“When we’re finished with you, you will no longer be David Webb…”
I don’t know how familiar you are with the “Big Men” of American folklore. The cast contains the likes of Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, John Henry, etc. Reality drifts in to myth, and things get larger than life: Johnny Appleseed planted ALL the apple trees in America, Paul Bunyan dug the Great Lakes to hold enough maple syrup for himself and all his lumberjacks, or John Henry wielded two twenty pound hammers and so on.
The songs say that John Henry was dedicated to working on the railroad. He went up to the captain, and basically volunteered to do well, anything (“I can hoist a jack, I can lay a track // I can pick and shovel too”). He was not a slacker. He knew his limits, but he really gave himself to a job well done, to the point of saying:
“Oh a man ain’t nothin’ but a man // ‘Fore I let your steam drill beat me down // I’ll die with my hammer in my hand.”
In my favorite action film of all time, the hero has a very unpleasant recollection of the moment of his recruitment to the Black Ops organization that entangles him. In the brief flashbacks we see him being “trained” (read: tortured) in various ways – verbal abuse, mindgames, even something that amounts to drowning. Over and over they ask him if he is still all in – Will he “give himself to the program“?
At the time, he thought he did. Bourne didn’t sell out for the right thing and ultimately he decided that was not who he was or what he wanted to be. He un-gave himself to the program. He decided it wasn’t worth trading his identity for that of an assassin.
What about John Henry? Where did his dedication put him? Tragically, the songs say that though he beat the steamdrill he “laid down his hammer and he died”. He wanted so badly to prove that a man can do a job better than a machine, and nothing would get the best of him on the job. And he sold out to the point of death for that.
Was it clever? Consider, in the workers versions of the song they sing “The hammer killed John Henry // but it won’t kill me.”
So when I think about how to prioritize my time, and what things I really want to be dedicated to, I always come back to this: is it worth my life? I’m not so sure proving your railroad superiority is. Neither is being an assassin. Don’t give yourselves to that program!
So what about you? What are the “programs” in your life? Is it work, like it was for John Henry? Is what other people say about you, like it was for Bourne? Some hobby, or relationship?
So one of my other favorite guys is Steven, you know from Acts 6. Basically he’s hangin out, and doin stuff, and the apostles come pick him to “serve tables”. Seriously. Not the most glamorous, right?
But Steven doesn’t see it like that. He’s not really a bells and whistles kind of guy anyway, and he knew Whose servant he was. He took the “ministry of the table” so that the other dudes can take care of the “ministry of the word,” and the Word of God could go out. He was a man of good repute. And he was full – not of himself, but of the Spirit, and of wisdom, faith, grace, (and power!) who surely “kept hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.” He wasn’t a slacker. He was all in. Cashed out. He was quite obedient and he knew his scriptures.
You can see this when he gives his speech before the Sanhedrin. Just before they kill him.
Was he sold out for waiting tables? No, man. The food service industry isn’t super fun, even today, and definitely isn’t worthy dying for. No. He gave himself to something much bigger.
He sold out for the “Ruler and Redeemer, the Righteous One”. The bringer of his redemption, the one who would say “Well done, My good and faithful servant, enter My rest.” Clearly, Steven “served well [and] gain[ed] an excellent standing and great assurance in [his] faith in Christ Jesus.”
And that’s an identity and calling worth selling out for.