/ discouragement / Stephen Steele

Serving God in Unglamorous Places

In 1848, during the Great Famine, there was a failed Irish nationalist uprising by the Young Irelanders. It culminated on 29 July in a gunfight which became known as 'The Battle of Widow McCormack’s Cabbage Patch'.

One of the rebels was shot dead by the police. Another was fatally wounded. Yet even though it was a matter of life and death, it’s hard not to smile at the name. We would be quick to tell people about ancestors who fought at Waterloo or Gettysburg - but a cabbage patch doesn’t rank too highly when it comes to the great battlefields of history.

Yet we’re not all called to take on the enemy on glamorous battlefields. As if there is such a thing anyway.

Lentil fields need defended

In 2 Samuel 23 we meet a man called Shammah who takes his stand in a plot of ground full of lentils. The Philistines had gathered. The men of Israel had fled. But Shammah ‘took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and struck down the Philistines, and the LORD worked a great victory’ (v. 12).

I’m sure there are people that we’re all looking forward to meeting in heaven: our favourite characters from the Bible, as well as great missionaries and others from church history. But has anyone ever said: ‘I can’t wait to meet the guy who defended the lentil field’?!

Yet lentil fields need defended. And God calls most of his followers to serve him in unglamorous situations.

I was speaking to a fellow minister recently who said that there are men coming out of his denomination’s training college and there are places they don’t want to go. In particular, they don’t want to go to rural places or towns that are far away from the big cities. To use the language of 2 Samuel 23, people don’t want to go to lentil fields in the first place. And if they find themselves in a lentil field, they don’t want to stay there too long.

Such aversion is nothing new. Francis Patton, President of Princeton University (1888-1902), used A. A. Hodge’s call to Lower West Nottingham in Maryland as a rebuke to ministers who would not take small, poor churches. They ‘seem to have the impression’, Patton said, ‘that if they bury themselves in small places remote from cities and away from railroads, God will not be able to find them when the great work is ready which he has for them to do’.[1]

But lentil fields need defended.


1.   Because God’s people need fed

God’s people in 2 Samuel 23 needed fed. And if the lentil field was taken, they would go hungry. Jesus told Peter: ‘feed my sheep’. He didn’t say: ‘only feed my sheep who live in what the world thinks are significant places’.

Writing to a younger minister in 1792, John Newton commented:

‘Considering that our Lord's kingdom is not of this world, I have thought it a little strange, that when his ministers think He calls them to leave one charge for another, it should almost universally be from less to more; to a better income, a larger town or a more genteel congregation. We seldom have an instance of a retrograde call. Ministers frequently remove from the country to London, but for one to leave London, for a charge in the country is rare indeed’. [2]

The truth that both pastors and parishioners need to remind ourselves of is that there’s no ideal place to serve God.

Another reason to defend lentil fields is:

2.   Because if you lose them to the Philistines, it’s very hard to get them back again

In 2021, as the United States and Britain pulled their forces out of Afghanistan, a retired minister wrote an article entitled ‘Pulling the Plug’. Applying that withdrawal to the church situation in the UK he said:

‘All over the country many little churches are on their last legs. If they close…then we will be abandoning whole communities to something far worse than even the Taliban. We will be leaving them to the tender mercies of Satan, sin and secular values which take people to a lost eternity. The last witness to the Lord Jesus Christ will go out like a light’.

If you lose a lentil field to the Philistines, it’s very hard to reclaim that territory.

And the challenge for us is: are we willing to serve God in a lentil field? If that’s where he calls us to serve him?

In 2 Samuel 23:11, everyone else fled. Everyone else abandoned the lentil field. But Shammah stood his ground.

And at times when the enemy is growing in strength and there’s nothing particularly attractive about a situation, people will do that. They’ll go somewhere a bit easier. Or give up altogether. They’ll say: ‘I’m not going to invest my life in a lentil field’.

But Shammah did. Either he was going to kill the Philistines, or they were going to kill him – but he wasn’t moving from that lentil field.

Jesus said: ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’

Remember who you’re serving

Above all, what will motivate us to keep serving in places that may seem less than ideal at times, is the greatness of our King. David was a king worth serving. Later in the same chapter we read that three of his mighty men risked their lives to get him a drink of water. David was a king whose character stirred devotion.

But he wasn’t a perfect king.

All of the men listed in 2 Samuel 23 are obscure Bible characters. Except one. The very last of David’s ‘Mighty Men’ listed is Uriah the Hittite. The presence of his name almost makes us wince as we read the chapter. Because we remember 2 Samuel 11. We remember how David had taken Uriah’s wife, and then given the order to make sure that Uriah didn’t come back alive. And how it was spelled out for us that ‘the thing that David had done displeased the LORD’.

David had Uriah killed to hide his own sin. But we serve a King who did the opposite – a King who died that our sin could be taken away.

And so wherever our King sets us down. And whatever avenue of service that he opens for us. Let’s never forget that ‘we have this ministry by the mercy of God’ (2 Corinthians 4:1).

[1] Cited in David B. Calhoun, Princeton Seminary: the majestic testimony, 1869-1929 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1996), p. 458.

[2] Wise Counsel: John Newton’s letters to John Ryland Jr. ed. Grant Gordon (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2009), p. 262.

Stephen Steele

Stephen Steele

Stephen is minister of Stranraer RP Church in Scotland. He is married to Carla and they have four children. He has an MA from Queen's University Belfast where his focus was on C19th Presbyterianism.

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