Nothing Left To Prove
Listen to “Nothing Left To Prove.”
All of my ‘aha’ moments in life have come from reading, silence, or listening to others. Except one, and that was at lunch with a friend. We were talking about the Parable of the Three Servants and how we were using our gifts and our giving to the best use. It’s fair to say both of us had felt almost haunted by the moral of the story. How could we know which servant we would turn out to be? How much would be enough for the Master when he returned for an accounting? What had we done with what we had been given?
“What are you doing that is going to let you hear ‘well done’ from God?” he asked. Normally I would have a list of accomplishments to illustrate my productivity and desire to hear God’s approval when the time comes. Not wanting to be the one who buried the investment in the ground, I had been focused for years on being found not only faithful but productive and useful. I may not be the one who received ten times what had been given, but I was determined not to be reprimanded for doing nothing. The prospect of being cast into the outer darkness was not in the plot for me.
Instead, what I heard myself saying was absolutely foreign. My internal editor must have stepped away for coffee. “I’ve already received my well done,” I told him. “When I accepted the grace and work of Christ I also received His ‘Well Done’ from the Father. I cannot do anything more. All I can do now is work out of gratitude – not out of trying to please God any further.”
He stared at me. If I could have done it, I would have stared at me! I’ve made talks on the motivating principles of the parable. I’ve written articles on it. I’ve even formed one charitable foundation based on the parable and our joy in hearing God say ‘well done’ at the end. I’ve never before realized so profoundly the only response that is appropriate for grace is ‘thank you’ and then to work and live out of sheer gratitude. I’m reminded of Dallas Willard’s wonderful quote: “Grace is not opposed to effort; it’s opposed to earning.”
Scott Sauls wrote a blog last month titled “When It Seems Your Life Is Going Nowhere” and in it, he refers to a time in the life of J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien was struggling and frustrated over his inability to make any progress with a work in which he had invested years of his life, but it was going nowhere. Convinced that the work might never be completed and, even if completed, not fully appreciated, he wrote a short story titled Leaf by Niggle to help him sort out his dilemma.
“The story is about an artist who had been commissioned to paint a mural on the side of city hall. Niggle spent the rest of his career attempting to complete that mural, a large and colorful tree that would inspire for years to come. But in the end, the artist was only able to eek out one, single leaf. And then he died. On the train to heaven, Niggle saw a vague, but familiar, image in the distance. He asked the conductor to immediately stop the train. When Niggle got off he approached the object and discovered that it was a tree—his tree—complete and lovelier than he had ever imagined. And there, in the middle of the tree, was his contribution—Niggle’s leaf for the whole world to see. In the end, Niggle discovered that all of it, the tree and even his single leaf, was a glorious, completed gift.”
How many of us have been looking at the use of our gifts from the perspective of needing to prove our productivity to God? How much of our giving has been motivated not by simple gratitude but by the desire to do something more to earn the pleasure of God? It can’t be done. For that I’m grateful. I have the only “well done” that matters.
By the way, the name of that frustrating work which he feared would never be completed or appreciated is Lord of the Rings.