The graduating seniors—all 34 of us—were asked to choose a quote for our senior page in the yearbook. This being 1977, quotes from rock bands like Pink Floyd and The Grateful Dead were popular, but I was always the odd duck in my class. I chose the above quote from Edward Everett Hale, author of the famous short story “The Man Without a Country.”
At that time, I really had no idea what I would do with my life, but I wanted to be of service somehow. I considered becoming a nurse, a special education teacher, some kind of missionary. I felt certain I was here for a reason and God wanted me to do something. Whatever it was, I would find it and, by his grace, I would do it.
Now, more than 40 years on, I have to ask myself: Have I done it?
Certainly, I’d like to think I’ve done something worthwhile through my work as an inspirational writer, and yet the word that occurs to me most often as I reflect back over my career is failure. Sometimes it settles in quietly, sitting in lowercase letters on my shoulder and whispering of should-have-dones. Other times it storms in and thunders aloud in all caps, with exclamation points following like flashes of lightning.
Either way, I don’t like it. I don’t like feeling as though I haven’t accomplished the tasks I set out to do.
Recently, I was having one of those down days. That’s what happens when I turn away from living my life as a love story with God, when I choose instead to listen to that cultural chorus that sings high praises to the vocational curriculum vitae. Success and accomplishments are the primary factors when it comes to calculating human worth.
So there I was, looking back over 40 years and trying to measure my life from the worldly perspective. Things did not look good. I had never striven for greatness, but I had desired to do something good—you know, there was always that deep human desire to make a difference. I had managed a few things on my to-do list, but the good I wanted to do seemed somehow mostly left undone.
It’s a deeply troubling feeling, especially considering the fact that—eventually—a person runs out of time.
In that state of mind, I picked up one of the books I was reading, Heaven by Randy Alcorn. I had just been chatting on Facebook with a few people about how there always seems to be a right time to read a particular book—that is, God brings the book to us when we need it or might most appreciate it. This was one of those times.
Two brief passages stood out to me:
“Christ’s mission was to reclaim and set free not only the earth’s inhabitants, but the earth itself. He came not only to redeem mankind as individuals, but also as nations and cultures, and to redeem not only the work of his own hands…, but also the work of his creatures’ hands….” (1) (Emphasis mine.)
“Moses prayed, ‘Establish the work of our hands’ (Psalm 90:17). The Hebrew word translated ‘establish’….means ‘make permanent.” So Moses was asking God to give permanence to what he did with his hands.” (2)
It was as though God put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You think you’re running out of time, but you don’t realize you have eternity too. Besides, what I accomplish in and through you isn’t ultimately up to you; it’s up to Me, and I will fulfill My purpose for you” (Psalm 138:8).
I don’t fully understand what all this means, but I’m beginning to understand this: I’m not limited by the time restrains of this world. I’m not expected to complete my tasks in 70-some years and then go on to a place of eternal rest and be done with it all. The work I do here will somehow carry over into eternity, a place of further work, greater work, perfect work, deeply satisfying work that is most satisfying in the fact that it doesn’t glorify us but the God who made us.
The idea of God redeeming and eternally establishing the work of my hands changes everything for me. It lifts a huge burden from my shoulders, and allows me to look forward with hope. All that God wants to accomplish—through me and through all believers—will be accomplished in the unbounded stretches of forever.
In God’s Kingdom, it isn’t success or failure that matter. What matters is faithfulness and love.
This is the thought I want to leave with you today: Cease striving. Stop measuring yourself against impossible worldly standards. Instead, love God, remain faithful, and he will establish the work of your hands.
(1) Randy Alcorn, Heaven, Wheaton IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004, p. 97.
(2) Ibid, p. 128.
Senior page, Sanford School, Class of ’77
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