The Importance of a Hidden Life

Pop Quiz:

  • What was the name of Jesus’ maternal grandmother?
  • Who taught John Wycliffe to read and write?
  • Who led Billy Graham to faith in Jesus?

Were you able to come up with answers?

Liane Metzler via Unsplash

If you were raised in the Catholic church, you may have remembered the name of Anne for Jesus’ grandmother (mentioned in the Protevangelium of James, a book in the Apocrypha). Me, I had not a clue.

For Wycliffe, it’s doubtful you, or anyone, knows who imparted the skills of reading and writing into his life.

If you google Billy Graham, you’ll discover that a traveling evangelist named Mordecai Ham led Graham to Christ at a revival meeting when he was 15. Without the magic of Google, I would never have known, and I probably will never remember.

And yet almost everyone knows Mary, Jesus’ mother, who, when confronted by an angel telling her she would give birth to the Messiah, answered, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” Was it Anne, if that was indeed her name, who taught Mary that someday one favored woman would be the mother of the Messiah, taught her to welcome the news with submission, even though the rumors and humiliation would be difficult to bear? If Mary were unaware of God’s promises, untrained in the practice of following God, what would the result have been?

Aaron Burden via Unsplash

And what would have happened if no one had taught John Wycliffe to read or write, both in English and in Latin? It was this knowledge that spurred him on to defy authority, to translate the Bible from Latin into the English of his day so any person who could read had access to the Word of God. How many more years, or centuries, would an English translation have waited if Wycliffe had never learned to read and write?

If Mordecai Ham had desired a safe and profitable life, had stayed in Chicago running his business instead of shuttering it to preach the gospel, would Billy Graham have come to know Jesus? Would he have been inspired to be a traveling evangelist?

It’s easy to say that God would have brought someone else along to do these things, to train Mary (or another Jewish virgin), to teach Wycliffe (or another Englishman), to lead Graham (or another young American) to a saving faith and a heart for evangelism. And it’s probably true.

But somewhere, sometime—many, many somewheres and many, many sometimes, in fact—God needs faithful followers who will do what he calls them to do, even if no one ever knows of their existence, even as the person they disciple changes the world and becomes a household name.

It’s Ash Wednesday, a day of repentance and confession,
so here comes one:

I want to be known.
I desire my work to be acknowledged.
I crave recognition.

David Marcu via Unsplash

But that is not the way of Christ. Most of us will never have that. Instead we walk the quiet path, called to faithfulness. Maybe it’s faithfully raising your children, teaching your Sunday school class, washing endless quantities of dishes and clothing. Perhaps you show up at your job every day and do the best work you can, even when it’s mind-numbing. Your calling might be to joyfully pastor a small church in the middle of nowhere week after week, year after year, without the “success” promised by the latest how-to manual.

Wherever God has placed you, I want to encourage you (and me) to remember, you just might be an Anne, or the unnamed teacher of a translator, or a Mordecai. Our callings matter. They matter to God. They matter to those with whom we interact. They matter to future generations. We just may not know on this side of eternity.

I have often been inspired to keep pressing on in faithfulness by the closing sentence of  George Eliot’s classic Middlemarch. And so I leave you with it. May this be you, World Changer:

“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts;
and that things are not so ill with you and me as
they might have been is half owing to
the number who lived faithfully a hidden life,
and rest in unvisited tombs.”





6 thoughts on “The Importance of a Hidden Life”

  1. Living a hidden life. But it is so different than what most of us want – I think especially those of us who write to express our thoughts and to create a world of ideas of visions. Your willingness to be humbly honest with your humanity is so refreshing and encouraging. And your quote…now I have to go read George Elliot again!

    • It really is foreign to our desires, Kathleen. Thanks for your kind words; I try to be as transparent as I think most people can handle! Just be warned: Middlemarch is a l-o-o-n-n-g book, but an interesting analysis of humans.


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