Whenever I’m caught up with the issues of work (whether it’s about career or ministry), I go back to one particular man who has inspired me. His name was Nehemiah, and he was a cupbearer.
A cupbearer is someone whose job is to serve drinks at the royal table. While it may seem like a lowly job by today’s standards, it was regarded highly in the old days. It was a position of trust and confidence. He is a protector of whatever is poured into the king’s cup. In fact, part of the cupbearer’s job description is to taste the wine before serving it to the king, just to make sure that the drink isn’t poisoned. (It reminds me a little of a funny scene in a 2008 film called “Baby Mama.” In this scene, a mom sees her son’s soiled hands and asks, “Is this chocolate or poop?” She then licks his little hand, smiles, and declares, “It’s chocolate!” Her friend, who has witnessed everything, asks incredulously, “What if it had been poop?” Well, that’s just a mother being a mother, and so it is with the cupbearer.) For this reason, a cupbearer must be trustworthy and courageous, and in return, he has a great degree of influence in the king’s court.
Nehemiah served the court of King Artaxerxes. Remember how Nehemiah reacted when he learned that the Jews returning from captivity were living in trouble and disgrace, and that the wall of Jerusalem had been torn down? He sat down and wept (Nehemiah 1:4). Then, he fasted and prayed before God. I especially love the way he prayed, “Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man (Nehemiah 1:11).” He was referring to King Artaxerxes, and what he was saying was, “Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me (NLT).”
He was asking for success and favor from the king not for himself. He wept and mourned not because he hated his job and his boss. It’s just that, in that season, he knew that God has put in his heart something else to do, and he couldn’t do it while he was serving as cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. He had to return to Judah to rebuild the wall.
As King Artaxerxes knew him well, he asked Nehemiah why he looked unhappy. So Nehemiah told the king what was wrong, and (I love this part!) King Artaxerxes responded, “What is it you want? (Nehemiah 2:4)” The king did not just approve his application for leave; he also granted Nehemiah a visa for safe passage and supplies to accomplish what he set out to do. To make the long story short, Nehemiah accomplished his mission. I can go on and on about how Nehemiah kept himself from distraction and opposition, but that’s for another post.
The Hebrew word for cupbearer is “mashqeh,” (literally, “giving to drink”) which also means “butler.” In the 19th century, butlers became popular in the homes of noblemen. Each household had a butler who would stand at the door and greet his master’s guests, while the footman (or butler-in-training) opens the door. What I’m trying to say here is that as ushers, we are also Nehemiahs of our generation.
The difference is that we’re not made to drink from any cup while hoping it isn’t poisoned. Also, if we look at it with our natural eyes, the Ushering Ministry may seem like “the lesser ministry.” Truth be told, no one growing out of Kids’ Church will be calling us “Teacher.” We will not go onstage to worship in songs and music. There will even come a time when we will be opening doors to brothers and sisters who—though it’s not a fault—will be looking past our warm smiles and cheerful “Hello, welcome to Victory!” There will be those funny moments (although I guarantee it won’t be funny at the time) when there will be only two of you staring at each other in the dark—because there’s a blackout—and you’ll each pick up a mop and proceed to mop the floor, aided by the light from your cell phones. However, like the mom being mom, and the cupbearer being a cupbearer, we will do things that will make God say, “Those are My ushers being ushers.”
The first time I stepped through the doorway at Victory Ortigas, I was feeling so small and sooo not belonging to church, any church. My friend, who later became my small-group leader, looked at me, stood beside me, and smiled, “It’s all right, Rachelle. This is God’s place. You are welcome here.” (I hate to admit this but all right, my tears welled up as if they were on cue.) Later on, I found out that she was an usher. Sometimes, people pretend that they’re strong because they fear rejection. If someone takes the time to make them feel welcome, that they belong, they will know that they have been set free. I’m glad that’s in our job description!
If you’ll allow me, I’d like to encourage you with this: BE GRATEFUL FOR THE CUPBEARING SEASON, AS IT STRATEGICALLY PUTS YOU IN A POSITION OF TRUST TO FULFILL YOUR DESTINY. God placed Nehemiah as cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, who was a medium of God’s favor and provisions so that Nehemiah could accomplish what he was on Earth for. As it is written, “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns (Philippians 1:6).”
It’s good to be back! It is an honor to be standing next to you, opening doors for others…