One of my favorite passages from the Psalms is “I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Ps. 84:10). This verse often comes to my mind, unbidden, reminding me of eternal priorities.
And of my days as a doorkeeper. As a new graduate student at UC Berkeley, I worked as a doorman at a fancy apartment building in downtown Oakland on the graveyard shift. This allowed me to study at night and go to class during the day. My shift exposed me to the seamy side of life. Residents often came in drunk, sometimes with prostitutes. Once I was nearly beaten up. Another time I was hit on by a man who exposed himself. But generally the work was merely mindless and menial.
Door keeping is honorable but humdrum work. The doorkeeper stands outside; he labors on the margins of the lives of those who dwell inside. Yet, as the Psalmist says, he had rather be a doorkeeper in the Lord’s house than to dwell in the tents (or the palaces!) of the wicked. Put in modern terms, we might say: “I had rather be a benchwarmer on the Lord’s team than a star on Adversary’s team.” Or “I had rather be a foot soldier in the Lord’s army than a general in the Devil’s.”
I recently came across the stirring story of a Samoan Latter-day Saint who made just this choice. His name was Malietoa Fitisemanu, a giant of a man of royal heritage. In the mid-twentieth century he was offered his country’s highest royal title. There was just one catch. He would have to renounce his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and join the official state Protestant church. Brother Fitisemanu said, “I would rather be a deacon in the Mormon Church than the king of Samoa.”
Unlike Milton’s Satan, who famously proclaimed, “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” (Paradise Lost 1.263), Brother Fitisemanu knew that just the opposite is true. Better to serve in Heaven than reign in Hell. Better to be a deacon or a doorkeeper in the Kingdom of God. For those who serve Him well in any capacity, however humble, whether as deacon or doorman, will one day be crowned kings and queens. And not merely of Samoa!