The following is a quotation from James Hudson Taylor, speaking to a gathering of field workers Pingyang, Shanxi in 1886.
Now do not you and I also want to live such lives [like the Apostle Paul] as will emphasize our teaching ? But it is no use living such lives as would emphasize it, if our lives are out of sight, and our teaching only is in sight. Must we not seek to make our lives as public as our teaching? It is a grave difficulty. The man who lives two or three miles away from the chapel, and goes and preaches to the people, is often disappointed.
I have known of more than one going away disappointed after having preached some thousands of sermons, but who did not live among the people. I believe if such men could have worked in a carpenter's shop all day, and have preached half the sermons, their life would have been so much more visible, that the sermons would have gone further. What wisdom we neednot only to live such lives as would emphasize our teaching, but to see that our lives are such, that those who receive the teaching can catch the emphasis too!
Paul's life was a very public one. When he was thrust into the common prison, and when he went from place to place, suffering trial, loss, and sorrow, his life was not hidden. He was able to appeal to the Ephesian elders, "You know what sort of man I was among you. I did not spend three-quarters of my time in the study, and come out once or twice on the Sunday to preach to you. I warned you as a father warns his children. My whole life is known to you from the time I came until I left you."
I wish I could look back on my missionary career, and feel that my whole life was well known for three years to any set of people, and that it all commended the Gospel. It has been my lot to live of necessity a great deal of my life out of sight engaged in secular work (and not all that has been seen has commended my Master, as Paul's life did). But this is a thing to be guarded against ; and if we would have our lives invested to the utmost profit, we must be among the people. It is very self-denying work, but it will pay very well. The Apostle, commending the truth, was sure that his Gospel also was not hidden, save to those who were lost.*
Notice in particular Taylor's striking comment: it would be better to spend half your time as a carpenter precisely because of the contact with people in their daily life that such visible labor would afford. How do you answer Taylor's challenge to his colleagues 125 years ago? Are you "among the people?" How often? Am I more comfortable when I can strictly set the terms for others' access to my personal life, or when my life is open and available for others to witness? Do we let the people around us into our lives, or merely allow them brief, stage-managed glimpses of the parts we feel most appropriate? If we are God's vessels for carrying his message to the world, then we must not be hidden vessels or else that message will be hidden as well.
*From Beauchamp, Montagu Harry Proctor. Days of Blessing in Inland China : Being an Account of Meetings Held in the Province of Shan-Si, Etc. (London: Morgan & Scott, 1887), pp 34-35.
Image credit: up to 2011, via Flickr