Names Nobody Remembers
Dozens of people had filed out of the movie theater. Custodians began to sweep up popcorn kernels as the background music played and the credits rolled. I sat in a row with my family, crunching the remains of my popcorn bag while each name made its way from the bottom to the top of the giant screen in front of us. Ever since I can remember my parents made us stay until the very end of every movie we went to. A family friend who worked on the hidden side of Hollywood instilled in them a desire to give respect to every single person who worked on set.
I remember watching the list of names scroll up, randomly picking out interesting monikers and job titles. The few seconds on screen for months or years of work seemed unfair–maybe even inconsequential. We were the only ones there in the theater watching, after all.
I wonder if this is how we view the majority of our own days. So much of our toil and labor often feels to slip by like those credits–a few seconds of notoriety to an empty theater. We’re surrounded by influencers, celebrities, and best selling authors who attract attention–yet most of us labor in seemingly inconsequential ways. We strive and toil each day mostly in anonymity.
Though the world’s idea of success might see our small days lacking, our good God operates very differently. He has a knack for using people lost in the credit roll. We can see this beautifully in the story of the Israelites in Ezra and Nehemiah.
Ezra finds God’s people returning again to their homeland of Israel. God moved King Cyrus to allow his people the means to rebuild the destroyed temple. In chapter two, the writer of Ezra records the names of the returnees who came to take part in this huge endeavor. What is notable is that the majority of people in this list are unfamiliar names. We don’t know much of anything about them. Their names are mere markers of lives we can only imagine. They are blips on the pages of Scripture that we gloss over to get to “the good stuff”.
Yet that’s not how God saw them. God chose them to return and take part in rebuilding his temple. He moved these unknown families to serve, work, and give towards the project. Because of their ministry, the fulfillment of God’s promise was enacted. Through their small, repeated donations of time, energy, gifts, and money the whole endeavor was supported.
The unknown names we skim through were people just like us. Their small lives didn’t make the chronicles of history. They didn’t hold the titles of influencer or celebrity. They weren’t rolling in money, power, or prestige. Yet these anonymous Israelites took part in constructing the temple that would one day be visited by Jesus, himself.
Perhaps nobody remembered the man who stacked stone upon stone on the eastern wall of the temple that day. Maybe the gifter of the fabric for the wall hangings would be forgotten. But one day the Son of God himself would walk through that temple–touch those stones, and look upon the wall hangings, and he would remember their toil hundreds of years before. He would remember the fathful service of a group of unknown servants of Yahweh.
Did God need this group of nobodies? No, of course not–just as he doesn’t need a group of celebrities. Yet God chose these men and women to use their gifts and abilities for his great purposes. He included “ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary results” (Ulrich, The Now and Not Yet, 59). And he does the same for us today.
In the midst of our small, ordinary lives, our Father uses us as part of something greater. When we’re sweeping the floor and wiping off the dirty faces of our children, we’re being used in his plan of bringing order and goodness into a world marked by chaos. When we text a friend with a verse and prayer of encouragement, our small action becomes the fulfillment of another’s prayer for help. When the automatic payment to our church goes through, we are joining hands in the mission of God in our community with our meager offering.
Our days of humdrum meetings, repetitive tasks, and miniscule victories might feel small, even foolish, but Ezra and Nehemiah demonstrate first-hand how God chooses the foolish things of the world to accomplish his purpose (1 Cor. 1:27). Our names fit right next to the list of unknown names throughout history: men and women who helped rebuild the temple, gave to the early church, discipled children in the middle ages, taught in a schoolhouse in the 1800s, or ordered Grubhub for an ailing church member last week.
Maybe you look at the day of small work ahead and feel like you really are last on that credit roll. Maybe you feel like your labor flits by a screen to a seemingly empty room. But friends, the theater is never really empty. Our Savior watches. He sees each name. He sees you and me. In fact, he chose us to do those specific small tasks (Eph. 2:10). In his goodness, he joins our work together to build something beautiful. This time it’s not a temple, but a kingdom of light and goodness in a dark world.
Pick up your little stones today, and join the millions of names nobody can remember building the kingdom nobody will forget.
Join My Newsletter!
Each month I send out a newsletter that highlights some of the small graces I’ve been drinking from that month. They might be music we've been listening to in our home, a story of God's kindness, or a new-favorite recipe.
When you sign up, you'll also receive a free download of a collection of writings about the way God uses memorials in our lives. I hope you'll join!