For the past three months, we’ve seen a new form of categorisation emerge amid the restrictions implemented to prevent the spread of Covid-19. There’s the “essential” services, and the “non-essential” services.

Few would quibble with the examples of “essential”—food stores and supplies, medical services, home repairs, and critical industries like pharmaceutical, to name just a few. But what has been termed as “non-essential” has been a little more debatable at times.

Most of us would probably agree with the majority of services counted as “non-essential”, like retail, museums, places of interest, and entertainment.

Some, however, turned out to be more important that they might have seemed at first. When barbers had to close midway through the circuit breaker, many guys (like me) realised how essential a haircut could be!

Then there’s the list of things some of us might consider “essential”, but had to be closed—like religious services. There is no doubt that doing this was absolutely necessary, to cut the risk of the coronavirus spreading at mass meetings.

Even as circuit breaker restrictions are gradually lifted, the authorities still have difficult decisions to make on what activities to allow or not. “Essential”, after all, can be subjective.

But it doesn’t change the fact that being considered “non-essential” can be hurtful and humiliating.

Recently, The Straits Times did a survey that got people to rank jobs according to how “essential” they saw them to be. Not surprisingly, it raised hackles and drew some protests. After all, who wants to be seen as doing an “non-essential” job?

Essential in God’s eyes

The debate reminds me of the jobs and roles we have as Christians.

In church and in Christian ministries (and even in our own lives), many of us do seemingly unimportant tasks. Unlike the more prominent ones like pastoral staff and worship leaders, our roles may seem “non-essential”.

Perhaps we’re helping to clean the worship hall, arrange the chairs, man the sound system, count the communion wafers, pack the weekly bulletins, or prepare the refreshments. In Numbers 3:5–8, the Levites are given different jobs in the tabernacle.

But while some get what we might call more “glamorous” tasks like “the care of the most holy things” (Numbers 4:4), others are to take care of the curtains, tent pegs, and ropes (vv. 25, 32), which seem less significant.

But God’s Word made no such distinction. Numbers 3:8 notes that all the Levites—no matter what their responsibilities were—were “fulfilling the obligations of the Israelites by doing the work of the tabernacle.”

That these “mundane” tasks were meticulously recorded in the Bible shows that they were an important part of the Israelites’ worship and offering of their service to God.

This is indeed an encouraging thought for me. While the world may judge me and my work by its own standards, I know that God sees things differently—and His opinion is really the only one that matters!

I believe our Father does not look at the size or significance of our tasks in the same way the world does, Neither does He compare our work with that of others. He is interested only in our hearts and our obedience.

Are we ready and willing to do what He calls each one of us to? Are we committed and dedicated to doing the best we can, using the strength and resources He gives us? Do we trust in His acceptance of our faithful work, and not in the world’s assessment of our performance and success?

Some of the people who were seen as “non-essential” in the Straits Times survey drew encouragement from a hashtag, #proudlynonessential. As faithful followers of God, I believe we, too, can work—and rest—in the knowledge that we are “essential” to God: #essentialbyfaith

Leslie Koh spent more than 15 years as a journalist in The Straits Times before moving to Our Daily Bread Ministries. He’s found moving from bad news to good news most rewarding, and still believes that nothing reaches out to people better than a good, compelling story. He likes eating (a lot), travelling, running, editing, and writing.

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