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In Honor4 of the Serving Unknowns

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Text:  Nehemiah 7:1-4; 11:1-36


            A preacher and an invalid sister…one who served the Lord very publicly, the other who did so very quietly behind the scenes…the former, you probably have never heard his name nor benefited from his preaching…the later, you’ve probably been touched by her words again and again.  The preacher?…Henry Venn Elliott.  His invalid sister?…Charlotte Elliott.  He penned hundreds of sermons…she penned one hymn…and even that with doubts and inner conflict over her frustration to be able to serve the Lord in a big way like her brother.  Still not familiar?  Then how about the words of her 3rd stanza that described her own pilgrimage:  “Just as I am, tho tossed about…with many a conflict, many a doubt…fightings and fears within, without…O Lamb of God, I come!  I come!”

            Many years later, when reflecting on the impact his sister made in penning this one hymn, Henry Elliott said, “In the course of a long ministry I hope I have been permitted to see some fruit of my labors…but I feel far more has been done by a single hymn of my sister’s ‘Just As I Am.’”

            Through the ministry of Billy Graham…the only invitation hymn he ever used…more people have been ushered into the Kingdom of Heaven through this one song than most other preachers combined.

            Charlotte Elliott…an unknown, but willing servant still moves my heart each time I hear her hymn. 

            How about you, servant of God?  Wondering if your small contribution will ever impact anyone?  Do you have secret wishes that you could do something more public…more impacting?  Well we are about to discover that God sees your willing, but small ministry…and added together, they all impact the Kingdom of Heaven.

            We are now ready for chapter 11 of our study of Nehemiah.  We are going to back up and catch a few verses of chapter 7, a chapter we skipped previously, because it provides the backdrop for chapter 11.  In chapter 7 the wall had just been completed.  Security for the city had been established, responsibilities had been delegated and their daily schedules had been set.  Everything seems to be running smoothly…but there’s one major problem…very few people were living inside the city because the homes were in rubble.  Neh. 7:1-4

            The rubble of several generations of vacancy and travelers passing through taking what they wanted, produced more work to rebuild than it would be to start from scratch on clear land, so those who returned from Babylon chose to live outside the city in other hamlets.  Nehemiah now had the task of repopulating the now-secured city.  He had a plan, but he needed people with willing hearts to accomplish it.  Neh. 11:1-2

1.      Put yourself in their shoes…given the option, would you have chosen to live in the rubble of Jerusalem after returning from Babylon?      Yet, what does Jerusalem mean to the heart of the Jew?
Insight: To the Jew, Jerusalem was Zion – the place to be honored, the place of God’s delight.  It was the site of their roots as a nation and their faith…the site of the Ark of the Covenant and God’s presence.

2.      Does anything strike you about how they chose who would make the move?  (Tangible, yet nondiscriminatory way of deciding who would make the move.)

3.      Verse 2 reveals a second group of people who chose to make the move.  They are special.  How so?
Insight: These are the first of the “willing unknowns” of our story, who chose on their own to make the move.  “Volunteered” in Hebrew, nadab, means “to feel impelled, to incite from within.”  This implies they had a heart that was willing and generous.

4.      Have you ever moved?  What’s it like for the family?  (Uprooting the family is tough as you leave friends and the familiar to move to the strange and unfamiliar.)

5.      As we move into the rest of chapter 11, there are 5 groups of the willing unknowns…5 groups that volunteered to make the move.  See if you can spot the 5 groups.  (1. Those that volunteered to move.  2. The priests, Levites & temple servants who worked inside the temple.   3. Those that worked outside the temple.  4. Those who supported the ministry through prayer.  5. Those who served the Lord with singing.)

6.      What was the number of those who worked inside the temple?  (822)      Yet how many were named?  (3) 
Insight: That’s quite a staff!  Yet so very few were named specifically.  The majority did jobs that most people took for granted, like dusting and refilling lamps and running errands.  They served anonymously and without notice so that God’s people could be blessed.

7.      What was the total of those who worked outside the temple?  (242+128=370)  Once again, only the heads of the households were named and the majority never had their name listed.  Yet their role was important.  How so?  (They kept up the exterior beauty of the temple and grounds so that the temple displayed the glory of God who made them His chosen people to all those who visited.)

8.      Mattaniah, Bakbukiah and Abda…ever heard of them before?  Probably not – this is the only place they are listed in Scripture.  They probably couldn’t preach worth anything, but they could pray.  How important have you found those in your life that pray for you…pray a hedge of protection around you…pray for healing, strength and wisdom, etc?  (They are critical in my life…I couldn’t go on without them!)

9.      The last group of the unknown willing is the singers.  As is the case in most churches, one is named, while the others go unnamed.  What happens to the quality of worship when the rest of the team doesn’t develop their gifts and give of their time as a ministry to God and others?


            Why spend a whole lesson on a bunch of people nobody has ever heard of, whose names we’ll never remember?  Because if I struggle from time-to-time with my self-esteem, I have an idea you do to.  Almost every one wonders if it would make any difference at all if we were not doing what we do on this earth.  If you doubt the impact of your seemingly small talents, let’s recap what we learned from the willing unknowns in Scripture.

            Your gift makes you valuable, even if you are not popular.  If your gift never reaches the spotlight, don’t let it weigh you down.  You are as valuable as Mattaniah, or Uzzi, and you are just as well-known to God.

            Every labor done in love is remembered by God…never forgotten.  Let the words of this passage soak down to your soul: Heb. 6:10.

            Our final rewards will be determined on our personal faithfulness, not public applause.  American Idol may never televise your talent or gift of service that is made in the back row or the prayer closet, but God doesn’t reward us according to the plaques on our wall or the thank-you notes in our filing cabinet.  He rewards according to the pure-hearted service we render to others.

            Perhaps the sting of no recognition will dissipate if we took on the attitude of Yohana Omari, the first African bishop in Tanzania:  “I want to be like the little donkey our Lord chose to ride on to enter Jerusalem.  They laid their robes on it and shouted, but the shouting was all for the Lord Jesus whom he was carrying.” 

            If you’re at peace with your role in the Kingdom, help someone else find their peace.  Pick out someone who does a behind-the-scenes service to others and drop them a card of appreciation in the mail, or whisper a “thank you” in their ear.  Take a moment to pause and see whom the Holy Spirit brings to mind right now.  Jot their name down so you don’t forget to do it later.

            Finally, be encouraged by the words the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Colossae.  Col. 3:23-24

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