Finishing Work

Have you ever felt like a lost cause?

Do you ever look at your life and think it will be a miracle for God to salvage anything useful from it?

I think like that sometimes.

I’m an all-or-nothing kind of gal. When I’m in, I’m all in. Which sounds really cool – like all passion and devotion and energy but it really translates into kind of a roller coaster approach to life that doesn’t really serve anyone when I’m fresh out of “all” and what I’ve got to offer is “nothing.”

God wrote into the pattern of the universe a message of seasons, work, rest, plant, wait, grow, harvest, lie fallow. You can’t look at nature and accuse God of ever holding back or practicing mediocrity but He does model cycles, seasons, low tides and high.

When Jesus walked the earth, you’d think He’d have jam-packed His brief existence with high-profile appearances to the masses and lots of intense disciples retreats. But actually, there were many years when He was just, you know, growing up.

He took another bunch of years to learn a trade. We haven’t any record of what He did then other than carpentry. I wonder if His early attempts at woodworking were sources of laughter for His family, treasured only by His mom. I wonder if He was better at building boxes or fashioning tables than He was at cradles. I wonder if He was better with the hammer or the lathe. Facebook had yet to catch on so we just don’t know.

Even in the three years He spent in public ministry, He didn’t heal everyone He met. He took time away from the crowds. He focused much of His discipleship on just twelve men, and often on a core group of only three.

Did He operate with passion and focus? Yes! Was He on the “all-or-nothing” bandwagon – go big or go home – run yourself hard until you drop or burn out? Not so much.

He makes this clear with one of His closest disciples, the one I love because I so understand him, Peter.

On the night He was betrayed, Jesus has the disciples over for dinner and indicates that He plans to wash their feet – normally the task of a servant.

Peter freaks out at the idea (not because someone would touch his feet, which was common in those days, but because Jesus was way too cool for the task. You don’t have your hero wash your feet – like Batman would never do that for Robin, right?)

So, the conversation goes like this: “He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

“Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

“Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

“Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not everyone was clean.” John 13

Peter flips around with the whole foot-washing thing. He bounces from “you can’t wash my feet” to “you can wash all of me!” He’s like the poster child for all-or-nothing.

But Jesus tells Him to calm down. (Wish I knew the Aramaic for “chill.”) He reminds Peter that He knows Peter is already with Him so he doesn’t need a complete shower, He just needs a sponge bath.

In other words, your commitment to me makes you clean. You’re not perfect, but that’s just spot treatment, not an entire new spin through the wash cycle.

Sometimes, I’m way too uptight to be any kind of useful witness to others. I fret about everything that’s wrong with me and convince myself I’m no good to God. If I find I’m not ALL perfect, I whine that I’m nothing.

Then Jesus reminds me – “Chill. (in English, not Aramaic.) You’re already saved. Sure, you’re not perfect but now that you’re on my team, it’s all finishing work.”

Carpenters know about finishing work.

My husband has taken on a house (in which we currently live) that could have easily been condemned and razed with no objectors. He emptied it of the trash left behind by the previous tenants and stripped the walls, ceilings, and floors. After a thorough examination, he announced, “There. The bones are solid. All that’s left now is finishing work.”

(May I just say, his definition of finishing work does not fit my previous understanding of the phrase!)

However, that’s how it is with Jesus, too.

When His more uptight, over-achieving, checklist, all-or-nothing disciples fret about stumbling over some inner incompleteness or imperfection, He says, “Chill. Now that you’re mine, the rest is finishing work.”

Don’t get me wrong. Finishing work is still work. As long as we are not yet home with Jesus, we will need to confess, to repent, to change, to grow.

But think back to the dinner Jesus hosted for His disciples. Peter certainly needed work done but compared to Judas, all that was left to do in Peter was finishing work. Peter was a fixer-upper. Judas stood condemned and ready to be razed.

Sometimes we weary of all the finishing work projects still undone in our souls but it’s a waste of energy and spirit to practice any kind of self-condemnation over it.

Yup, I’m a fixer upper but I’m not condemned because a master carpenter has moved in to complete all that is still undone in me. Right now, He’s transforming me from an “all-or-nothing” girl to a “steady as she goes” child of God.

How about you?

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    The Conversation

  1. “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
    ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

  2. Leslie Payne says:

    He makes everything beautiful in its time. Eleven years ago He started a new phase of working on me and gave me chronic pain (thanks to a big ol’ delivery truck that rear ended me at full speed). But I’m grateful for all He is accomplishing in me. Today I’m not feeling so good….your post was a great encouragement to remember the big picture. Thank you.