Stand before Kings

I returned from the barbers on Monday. Like most Englishmen, the late nation-wide closure of such establishments made us choose between DIY and applying excessive quantities of unguent in order to keep our shocks under control. Thankfully, I had last attended on 20th March, just as such premises were shutting, so my coiffure’s quarterly shearing was barely a month overdue.

I enjoy having my hair cut and it put me in a good mood. My establishment of choice is run by two Iraqi immigrants. Their command of English does not extend much beyond the names of hair styles, so I’m generally left alone to enjoy the experience, spared unnecessary small talk or being treated to an account of a complex love life, to which a previous barber subjected his clients. He wets, combs, styles, shaves, clips and snips. As the trim nears completion, the barber produces a cut-throat razor, applying it to the back of the neck, ensuring a clean, perfect look. During this stage of the operation, I hold my head especially still, silently praying I don’t sneeze. The man’s clearly a perfectionist, for he momentarily frowns when he discovers a stray hair, and again reaches across for the scissors. After holding aloft a mirror to gain my approval of the rear, he dowses my neck and temples with Eau de Cologne.

There’s something truly fascinating about watching a skilled person set about his business. At the barbers, one has no-where else to look but at the mirror, observing the operation from close range. Closing one’s eyes seems rude, denying the barber the audience he so much deserves. Observing a plasterer surely evokes similar feelings, as he sweeps and massages his medium into a smooth expanse of planed white. To the list I might add a joiner making furniture, or a skilled culinarian producing perfect meringues or Yorkshire puddings. So with a skilled preacher. I’ve heard some recently in which an either well-known text has been prized open to reveal treasure unseen, or an obscure passage has been proven to be fascinating beyond expectation.

As someone bereft of any kind of practical skill, I appreciate others’ abilities and talents all the more. Well might the Wise of Proverbs ask

Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings (22:29)

Observes Matthew Henry on that passage:

And it is hard to find a truly industrious man. Such a man will rise. Seest thou a man diligent in the business of religion? He is likely to excel. Let us then be diligent in God's work.