Reformed Quarterly Volume 8, Issue 1
The Reverend Terry Gyger is coordinator for Mission to North America of the Presbyterian Church in America. A former pastor, Gyger was also the co-founder of Ministries in Action, a church growth organization which has served over 2,000 congregations from 38 denominations.
Sir Leonard Wolfe, publisher and statesman over the first fifty years of British history in this century, wrote in his autobiography:
Looking back at the age of eighty-eight over the fifty-seven years of my political work in England, knowing what I aimed for and the results, meditating on the history of Britain and the world since 1914, I see clearly that I achieved practically nothing. The world today and the history of the human anthill during the last fifty-seven years would be exactly the same if I had played ping-pong instead of sitting on committees and writing books and memoranda. I have, therefore, to make the rather ignominious confession to myself and to anyone who may read this book that I must have, in this long life, ground through between 150,000 and 200,000 hours of perfectly useless work.
Modern man trapped on the merry-go-round of meaningless activity identifies with Sir Leonard Wolfe. No doubt this feeling of emptiness in the midst of busyness is what drives many individuals to bizarre interests and “far-out” pursuits.
On the surface, we Christians know how we should respond to such a statement of purposelessness. After all, Christ makes the difference; He brings purpose to our lives.
But wait a minute! Sometimes I feel like Sir Leonard. Driving home recently, I began to reflect on my hectic day –the memos, phone calls, letters, projects, interviews. I asked myself, “What does all this mean? What was actually accomplished?” Do you have days like that? Children, dishes, clothes, cleaning, reports, sermons, trips, counseling, tests, homework, projects — hectic days that seem purposeless.
THE BIG PICTURE
Often in the Scriptures, God met His people in the quiet places. It was in the desert that John the Baptist grew; it was in the wilderness that our Lord Himself prepared for His public ministry. He frequently retreated from the hectic pace around Him to the solitude of the mountain, alone in the still of the night. It was isolated in Arabia that the Apostle Paul apparently was trained at the hand of his new Lord.
We need to leave the cities of our lives with their busyness and meet God on the quiet mountaintops where we can listen and meditate. By His word and Spirit we need to see our lives from His perspective. We need to see the big picture. We need to reflect on what God is doing in our lives. What is His purpose for us? Romans 8:28-30 deals with the big picture.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Many of the great doctrines of our faith are packed into this short passage. We marvel at the mystery of God’s sovereignty relating to His decrees. We stand amazed at the graciousness of His call. We are thankful for the perfect legal position we have in Christ, and we praise God for the certainty of the glory we will experience in the future.
But what is the “good” toward which God is working all things for us? Many take this passage to mean that in God’s providence somehow everything will “work out” in ways that are best for us.
Sometimes we overlook a phrase in Romans 8:29 that can help us understand God’s ultimate goal for us: “For those God foreknew He also predestined “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son•.”
In industry the designers often build a prototype of a new product which the company intends to manufacture. What starts as an idea later is transformed into a tangible three-dimensional model. The engineers and production people then build the product according to the model.
God, the master builder, has redeemed us from the junk heap of life and placed us on His divine work bench. Day by day he is remaking us into something useful. But where is the pattern from which He works? Who is His ideal, His model? Jesus! Above the work bench is Jesus, the perfect God-man. While God’s fingers shape and reshape us, His eyes are first on us then on Jesus. As He continues His perfect work of restoration, the model is ever before Him. God is slowly but surely conforming us to the likeness of His Son. That, then, is the great “good” toward which He sovereignly causes “all things” to move.
THE LITTLE PIECES
Having seen God’s purpose for our lives, we now turn to His providence in our lives. We know from the Scriptures that God is personally involved with us. We are confident of this, that He who began a good work is us will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).
But just how involved is He? What about the phone calls, the memos, the interruptions, the delays, the conversations, the dishes, the diapers, the criticism? Sure, we know God is involved in the “big picture”, but what about the mundane, the routine? Is it true that He directs, regulates, and governs every creature, action, and thing from the greatest to the least? Is it true that in all things, the little pieces, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28)? How can a sink full of dishes, an overdue report, a business lunch, or a mid-term exam be used by Him?
Those smaller events, the seemingly insignificant events of everyday life, provide the very means by which God accomplishes His larger purpose. The tiny pieces, like jig-saw puzzle pieces, are, one by one, forming the greater picture of God’s plan for us. The bits and pieces of life are being used to bring us Christlikeness. God is using the bumper-to-bumper traffic jam to bring to you the peace and patience of His Son. He is bringing the unattractive, sometimes even obnoxious, person into your life. Why? To teach you how to love as Jesus loved. God is allowing hardship to build into your life the discipline and endurance of Jesus. He is also flooding your life with good things — the bloom of the dogwoods in April, the abundance and variety of food, the laughter of children, the joy of fellowship, the wonders of worship. Why? So you will look at creation and life as Jesus did.
Michelangelo, the great sculptor of Florence, pondered and searched for a worthy subject for his work. Biblical themes and characters often predominated Renaissance art and literature. So it was natural that Michelangelo’s mind finally settled on David of the Old Testament as the subject for his greatest work. One can understand how David would be honored by the artists of that time. After all, he was the ideal Renaissance man. David’s gifts were legendary as a musician-king. His reputation as a poet-soldier were known by all. Thus, David became Michelangelo’s “model•.
In order to create something of enduring beauty, Michelangelo chose to work in his favorite medium, marble. From Carrara, he selected a large piece of pure marble, supervised its transport to Florence, and set it in his studio. There on his work bench was the raw marble, but in his mind, he saw the finished David. With extraordinary talent and with a passion that drove him to excellence, he began his most famous work.
First, came the large chisels with their crunching blows. The form of a human took shape — the head, the torso, arms, legs. His hands manipulated the smaller instruments with a delicate touch as the fine features of a man appeared. Soon there was David!
Everyone ought to have the privilege at least once in a lifetime to visit the Ufizi Museum in Florence to stand in awe before this masterpiece, this special work of art created by a man, himself made in God’s image, endowed by common grace with talents almost beyond our comprehension.
Like a rough piece of marble, God has brought you into His divine studio. What is His design for you? Before Him is the model of the One born in David’s line, who sits on David’s throne, who is greater than David. Sometimes the heavy blows bring raw agony. Often we react to the pain. Why must it hurt so? At times the exacting work of the artist is irritatingly slow. Will He ever be finished? But His work continues day and night. Through the daily rough and tumble of life, the master artist shapes our lives into the image of His Son. And someday His work will be finished. “Just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49).
And all creation will wonder at His handiwork!