In the years of its existence, my church has been meeting in buildings owned by other churches. We haven’t had a building of our own. Our little church has grown in number, outgrowing the capacity of the building we’ve borrowed these last few years. This week my church will move into our new building. It is an exciting time for us; there will be more flexibility in what we can do, when we can do it, and how many people can attend the services.
Each time I walked through the new building, touring the facilities and amenities, workers have been on the site; finishing up with paint or carpet or mechanical or construction. I have admired their expertise and efficiency. Just yesterday I saw some stained glass windows we somehow inherited; the windows are about 200 years old. Talk about craftsmanship… The volume of skilled labor required is staggering.
I have a peculiar fascination with carpentry work, particularly fine-carpentry. I have no skill or talent for it but I can admire the handiwork of those that do. One of my first attempts was building an entertainment center, using the garage for my workshop. It was a boxy, functional piece that lacked any real creative finesse or detail. And, once it was completed, I found it was too heavy to move it into the house.
It occurred to me how this church building project has relied on so many people with varying skills and abilities. I pondered how these men became so good at the work they do; electricians, plumbers, landscapers, brick layers, carpenters.
It’s not too different from the way God prepares us for His work. It requires extensive on-the-job training (OJT): instructions from people with more experience and insight, observing the how-to (and the how-not-to) examples around us. Then the try-fail-try-again cycle of practicing. If we stick with it, eventually it becomes adequate. If God has gifted us in it, it becomes something quite beautiful.
This train of thought caused me to consider the rocky road I traveled much of my former life. In hindsight, I can see that each of the difficult experiences and situations were part of the OJT needed to prepare me for the work God has for me. Without a certain amount of humiliation, brokenness, failure, reproof, repetition, mercy, grace, forgiveness – and finally seeing my desperate need for Jesus – I would not be ready.
When I was young, my Dad told me to be the best at whatever I did with my life. If I became a carpenter, to be the best carpenter I could possibly be. Even if I was a thief, he said I should be the best thief I could be. I eventually became an alcoholic/addict par excellence; sometimes I wonder if Dad regretted some parts of that lesson. But then I met Jesus, and became something else entirely.
Our life experiences prepare us for the specific work God has in store for us. It seems few (if any) people other than Paul would have been capable of doing what he did in that specific time/place/purpose that God had placed him. Even his former rebellion and was necessary. Certainly his gifted passion was crucial; even if it was previously ill-placed.
Each of us also has specific work that requires a certain preparation which can only be completed in the culmination of many challenging life experiences. The losses, griefs, afflictions, burdens, and trials we have endured mold us for our part in God’s plan. Could I do what I do today without all those past experiences? Possibly. Plumbers can do rough carpentry, and vice versa. But it probably wouldn’t be the same level of masterful work.
“If I slack my hands, I rob God: for God cannot make Stradivarius violins without Stradivarius.” – Antonio Stradivarius
God’s handiwork is magnificent, majestic, jaw-dropping awesome. Holding your first-born in your hands, watching the sun slowly sink into the sea, seeing marvelous images from space, learning of the thousands of species of animals on the planet… you see how incredible God’s work is. You don’t want some amateur like me doing a hack construction of the duckbill platypus.
It is the realization that our former pride and rebellion have been formed into masterpieces of grace and humility and beauty that reveals the stark contrast between man’s best and God’s best. When it comes to revealing the potential glory of the human heart, it is only possible because of Jesus.
“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:10 NLT
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you;” Jeremiah 1:5
“And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.” Genesis 1:14
“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” John 19:30