Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord! Psalm 134:1
Priests and Levites worked day and night at the temple. I wonder what it was like to have the night shift? The quiet stillness. Lamplight flickering. Incense filling the air. Moonlight outlining altar and basin and casting strange shadows. I wonder if the night watch Levites loved that intimate time of service. I wonder if some of them resented the hours of labor that felt unseen and unappreciated by their fellow Israelites.
I think we have a tendency to forget the vast majority of the real work of ministry that happens in the unseen.
Have you ever thought about the number of individuals named in New Testament epistles? They intrigue me. Take, for example, Romans 16. Paul wraps up this dense and theologically rich letter with a long and detailed list.
Phoebe - our sister, a servant of the church at Cenchreae; "she has been a patron of many and of myself as well"
Prisca and Aquila - "my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life"
Epaenetus - "the first convert to Christ in Asia"
Mary - "who has worked hard for you"
Andronicus and Junia - "my kinsmen and fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me."
Ampliatus - "my beloved in the Lord"
Urbanus - "our fellow worker in Christ"
Stachys - "my beloved"
Apelles - "approved in Christ"
Herodian - "my kinsman"
The families of Aristobulus and Narcissus
Tryphaena and Tryphosa - "those workers in the Lord"
"The beloved Persis" - "who has worked hard in the Lord"
Rufus - "Chosen in the Lord"
Rufus's mother - "who has been a mother to me as well"
Nereus and his sister
These were Paul's people. He loved them. They'd been through fire and storm together. Do you notice how many of them are called "fellow workers?" Or think about Rufus's mother - her name isn't even given, but she had "been a mother" to... the Apostle Paul! Can you imagine how lonely this man's life was at times? We have no indication that his family ever put their faith in Jesus; this unnamed woman cared for him like a mother.
One of the reasons I love these lists of names is the glimpse it gives us into church life. These small house churches of people, sometimes instructed to get along and forgive one another (Philippians 4:2), were full of fellow workers. Paul wasn't doing the work of the ministry alone - he couldn't! He wasn't even there! These were the people learning to love one another, point one another to Jesus, serve radically in their communities, stand strong through very real persecution. They were "standing by night in the house of the Lord," living quiet, faithful, unseen lives of service. We probably don't remember their names - but Paul did. More importantly, Jesus does.
Now and then I have an opportunity to speak for other churches' women's events and retreats. Frequently, I'll end up standing in the back with the women's ministry director or a member of their leadership team. I love how these women look at their women. They will often start pointing out certain individuals to me, telling me pieces of their stories and how God has been at work in their lives, telling me of ministry they have shared together, telling me stories of faithfulness through unimaginable suffering.
I might be privileged to open the Word of God in a special way with these groups, but I'm not the one who will deeply mark these congregations. These women who faithfully serve in their churches, loving people who are sometimes hard to love, showing up with casseroles and flowers on the doorsteps of the grieving, joyfully caring for children in the church nursery, teaching and exhorting those who are spiritually young or struggling, training up others who know the Word of God and obey what it says - these are the ones serving by night, unseen. They're the ones doing the real work of ministry.
I'm grateful for conferences and Bible studies and books and podcasts and the incredible wealth of resources available today. But I'm convinced that the vast majority of life-changing ministry is being done in local churches by faithful people who might feel anonymous and unseen.
But God sees. He knows. It's all for Him. Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord.