Finishing Our Work
J. R. Miller, 1905
It is a worthy desire to leave our work in this world finished. There is a sense in which no one's work can he complete. It cannot be perfect. The holiest endeavors, are marred by faults and flaws. Our whitest days, are blotted by sin. At the best, we miss the mark. We fall below the divine standard. The most faithful come to the close of their days regretting the incompleteness of their life-work and the inadequacy of their achievements and attainments.
In His last prayer, when He looked back over His life, our Lord said that He had finished the work which His Father had given Him to do. He said, too, that He had glorified His Father on the earth. How could even He make God more glorious? No man can add to the divine glory in itself. Can the little lamp make the sun's burning splendor more dazzling? Can the holiest human life add anything to the infinite holiness and whiteness of God?
What Jesus says, however, is that He had glorified His Father on the earth—that is, He had made that blessed Name known among men as it never had been known before. No one had ever seen God. A few glimmerings of His glory had broken through the clouds in the revealings made by prophets and by other holy men, and in holy lives. Jesus came as the Word, speaking out of the silences of heaven—to tell the world what the unseen God is and what His thoughts for men are. He glorified God on the earth in declaring God's love and mercy, His compassion. His fatherhood.
Part of our mission as Christians—is to glorify God on the earth. "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do—do it all for the glory of God." says Paul. How are we to do this? We may do it by accepting every opportunity to speak of God to others, to tell them what He is to us, what He has done for us. Then we may glorify Him on the earth in our own lives. We are are in this world—to repeat Christ's life. He was the Word—the great revealer of God. We are to be words, little words, giving out gleams of God. We may do this in our love for others. We may be kind, compassionate, thoughtful, gentle, unselfish, helpful.
We glorify God on the earth—when we go about serving others as our Master did, showing kindness, making the paths smoother for weary feet, giving encouragement and cheer to discouraged ones, putting more of Christ into other homes and lives.
We may also glorify God by living victoriously, cheerfully, unselfishly, helpfully. We glorify Him whenever we show men a picture of God in our own life, even the smallest fragment of God's beauty—patience in enduring wrong, self-denial in love and service, humility in exaltation. It makes the world a little sweeter and brings God a little nearer to men—when we live as Christ lived and repeat even in smallest measure, His gentleness and truth.
Are we living thus? Are we glorifying God on the earth through our lives? Is He better known anywhere through our living, or through anything that we have done? It was said of one that he left a few flowers growing in this world after he was gone, which but for him would not have grown. Are there flowers of love growing in any heart, in any home, in any lowly neighborhood, which but for us would not have grown?
Jesus said that He glorified His Father by doing the work which had been given Him to do. We get at once this lesson that our work, like our Master's, is not anything we may find to do, anything we may choose to do—it is something which the Father has given us to do. Jesus was sent into the world on a divine mission. We may easily understand this of Him, for He was the Son of God. There was never another life like His. He was the world's Redeemer. It was fitting that the Son of God should have a work all His own assigned to Him. But we are so little, and the work we can do is so small! Can we speak without irreverence, of doing the work which our Father has given us to do? Yes; there is nothing haphazard in this world in which we are placed—our Father's world. God sent us here. He has a particular work which He wants each of us to do—a work which no other one in all the world can do. Our mission here is to do this work that has been allotted to us.
Jesus said that He had accomplished all that the Father had given Him to do. None of us can say this. How many duties have we only half done, skimping our work, slighting it, doing it negligently, indifferently? How many things have we left altogether undone, untouched, neglected? We have been selfish, we have been obstinate, we have been proud and conceited, we have had low ideals, we have been indolent, we have kept Christ out of much of our life. We have left great blanks where there should have been beautiful work. We have failed to be patient and kind. We have not plucked up the thorns—and planted roses in their place. At whatever phase of our life we look—we see that we have not accomplished all that was given us to do.
The most beautiful work done by anyone—is flawed and incomplete. None of us have lived so nobly or wrought so finely, as we meant to do. We have not the skill to fashion all the loveliness that our souls dream. No poet writes all the beauty of thought that shines before his eyes—his pen is not equal to the taking down of what his mind conceives, in all its radiancy and shining winsomeness. We all have our visions of life which we determine to work into realities—but with our best skill we fail and come short! The Master gives us the ideal, "You therefore shall be perfect—as your heavenly Father is perfect." That is the standard for all Christian living and doing. We dare not lower it by so much as a hair's-breadth. It must always be kept before us and we must ever strive to reach up to it. Yet we never can altogether reach it. It always keeps above us, however high we climb!
Yet we should not be too greatly cast down by our shortcomings. If we have sincerely tried always to do our best, if we have been faithful in every duty, doing what we could, we need not grieve. God is pleased with our efforts and strivings, though we fail in accomplishment.
In the vestibule of a beautiful building, erected in memory of a noble and gentle woman, these lines are seen on a bronze tablet:
"The good she tried to do, shall stand as if 'twere done;
God finishes the work—by noble souls begun."
These words tell the story of every true and sincere life. We have great thoughts, desires that are born in heaven, intentions that are lofty and worthy. We do our work—and it seems in our eyes most meager and paltry. But we should not be discouraged. The good we sought to do, though we seem to have failed, shall stand at last as if we had done it. What noble souls begin—God finishes!
They tell us that in nature nothing is ever really lost. Matter changes its form—but not a particle of it ever actually perishes. As it is in nature, so it is in life—nothing ever is lost. Many of our efforts seem to yield no result. We sow our seed—and it seems that there is no harvest. We speak our words of exhortation, of encouragement, and so far as we can see—no lives are helped, comforted, or strengthened. We pour out our love in earnest prayers for those in whom we are interested, asking that they be kept from evil and led in right paths—and our prayers seem not to be answered. But we shall know at length—that nothing we have done has really failed. Some day all the hopes and dreams we have sincerely and diligently sought to make true—we shall find wrought out in beauty and waiting for us among the things laid up and reserved for us!
There are many ideals we find ourselves entirely unable to reach. They are too high for us. We strive to attain them—but our hands are too clumsy! We try to express the beautiful inspirations of love that the divine Spirit puts into our hearts—but the music is too celestial for our earthly lips to sing. We seek to translate into the speech of earth—the holy feelings and emotions which in our best moods struggle to express themselves, and we cannot get words sublime enough to interpret their meaning. But some day we shall find all these unfulfilled hopes, these unrealized longings, these unattained strivings— accomplished in all their beauty!
We need not grieve, then, over what seems to have been failure in our work. What the mothers have sought to put into their children's hearts and minds, though it seems as if they had wrought in vain; what the teachers have tried to teach the scholars in their classes and schools, though nothing appears to have come of it all; what we have all longed to do for those we love—but have seemed to fail to do—none of these strivings, efforts, and longings have really failed; nothing done for Christ ever fails! Some day we shall find the things we have sincerely tried to do—standing amid heaven's finished achievements!
"God finishes the work—by noble souls begun!"
It is always most encouraging to those who are living earnestly, to know that they are not working alone—they are co-workers with God. We may put into His hands what we are doing, however poor and faulty it may be, and leave it with Him. Some day we shall see what He can do with our little fragments of effort, with our failures, even with our sins, when we have repented of them and put them into His hands. We should never forget as we look at our work, that God is in it all, that it starts influences which shall sweep on into eternity, and that nothing true and worthy in word or act of ours—ever can perish. God uses little things, the smallest, the most insignificant, bringing out of them measureless results!
Let us leave our work with God and ask Him to make it a garden-plot in which all the seeds we have sown, shall grow into beautiful plants and trees, for the glory of God and the feeding of hungry hearts and lives.