Benjamin Franklin made famous the proverb,
For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
For want of a horse, the rider was lost.
For want of a rider, the battle was lost.
For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
These familiar words came to mind Sunday as I watched the Cincinnati Bengals play the Pittsburgh Steelers. I am a huge Joe Burrow fan; it was exciting to see him throw a touchdown for the Bengals at the end of the game to tie the score. All that remained was the extra point, the most automatic play in football.
Except the Bengals’ long snapper was injured. The team had to use a backup tight end as the substitute. His snap was slower than normal, allowing a Steelers player to block the kick.
I have been watching football since I can remember, but I do not remember ever seeing such a play. A backup long snapper has to be among the very last things a team thinks about in preparation for a game. But in this case, the backup long snapper cost them a win in regulation.
In overtime, the Bengals drove down the field for a game-winning field goal. This time, the backup snapper’s hike was too high and the field goal was missed.
Ironically, the Steelers went on to win the game—by a field goal.
Nothing worth proving can be proven
One of the many ways the Christian faith offers a better way of life than secular materialism is the biblical emphasis on the significance of every person, whatever their cultural status.
Secularism, by definition, must value most that which is valuable in the saeculum (Latin for “world”). But this world is transitory and fallen. What seems most significant today is often forgotten tomorrow. As I watched the NFL on Sunday, I could not remember who won the Super Bowl just two years ago.
Materialism, also by definition, must value what it can measure in material terms. But, as any counselor will attest, relationships cannot be purchased. The things that matter most are not things. And, as Alfred, Lord Tennyson noted, nothing worth proving can be proven.
“I have summoned you by name”
The Bible, by contrast, is adamant that every human being is created by God in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27).
Paul explained, “The body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body” (1 Corinthians 12:14–16).
Paul then asked, “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?” (v. 17). Then he applied his analogy to the church: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (v. 27).
All across Scripture, unnamed people make a difference that changes eternity. Some examples:
- Saul’s unnamed servant encouraged him to meet with Samuel, leading to Saul’s anointing as king (1 Samuel 9:6).
- An unnamed nurse preserved the life of Joash for six years; he then became one of Judah’s greatest kings (2 Kings 11:2–3).
- An unnamed boy brought his lunch to Jesus, who then turned it into a feast for five thousand families (John 6:9).
- Paul’s unnamed nephew exposed a plot against his life (Acts 23:16), enabling books of the New Testament the apostle would not otherwise have lived to write.
And, all across Scripture, God proves that he knows our name even if no one else cares. Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and Peter come to mind.
God’s word to Israel is his assurance to you and me: “I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).
“The very paving stones seemed marked”
Two conclusions follow.
One: Your obedience to God is significant far beyond the world’s ability to measure. As a wise mentor once counseled me, stay faithful to the last word you heard from God and open to the next. Your every act of faithfulness echoes in eternity.
Two: The faithfulness of your people to God is their most significant contribution to the common good. They need to be reminded regularly that, whether the world recognizes and affirms their obedience or not, God sees and rewards their service.
The bottom line is simple and clear: the key to true significance is not whether the world knows your name but whether you are faithful to the God who does.
Let’s close with an example: a British revivalist named Henry Varley befriended a young American named D. L. Moody in Dublin. Just before Moody returned to the United States, Varley spoke words he did not remember speaking.
However, according to Moody, Varley’s words were “sent to my soul, through you, from the living God. As I crossed the wide Atlantic, the boards of the deck of the vessel were engraved with them, and when I reached Chicago, the very paving stones seemed marked” with them.
What were they?
Varley had told Moody, “The world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to him.” Moody resolved to be that man. And God used Moody to reach millions with the gospel.
You may not know Henry Varley’s name, but that’s the point, isn’t it?