“Do you see those skilled in their craft? They will stand before kings. They will not stand before obscure men” Proverbs 22:29
For the few moments Heather and I were in Eugene Peterson’s home last week, I couldn’t help but notice the table where Eugene and Bono had a recent conversation. The first time Bono reached out to him, Eugene had no time to meet. He hadn’t heard of Bono, and he was too busy working on completing The Message. During that same time, I had also attempted to get Eugene to teach a course for me at Western. I too was turned down. At least I was in good company!
But as Peterson told me last week, numerous people began to remark, “Do you realize who you turned down?” They of course weren’t talking about me. And no, Peterson had no idea he had rejected an opportunity to see the lead vocalist of the rock band U2. He did not know Bono was a songwriter and singer who happened to be granted honorary knighthood by Elizabeth II, as well as honored as Time’s Person of the Year in 2005. But as Eugene shared, he was in the thick of spending time in Isaiah, and the prophet was the greater priority.
Bono became aware of Eugene’s work in The Message, especially Psalms, because it is a translation that connects with the language he uses. And though they did not initially see each other, they eventually met. Eugene and his wife Jan were flown in Bono’s personal jet to hear U2 in concert. And Bono came to Flathead Lake, where he and Eugene discussed the Psalms. Their time is captured in a YouTube video, Bono and Eugene Peterson: THE PSALMS.
I did not ask Eugene what it was like to fly in Bono’s plane and hear him in concert, but I am guessing he must have wondered–how did a man growing up in rural Montana, eventually planting a simple church in the basement of his home in Maryland, and writing books to pastors come to a place where he was invited to spend time with one of the world’s most famous musicians?
Proverbs 22:29 makes the point that those who are diligent in their work, faithful to their gifts, and who excel in their craft have a way of being found out. We may not have our picture taken with the President or spend time on some celebrity’s yacht, but the sage’s observation is that, in the main, people who give attention to excellence do not remain in obscurity.
It’s not a promise–and it’s not what should motivate us. I’m all but certain Eugene did not spend such careful time researching and writing his books so that he could one day fly with famous people. Some of us may never rise above obscurity, no matter how well we have excelled in child rearing or sales or running a school. But I have noticed that people who work unusually hard to serve the best food, or teach in the classroom, or whatever–devoting themselves to the gifts God has given them–do get noticed. People content with mediocrity, satisfied to aspire to nothing more than average, are generally passed by.
In his book, Platform, Michael Hyatt notes it is easy to “settle.” Instead, he makes this challenge–one the sage is making in this proverb–
1-take a stand for greatness–resolve that you will not sell out but play full out
2-connect with your original vision–become present to what you have dreamed and are trying to create
3-remind yourself what is at stake-which will keep you from quitting
4-listen to your heart-it is not infallible, but it can point in the right direction
5-speak up-give voice to your idea. If you don’t, who will?
6-be stubborn-refuse to settle. Refuse to drift, go with what is natural–mediocrity
And here’s one more–in the end–do it for God and His glory. That’s all that really matters.