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The many people who worked in the nib-making industry in Birmingham in the past would probably have told you that they were making nibs. With each worker expected to produce 18,000 nibs a day, the sheer number of nibs produced in the city was phenomenal; it is estimated that 90% of the world in the 19th century used nibs that were produced in Birmingham. Nibs were sent to Australia, to America, to Japan; wherever and however people were writing, they were doing it with nibs made in Birmingham!

The job was unglamorous, tedious, boring and monotonous. Workers were not allowed to talk to each other or to sing because concentration was required to manufacture the nibs in such quantities that our minds, even in this day of computers and automated manufacturing, find hard to comprehend. But I would contend that these people were not actually defined as nib-makers. They were engaged in changing the world.

I doubt they thought of it that way: for most of them, especially the women, this was a job providing an income necessary for living (and in an environment that was considerably safer than many other industries in those days.) But the end result of all those nibs was an increase in literacy throughout the whole world which was unprecedented. The nibs provided the means for all children to learn in the new schools how to write and thus change the face of society. In our day and age, when pens are so readily available and so cheap, mass-produced and treated as largely disposable, it’s hard to realise the impact all those pen nibs must have had on the whole world.

So often, our lives seem just as mundane and ordinary as those nib-makers. We work at jobs because we need money to live. We may not see how our ordinary, everyday lives can change the world, but God’s work in this world is often subversive, subtle and radical without looking it! We need to learn to distinguish our actions from our goals. Our ‘job’ may seem insignificant and largely irrelevant, but the purpose behind what we do, when we aim to serve God and work for His glory, can have a lasting impact far beyond any production targets or measurable outcomes.