My grandfather was an Italian immigrant who came to Philadelphia at the turn of the 20th century. He worked in a slaughterhouse and later at a refinery. He loved chin-ups and bowling and could fix anything. On a wall in the workshop basement of his small South Philadelphia row home was a collection of the hard hats he would wear to the refinery each day. When he retired, he gave me a hard hat and wrote my name on the front. I was about eight years old, and his number one priority in retirement was to teach me everything he thought I should know in life. He taught me how to catch a bus into Center City and navigate the subway system; he taught me how to polish my shoes and how to fix things around the house. He wanted me to be like him, and I wanted to be like him.
Without ever knowing it he also taught me an important lesson about ministry. One morning he decided to paint a wall in the basement. He handed me a paint brush, dipped it in the open can, and told me to paint as much as I could as carefully as I could. He said, “Don’t worry about what you miss; I’ll take care of it.” I took the brush and carefully applied the paint in broad strokes as far as I my reach allowed. I started on my knees and then stood up on my feet and then rose to my tiptoes to make sure I covered as much area as possible. Despite my best efforts, the section still looked like it was painted by an eight-year-old boy. My grandfather then painted what I couldn’t reach, filled in the areas I missed, and smoothed over some of the spots where too much paint was applied. At the end of the day the whole wall was glowing with a fresh coat of bright white paint. It was “our wall,” we did it together and our efforts produced my grandfather’s desired mission.
1 Timothy 1:12 says, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considers me trustworthy, appointing me to his service.” When God calls us to ministry, He knows our strengths and weaknesses, our capabilities, and our limitations — and He calls us anyway. Why? Because we are never serving alone. The One who made us, strengthens us, and guides us, works through us and sometimes even around us to fulfill His purposes. It’s not our giftedness but God’s faithfulness that we rely on in ministry.