Friday, December 28, 2012

Such Kind Of Service

Well, here I am, trying yet again to figure out how to condense my life over the past few months into a blog post!  Several times I have tried to put into words the things that God has been doing, and always I was defeated by the magnitude of the task. How quickly the words multiply into something longer than most people have patience to read, yet without fully conveying the joy and wonder of watching God work
From the outside, my life doesn’t look too spectacular—lots of garden work in the summer and fall, occasional shifts as a nurse at the local emergency room, several Bible studies and kids’ Bible clubs throughout the week, and always plenty of plain old housework.  But this daily routine (or lack of routine, some days!) has been the framework into which God has woven joy, peace, love, and fulfillment, in larger doses than I’ve ever experienced before!  

There has been the unspeakable joy of seeing a couple of our friends come to faith in the Lord Jesus, and the thrill of rediscovering the Scriptures through their eyes as we study together.  There has been the immense privilege of telling children about the Jesus of Whom they know literally nothing—of Whom they have never heard except as a curse word.  There have been many opportunities to fellowship with other believers and serve them, which always brings great joy as I see Christ’s image more and more strongly reflected in them.

But the greatest thrill of all is that through these events and opportunities, I’ve been discovering God as a real Person.  Like King David said so long ago in Psalm 34:15, God is bending down to hear my cry and to do for me the things I ask, things that only He could do.  There is nothing like waking up in the morning and asking God to reach down His hand to work in our little town, and then watching all through the day to see the things that He is doing, and at last going to bed at night knowing that He has answered and that my work, because it is His work, is not in vain. 

He is so good to give us work to do for Him!  Our works are utterly useless to gain us forgiveness from sin (Ephesians 2: 8,9), but once we have believed in Christ, they are precious to God.  He both made us for good works and made good works for us, according to Ephesians 2:10. Sometimes the work He gives us to do means a real sacrifice of time or effort or sleep, or the willingness to pour yourself out in love and trust God with the likelihood that your love will not be fully appreciated or returned.  Sometimes it just means washing the dishes or vacuuming up the dog hair on the floor.  But regardless of the form that our service to God takes, it is His way of putting our hand on the plow-handle underneath His, and including us in the magnificent things that He is doing.  When He asks us to really expend ourselves for Him and for the sake of the gospel, but it’s not because He needs an extra boost—rather, it’s to give us a taste of the joy of working with Him, and of the satisfaction of gathering a harvest for which we have spent our sweat and tears. 

Yet when it comes down to it, no matter how hard we have labored, the work of God is always a case in which, at the last, we simply “stand by and see the salvation of the Lord.” (Exodus 14:13).  When He begins to move, we can only look in wonder from the sparkplugs in our hands to His lightning bolts, and gasp, “So THAT’S the God we have!!”

The very insignificance of our own labor shows off the surpassing power of God.  When we see hearts softening and Gospel seed sprouting and new growth appearing, we look from our poor efforts to the magnificence of what God is doing, and say, “That could only be from Him!”  

A man many miles ahead of me in the journey of faith once wrote:

“Here is the great secret of success. Work with all your might; but trust not in the least in your work. Pray with all your might for the blessing of God; but work, at the same time, with all diligence, with all patience, with all perseverance. Pray then, and work. Work and pray. And still again pray, and then work. And so on all the days of your life. The result will surely be, abundant blessing. Whether you see much fruit or little fruit, such kind of service will be blessed... “ --George Mueller

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Plug In!

A few days ago I woke up extra early and decided to enjoy the luxury of lying in bed listening to some hymns on my mp3 player.  It certainly was lovely—the perfect way to begin a Sunday morning.

The music swirled through my earbuds, lifting my soul to think of God and to rejoice in Him and marvel at His works.  Usually when I listen to music I’m in the car or working in the kitchen, with lots of background noise, so I miss the finer points of the music.  But lying here in the silent room, I could hear the delicate musical devices, balanced by tasteful strokes in the bass.  I let myself be lost in the music and the delicious sensation of absolute rest.

Suddenly, it all stopped.  My earbuds had come unplugged from the mp3 player.  I was lying in a silent, pitch-black room.  The magic was gone. 

I fumbled for the cord, and plugged it back in, and the music swirled on, picking up a few measures from where I had left off.  It hadn’t stopped, of course.  I had just unplugged.

What a lesson.  I sit by my window at night, looking out on the little valley that is our town, watching a few cars drive by on the road.  We live in a rural area, so there aren’t many lights to defy the darkness of the night.  Yet the darkness is far deeper than night.  Broken homes, broken dreams, broken promises, broken bodies, broken social systems, broken resolutions, so very many broken hearts, and all of this multiplied in every little valley in every country across this broken earth.  And I know that my grief is only a drop in the vast river of tears that have been wept down through the centuries.  

But is it possible that, existing in parallel with this broken weeping world, there is another world of rejoicing and hope?  Is there music being sung somewhere, if only we could “plug in?”

I open my Bible and find the answer.  The music swirls around me.  Not an absence of sorrow, for here are tones of the greatest sorrow of all, the sorrow of Love rejected and hung on a cross.  Yet that very cry of agony ends in the triumphant cry of new life.  And the music swirls on, jubilant and victorious.  It sings of a Child born, and a King triumphant, of a bride won, and a bridegroom satisfied, of a battle fought and the last enemy conquered.  It sings of a plan accomplished and a work finished, of a son come home and a lost sheep found, of a home filled and a table laid, of promises completed and hopes fulfilled.  The song goes on, and the singer is God Himself, to tell of Love at last rewarded, and faith at last made sight, and hope fulfilled beyond our dreams.  The rich strains span all of time and eternity, one harmonious whole in which every note makes sense.   The voices of the morning stars that sang together before the beginning of the world, are mingled with angelic jubilation over sinners repented, and answered by the countless voices of those saved ones themselves, worshiping the Lamb Who is worthy.  The trumpets at the walls of Jericho, and the harp of David, mingle with the voice of the last trumpet and the harps of the elders in heaven. 

Sorrow is woven all through the song, and yet it is sorrow that has fulfilled its purpose.  This is not a song of frustration, but of victory.  It is not the song of well-laid plans gone awry, but the song of a perfect plan fulfilled just as expected.  The pace is measured, not too fast and not too slow.  Not a note is hurried, nor does a single note lag.  The conductor is perfectly in control of his orchestra, though the instruments range from the devil himself, to the created world of nature, to mankind, to angelic hosts, to the very Son of God.

Is it possible that this song is being sung even now, as I look out at the dark valley and feel the weight of a collapsing society and a disintegrating world, pressing in on me?  Surely the sacred pages answer, “Yes,” and remind me that that world is, after all, more real than this.  That song of the triumph of God was being sung long before this little world hung in space, and it will continue long after the stage has been dismantled and the blood-bought singers gathered home.  I can take my place even now in that choir, and add my voice to the chorus, "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever." (Revelation 5:13)  All I have to do is plug in.