by the stuff (1 Sam. 30:24).
Many office workers feel like those 200 men who had to sit by the “stuff” while others go forward to fight the battles of the Lord. Our role can feel unimportant, unrecognized, and insignificant. But, like the exhaustion of the men, we each have our own things that keep us back from crossing the creek. Health issues, family obligations, age, experience, education, or other circumstances can keep devoted Christians from doing frontline, soul-winning ministry. We can be left pondering whether we are really contributing to the mission of the church.
If you’ve wondered about that, you wouldn’t be the first one. In fact, some of David’s own men accused the 200 of being unworthy to share the reward at the end. Verse 22 records that after David’s army rescued their families and possessions from the Amalekites, some of his soldiers felt that the 200 who had “tarried by the stuff” should not share in the spoils. “Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except for every man’s wife and children, that they may lead them away and depart.”
It was as if the support staff that remained behind was substandard, lazy, and unworthy of a reward. The ones from the battlefront urged them just to take their wives and be gone.
Not so with David.
David must have recognized that these 200 men, although not engaged in hand-to-hand combat on the battlefield, were nonetheless a valuable asset to his army. After all, if they hadn’t stayed by the luggage—thus lightening the load of the pursuers—perhaps they wouldn’t have been able to travel fast enough to catch up with the enemy. David’s answer to the disgruntled fighters is inspiring:
“My brethren, you shall not do so with what the Lord has given us, who has preserved us and delivered into our hand the troop that came against us. . . . As his part is who goes down to the battle, so shall his part be who stays by the supplies; they shall share alike” (verses 23, 24).
The book Christ’s Object Lessons shares an interesting tidbit from God’s perspective for those who stay by the “stuff”—or, in our day, stay in the office: “Not the amount of labor performed or its visible results but the spirit in which the work is done makes it of value with God.”1 Not everybody can fight on the front lines, but we can faithfully stay by the duties given to us. We can care devotedly for the supplies and pray for those who are in battle. At the end of the day, whether we have been wielding a sword or tending supplies, God will give us an equal reward. Although we office workers might not be baptizing new members or preaching evangelistic series, God views our humble, devoted efforts as worthy of the same recompense!
Finding Meaning in the Mundane
When I look out my office window, the sight of a massive city full of lost individuals drives a restless wedge of pain into my ribcage. When I see the girl 6 or 7 years old begging at the traffic intersection; when I meet the hauntingly beautiful Muslim woman with a purple bruise under her eye; when I observe the Syrian refugees, the young men already showing dramatic streaks of gray hair—I can only pray for more workers on our front line. As for me, I would like to know that my life makes a difference here—for someone, anyone. I am energized to know that what I do in the office, no matter how mundane it may be, plays a small part in supporting the other “400” who are called to be on the front line.
Thus it is recorded that “the work of many may appear to be restricted by circumstances; but, wherever it is, if performed with faith and diligence it will be felt to the uttermost parts of the earth. Christ’s work when upon earth appeared to be confined to a narrow field, but multitudes from all lands heard His message. God often uses the simplest means to accomplish the greatest results.”2
Whether we are waiting by the brook Besor or are in the heat of the battle, let us take courage that God counts our labor as valuable, and if we are faithful, our work will be felt to the uttermost parts of the earth.
1-Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1900), p. 398.
2-Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 822.