I’d rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord than to dwell in the tents of the wicked (Psalm 84:10).
It was another beautiful morning in Ghana, when about 6:30 AM I looked out the window and saw Stephen cutting the grass with a small sickle—an implement consisting of a curved metal blade with a short handle. Where, I queried, was the lawn mower? Of course, there was none. This was quite a large courtyard full of lovely bushes, flowers, and nice green grass. The young man was diligently manicuring the lawn with his body bent in a 90 degree angle as he moved along as if he were a machine. I was intrigued by his thoroughness and the beauty of the well-maintained courtyard. Who was this young man who always had a big smile on his face? He was obviously full of joy and had no bitterness or resentment toward his job.
Stephen’s main function at the compound was Gate Keeper. He arrived promptly at 6 AM, six days a week, and left at 6 PM, or whenever his alternate arrived. During those twelve hours on duty it was his primary responsibility to unlock the big gate when official residents arrived and departed and to make sure no unauthorized person gained access to the area. He watched over my friend and me when we walked across the alley to purchase a bag of cheese balls. He monitored the levels in the outdoor water tanks so if the city didn’t pump enough water that week, he could warn the residents and they could order a tank-truck of water to get them through until the next pumping time. He fed and watered the dog and cat. He did the ironing for the residents (I discovered that ironing is a man’s job in Ghana), and any other job delegated to him. In addition to all this, he maintained the mango trees and all the flowering bushes and beautiful shrubs, flowers, and grass in fresh and vibrant condition reaching heavenward for the daily sunshine. In the middle of the afternoon, at rest time, he could be seen sitting on the bench with a dictionary and a Christian book—the ones I saw were dealing with theology and the Christian life.
Who was this young man, really? I had to get to know him. One morning I prepared to leave the house well ahead of my driver’s arrival. This would give me time to linger a while outside and talk with Stephen rather than just exchanging greetings as I came and went.
“Stephen,” I said, “I’m curious. Where did you get your name?” Ah, the joy on his face and the thrill of being able to share his testimony with me.
His father, who had been on active military duty when he was born, gave him the name Michael after one of his close comrades. He was taken to church regularly and was taught the Bible. As he grew up he continued to participate in church services and activities and called himself a Christian. One day he landed a good job as gatekeeper for a missionary. In the compound where he worked, there was a “boys house” where those on duty could rest and eat; and he brought his girlfriend there one day when the missionary was away. However, on that particular day, the head missionary came to check on the property of the staff member on furlough. When he saw the girl there, he asked Stephen, “Are you a Christian?” to which he replied, “Yes.” Then the missionary asked, “Are you sleeping with her?” to which Stephen also replied, “Yes.” At that point the head missionary looked right into Stephen’s eyes and said: “Then you are NOT a Christian. Christians don’t do that.”
Stephen told me that the Holy Spirit spoke to him so clearly through the missionary that he broke up with the girlfriend immediately explaining to her that he wants to be a true Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. Then he changed his name from Michael to Stephen after the biblical Stephen who was a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ until it his death.
That happened several years ago. Since that time, Stephen has set himself apart as a servant of Jesus Christ. He expressed his belief that the Lord has given him this opportunity to serve the missionaries as their “gatekeeper.” This is his ministry, and he is making good use of free time to study and prepare himself for whatever else the Lord may have for him in the future. Meanwhile he is joyful, content, and witnessing to all those around with his life of servanthood.
SINCERE VS PHONY SERVING
Speaking of serving, there was another story that came to me about Stephen. A couple of years ago when the flood of the century came to Accra, Stephen had already gone home from his job. However, he knew that the missionary’s house was likely in danger of being flooded and went there to check on the property. He arrived in time to save some valuable things although it was impossible to control the water and mud which eventually permeated every part of the compound. He did what he could and realized later he himself had probably lost everything from his own modest little home. To his surprise, his neighbors had seen him leave and went to his home, pulled out everything valuable, and put it on higher ground. “In giving we will receive.”
It’s the difference between the sincere and the phony. Jim Fletcher writes, “I once accompanied a well-known author to an interview. As we were walking toward the escalators, he asked if I would refill his cup of ice, yet he was much closer to a juice cart than I was. His ego demanded that he be waited on. For me, his ministry message of love for his fellow man rang hollow.
“Another time I saw the positive attitude. Over lunch, I visited with an author who has a different agenda. Curious about his goals as a writer, I asked the usual questions: ‘Do you think publicity is the key to fame [in publishing]? How would you like to package your books in order to really put your name out there?’ He glanced at several celebrity authors and their entourages, then looked at me. ‘Jim,’ he began gently, ‘do you remember the story in the Bible of Moses on the mountain?’ I nodded, not sure of his point. ‘Well, he found himself in that place in the rock, near God. That’s all I want, to be near God.’ This was a private conversation, and the author was never going to speak of it publicly, but his attitude made a profound impact on me. (He gets his own ice too.)”
The Psalmist expressed this principle of contentment, servanthood, and fulfillment when he said: A day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents (palaces) of (the wicked) wickedness (Psalm 84:10).
SERVING GOD BY SERVING OTHERS
For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand spent elsewhere. To feel God’s love, to rejoice in the person of the anointed Savior, to survey the promises and feel the power of the Holy Ghost in applying precious truth to the soul, is a joy that thrills true believers. Even a glimpse at the love of God is better than ages spent in the pleasures of sin.
“I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.”
To bear burdens and open doors for the Lord is more honor than to be “somebody” in this world. Note how the psalmist calls the tabernacle the house of my God; if Jehovah is our God, His house, His altars, His doorstep, all become precious to us. We know by experience that where Jesus is within, the outside of the house is better than any place where the Son of God is not to be found. Some of the Levites had the assignment to keep the doors of the Lord’s house, (see 1 Chron. 26:1). Or think of the beggars that lay at the gates of the temple for alms (see Acts 3:1). And remember the servant that was desirous of continuing in his master’s house, and serving him for ever; who was brought to the door post, and had his ears bored through with an awl (see Ex. 21:5).
Like the psalmist, God’s courts were Stephen’s choice. He had chosen to be a Gate Keeper and loyal servant to the missionary; he was caring for the property as unto the Lord. WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
The Pharisees loved synagogues well enough, provided they might have the uppermost seats there (Mt. 23:6) so they could be noticed and acknowledged. Not the Psalmist. Not Stephen. God Himself was their hope, and joy, and all. Therefore they loved the house of their God, because their expectation was from their God and not from people. It is easy to imagine what pride the Pharisees took in having the preeminence, (3 Jn. 9). It is not possessing the uppermost rooms, nor sitting in the chief seats, that is condemned (somebody must sit uppermost), but loving to sit there.
Along with desiring pre-eminence comes the demand to be addressed with titles of honor and respect. The Pharisees loved greetings in the markets, loved to have people put off their hats to them, and show them respect when they met them in the streets. O how it pleased them, and fed their vain humor…to have way made for them in the crowd of market people, and to be complimented with the high and pompous title of Rabbi, Rabbi! The greetings would not have done them half so much good, if they had not been in the markets, where everybody might see how much they were respected, and how high they stood in the opinion of the people.
To give respect to them that teach and preach is commendable; but for the teachers and preachers to love and demand that respect, to be puffed up with it, and to be displeased if it be omitted, is sinful and abominable.
TRADING A TITLE FOR TOWEL
In our early morning conversation, Stephen told me about an incident involving his pastor and dear friend. Some time earlier, the pastor had a burden for his people to grow in the knowledge of the Lord and in his attempts to challenge them, he began to recite the litany of his own successes, educational accomplishments, and titles earned. As Stephen was hearing this, the Holy Spirit within him was grieved. After the service, he spoke to the pastor and told him how as Christians we should be laying down our titles and picking up the towel to wash the feet of our brothers and sisters. That’s what Jesus did. He has called us to humble ourselves and be servants as well. It may have been helpful for the pastor to share his past with the congregation, as the Apostle Paul often did; but he needed to go a step further so they would know he was not demanding obeisance. At first when Stephen talked to him, the pastor was caught off guard and took offense, but soon he came to Stephen in all humility and thanked him. Today they are good friends. That’s the mark of a humble man—a meek man, one who is teachable.
Here is a precept of humility and mutual subjection: He that is greatest among you shall be your servant; not only call himself so, but shall be so. John Wesley’s Rule says: Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can and as long as you can.
A writer for a great newspaper visited India. One day he met a missionary nurse who lived among the lepers and helped them. How tender and loving she was to the poor lepers. The porter looked upon her with amazement. He said, “I wouldn’t wash the wounds of these lepers for a million dollars!” “Neither would I,” answered the missionary nurse, “but I gladly do it for Christ. I have no thought of any reward other than His smile of approval upon me!”
Stephen wasn’t interested in a title, the name of his job, or recognition for his labor. He chose to take up the towel—he was a true servant, one who served with joy and purpose in the Name of the Lord and as unto the Lord—not just in church services but equally in his everyday life at home and work. He first humbled himself and repented for his sin, in compliance with his God, and now continues to humble himself in service and submission to his brethren. He shall be exalted to inherit the throne of glory.
May all of us follow in Stephen’s footsteps and give up our demand for titles and pick up the towel of service to God and to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Editor’s Note: A special thank you to Stephen for giving me permission to share his story.
 Fletcher, Jim, “The Great Secret,” as published in The Christian Communicator, Volume 15, Number 2, p. 6. The Christian Communicator, PO BOX 110390 Nashville, TN 37222-03900.
 Knight’s Treasury of Illustrations, Eerdman’s Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, p. 357.
 Knight’s Treasury of Illustrations…
© The Alabaster Box/yvonnekarl Vol 18 No 03 2007