He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Phil. 1,6. (ESV)
I’d like God to help me simplify my life. I pray too that this will be an easy and pain -free process. I wish to be consulted on any ‘big decisions’ required and cajoled into changes if necessary, so long as incentives (blessings) are offered plentifully in return.
I imagine myself walking through a rather overgrown garden with God. He is the Master Gardener, I am seeking His inspiration. God pulls out a few weeds out here and there, prunes other shrubs back and works nutrients into the parched, clay soil. All along, He gently points out to me the hidden beauty in the plants which lie underneath the overgrowth, those ‘gifts’ He has given me which have been starved of light and space. God and I work collaboratively in this process of garden re-design. It takes time, and effort, but I can see that God is helping me make my garden beautiful and that makes it all worthwhile.
As I meet with God to begin to discuss the whole project, however, He really doesn’t seem interested in my idea of Him joining me on a tour of my ‘garden’. Instead, He offers to walk with me along an unknown path and suggests I carry something for Him. A cross.
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
John 8, 34. (ESV)
I find His suggestion a little odd, not quite what I had envisioned, and certainly more paternalistic in approach than I would normally allow for, but I pick up the cross anyway. It is heavy and takes all my effort to carry. I argue a little with God along the way. Surely this is not what life is meant to be, this cross, this journey, this effort, this monotony? I wonder, silently, how long God will ask me to carry this load. But God says nothing, and we just keep walking.
There is something about carrying a heavy load that focuses the mind as well as the body. After a while, all I think about is the cross.
I was brought up in a small ‘Brethren’ church in an uncelebrated town in Ayrshire, Scotland. They often preached and sang about the cross of Jesus.
Beneath the cross of Jesus
I fain would take my stand,
The shadow of a mighty Rock
Within a weary land;
A home within the wilderness,
A rest upon the way,
From the burning of the noontide heat,
And the burden of the day.
Oh, safe and happy shelter!
Oh, refuge tried and sweet!
Oh, trysting place where heaven’s love
And heaven’s justice meet.
As to the holy patriarch
That wondrous dream was given,
So is my Savior by the cross
A ladder up to heaven.
Upon that cross of Jesus
Mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One,
Who suffered there for me;
And from my smitten heart, with tears,
Two wonders I confess,
The wonders of His glorious love,
And my own worthlessness.
I take, O cross, thy shadow
For my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than
The sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by,
To know no gain nor loss,
My sinful self my only shame,
My glory all the cross.
Elizabeth Cecilia Clephane (1830-1869)
These words echoed around the small chamber of that meeting room: human voices only, the harmonious and the ‘out of key’ together, in a lusty anthem which would be carried in the still air outside.
These words return to me now with clarity and new meaning. Beneath the cross of Jesus is a place of peace, forgiveness, humility, clarity, and simplicity.
Simplicity is birthed from a place of acceptance – of who I am, of who God is, of my failures and weaknesses, of my strengths and talents, of the place God has brought me to.
I was thinking about all of this, and wondering if having this mindset actually mattered in the real world, where work can be all consuming, others’ needs require juggling, demands are made of us socially and intellectually which fill up our schedules so quickly and so easily. Then a friend messaged me a poem as part of another conversation we had been having. Deb is a wife and mother of six children, one of whom has severe disabilities. She writes beautifully and has extraordinary creative talent in clay, paint, textiles, and photography. Here is her poem (shared with her kind permission):
I’d paint some pretty butterflies
On summer skies, of brightest blue
Or pale and peaceful moonlit skies
And setting sun’s, last vibrant hue
I do not know the reason why
He would not have me paint the sky
Perhaps I’ll sit, with clay in hand
To mould and make for many an hour
A work of art, so fine and grand
A fragrant rose, a fragile flower
Alas, you do not understand
That work for you, was never planned
Oh wretched creature of the dust
I paint the skies and form the clay
But you, are simply called to trust
And yield your life, from day to day
The work is mine, I guide the hand
This is the way that I have planned
Take only words, for to the blind
The sighted ones, that cannot see
Words paint a picture in the mind
So only, ever speak of Me
My words remain, in Me abide
That I alone, be glorified
These words came by way of answer to my question, not a gentle whisper of a response, (beautifully reflective as this poem is) but like a bolt from heaven itself.
It is possible that God sees potential in us as human beings beyond the obvious of our artistic flair, our intellect or our physical capabilities.
When I made the difficult decision to leave a career in Medicine, I believed God had a role for me in which He would use the skills he had allowed me to gather over the years in an unknown but wonderful way, and that this new role would also by some means feed my creative soul. I told myself (inaudibly of course) that I probably had quite a lot to offer God, and He surely could come up with something which would be the ‘perfect’ job for the next 15 years.
But God has taught me that the work indeed is His and that I am His servant. Doing God’s work involves carrying His cross daily. It also means I must lay down my own plans and dreams to create, to do business, to develop that ‘new identity’, to carve out a legacy my children would be proud of. I must accept that God may choose to use all or none of my ‘natural’ talents.
It’s in this act of laying down, of burying the seed of my desires in the earth, that I flourish as God intended.
Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12, 24. (ESV)