On one of my plane rides this past month, I watched a new documentary about the late Reverend Billy Graham. The film is called Billy Graham: An Extraordinary Journey. It is a wonderful summary of the life of Graham and the prolific reach of his ministry. There was one thing in particular about the documentary that has caused me to deeply ponder the work of an evangelist (and any other work in this life, for that matter). The film made it clear that while Graham was a world famous preacher, he always focused on the message he carried. In other words, when he traveled and spoke to packed stadiums around the world, he could have exploited his celebrity status to bring attention to himself. But he didn’t. He maintained a singular focus on bringing the story of God’s love and redemption for humanity through the person of Jesus Christ.
Billy Graham served the work to which he was called. That is an idea espoused by the 20th Century British author Dorothy Sayers. In her Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine, she said,
“There is, in fact, a paradox about working to serve the community, and it is this: that to aim directly at serving the community is to falsify the work; the only way to serve the community is to forget the community and serve the work.”
Sayers is saying that whatever our work or calling, we should serve the work in a way that stewards the work and aims towards excellence in the work. By doing so we will serve the common good of others, rather than the other way around. If Graham did this out of order, he would have preached in order to tickle the ears of his audiences. Instead, he focused on being excellent at the work of staying true to the message (regardless of whether people liked it or not) and that in turn served others.
What is your work and calling? What is the message or content of your work? How does this speak to what you do?
I know we are a long way off from Christmas, but I want to share a resource with you that I came across recently. It is called “Miracle in a Manger.” I met the founder, Kim, who assisted me at my merchandise table for one of my juggling shows in Mississippi last month. She told me about this product that she developed. It helps families celebrate the story of Christmas using an angel doll that daily teaches the children about Christmas each day leading up to the big day. They assemble a manger using supplies provided in the kit in preparation for the baby Jesus. Click here for more info.
There is a famous children’s song called Deep and Wide. You’re probably familiar with it. It goes…
Deep and wide, deep and wide. There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide (x2).-Sidney Cox, early 20th Century
The song was written by Sidney Cox, a major in the Salvation Army. He wrote hundreds of songs, but this one is arguably his most well-known. According to Cox’s grandson, though the song is sung all over the world, Cox was saddened by the fact that the verses of the songs “had basically been lost to obscurity.” Below is a copy of the song as it first appeared in the Salvation Army’s publication War Cry. You can see all three verses in this document (source).
While Cox’s lyrics point to the fountain of life flowing from the wounds of Jesus, I also see the words reflecting the imagery of a lesser-known Old Testament text – that of Ezekiel 47. In that chapter, the prophet Ezekiel is having a vision. In the vision, he is being led around Jerusalem by a person (maybe an angel, a man of God, or possibly Jesus himself). The man shows Ezekiel a stream of water flowing from the base of the temple. The water flows out toward the Dead Sea. As Ezekiel and the man follow the path of the water, the water continually gets deeper and deeper, eventually bringing all sorts of life to places where there was no life. Here is some of that text….
6 He asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?”Ezekiel 47:6-9, New International Version
Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7 When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. 8 He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh.9 Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live.”
“So where the river flows, everything will live.” -Ezekiel 47:9
One of my daughters is almost two. Deep and Wide is her favorite song to sing right now. There is something about that song, both in the tune as well as in the lyrics, that provides fun and simplicity for a two-year old. She often sings it as part of a larger medley with other children’s songs.
I love the fact that her heart, soul, and mind are filled with such powerful words. These are words that remind us that the love of Jesus is far deeper and wider than any of us can imagine (Ephesians 3:17b-18). And where his fountain flows, everything will live. I want to raise my children to always thirst for that fountain (and chase after that fountain in everything I do in life as well).
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” -Ephesians 3:17b-18
Here is my daughter singing Deep and Wide (among other tunes) by the windowsill…
I also found a beautifully crafted modern take on Deep and Wide, using lyrics from another hymn and blending those with the chorus from Deep and Wide. This comes from Daniel Bashta….
The word “vocation” comes to us from the Latin vocare, which means “to call.” Keller and Alsdorf point out that calling indicates a caller – and that caller is God. In their 2012 book, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work To God’s Work (New York, NY: Riverhead Books), Keller and Alsdorf say that vocation is simply “God’s assignment to serve others” (p. 55). They go on to say, “We are to see work as a way of service to God and our neighbor” (p. 57).
But what if you’re just a silly little juggler? What if that happens to be the thing I love to do the most in terms of work and art? Can I actually serve God and others through the ridiculousness of tossing and catching things in the air and inviting others to watch along?
It turns out that there is an instructional tale about this very topic from the Medieval period. You see, the organized Church did not always look very highly upon jugglers. Early Church writers, leaders, and pastors would dismiss the juggler as a worthless street beggar who conjured in evil practices.
I’ll give you just one example, coming from the writings of the beloved saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who was comparing the foolishness of Christians to the real-world “foolishness” of jugglers…
“Upon the eyes of all we produce the effect of jugglers and tumblers…but our foolish game has nothing boyish in it, nothing of the spectacle at the theatre, which represents low actions and with effeminate and corrupt gestures and bendings provoke the passions.”
-Bernard of Clairvaux. Some Letters of Saint Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux. 1904. Translated by Dr. Eales. Preface by Francis Aidan Gasquet. London, England: John Hodges, p. 107.
But the tale of the Juggler of Notre Dame tells a different story for the juggler. This story is originally found in a poem from the 13th Century and was rediscovered and brought to widespread attention by a French historian in the late 19th Century.
The story goes like this: a traveling minstrel/performer (often depicted as a juggler/tumbler in various versions of the story) goes from town to town, performing their tricks for whomever will watch. But after many years, the performer grows old and tired. They find refuge in a monastery, but feel worthless in that context because they feel they have nothing “spiritual” to offer in worship to God. All the other monks have skills and talents appropriate and suitable as an offering to the Lord (like writing manuscripts, singing worship songs, and tending to the gardens). But then the performer sneaks into a chamber of the monastery where there is a statue of the Virgin Mother holding the infant Jesus. The juggler performs and entertains for the statue, much to the disgust of the spying monks, but then the statue comes to life and offers a blessing in thanks to the performance of the juggler.
This story has come in various forms over the years, but the message is generally the same: even the “lowly” juggler has something special to offer in worship to God. The work and art of the juggler is an acceptable act of worship unto the Lord. God is pleased with the sacrifice of the minstrel.
Dumbarton Oaks in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington DC currently has an excellent exhibit all about this particular story and its impact in culture over the years. Below is a book I picked up that is a facsimile of an early 20th Century version of the story with notes from the curating scholar of the exhibit, Jan M. Ziolkowski of Harvard University.
As a juggler, this is such a meaningful story. I go through life having to explain to people what I do for a living and most people just look at me and say, “Oh, I’ve never met a full-time juggler before!” They have a look in their eye as if they’re trying so hard to confirm to me that what I do for a living has some sort of utilitarian value to this life. Perhaps I’m reading too much into those looks. But even I struggle with a sense of purpose and value with my work sometimes. But when I stop and remember that I really do believe God has gifted me with these abilities and that He has called me to use them to bring joy, laughter, and a message of truth to others, then I am content and grateful that this is my vocation in life.
Whatever your vocation and work may be, I pray that God would reveal to you how He is using you to serve others and bring glory to Him through that work.
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” – 1 Peter 4:10
Revelation Memory Verse. We made it! Thanks for joining me on this journey through the Bible for one memory verse per each of the 66 books of the Bible. They are all now archived at #mvotwyear on Instagram. May the Lord bless you. And know that in Him, it is finished.