"...Created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:10
"Created in Christ Jesus." That means every child of God is a new creation in Christ Jesus. "Unto good works." And that means every such child of God is created anew in Christ Jesus for a life of service. "Which God hath before ordained." That means God has laid the plan for this life of service in Christ Jesus, ages before we came into existence. "That we should walk in them." "Walk" is a practical word. And that means God's great purpose of service for the lives of His children is not a mere fancy, but a practical reality, to be known and lived out in our present, work-a-day life. Therefore all through this great text runs the one supreme thought that—
God has a plan for every life in Christ Jesus.
What a wondrous truth is this! And yet how reasonable a one. Shall the architect draw the plans for his stately palace? Shall the artist sketch the outlines of his masterpiece? Shall the ship-builder lay down the lines for his colossal ship ? And yet shall God have no plan for the immortal soul which He brings into being and puts "in Christ Jesus?" Surely he has. Yea, for every cloud that floats across the summer sky; for every blade of grass that points its tiny spear heavenward; for every dew-drop that gleams in the morning sun; for every beam of light that shoots across the limitless space from sun to earth, God has a purpose and a plan. How much more then, for you who are His own, in Christ Jesus, does God have a perfect, before-prepared life plan. And not only so, but—
God has a plan for your life which no other man can fulfil.
"In all the ages of the ages there never has been, and never will be a man, or woman just like me. I am unique. I have no double." That is true. No two leaves, no two jewels, no two stars, no two lives—alike. Every life is a fresh thought from God to the world. There is no man in all the world who can do your work as well as you. And if you do not find, and enter into God's purpose for your life, there will be something missing from the glory that would otherwise have been there. Every jewel gleams with its own radiance. Every flower distils its own fragrance. Every Christian has his own particular bit of Christ's radiance and Christ's fragrance which God would pass through him to others. Has God given you a particular personality? He has also created a particular circle of individuals who can be reached and touched by that personality as by none other in the wide world. And then he shapes and orders your life so as to bring you into contact with that very circle. Just a hair's breadth of shift in the focus of the telescope, and some man sees a vision of beauty which before had been all confused and befogged. So, too, just that grain of individual and personal variation in your life from every other man's and some one sees Jesus Christ with a clearness and beauty he would discern nowhere else. What a privilege to have one's own Christ in-dwelt personality, however humble! What a joy to know that God will use it, as He uses no other for certain individuals susceptible to it as to no other! In you there is just a bit of change in the angle of the jewel—and lo, some man sees the light! In you there is just a trifle of variation in the mingling of the spices—and, behold, some one becomes conscious of the fragrance of Christ.
A man may fail to enter into God's plan for his life.
Among the curiosities of a little fishing village on the great lakes where we were summering was a pair of captive eagles. They had been captured when but two weeks old, and confined in a large room-like cage. Year after year the eaglets grew, until they were magnificent specimens of their kind, stretching six feet from tip to tip of wings. One summer when we came back for our usual vacation the eagles were missing. Inquiring of the owner as to their disappearance this story came to us. The owner had left the village for a prolonged fishing trip out in the lake. While he was absent some mischievous boys opened the door of the cage, and gave the great birds their liberty. At once they endeavored to escape. But kept in captivity from their earliest eaglet days, they had never learned to fly. They seemed to realize that God had meant them to be more than mere earthlings. After all these weary years the instinct for the sky and the heavens still smoldered in their hearts. And most desperately did they strive to exercise it. They floundered about upon the village green. They struggled, and fell, and beat their wings in piteous effort to rise into the airy freedom of their God-appointed destiny. But all in vain. One of them, essaying to fly across a small stream, fell helpless into the water and had to be rescued from drowning. The other, after a succession of desperate and humiliating failures managed to attain to the lower-most limb of a nearby tree. Thence he was shot to death by the hand of a cruel boy. His mate soon shared the same hapless fate. And the simple tragedy of their hampered lives came to an end.
Often since has come to us the tragic life-lesson of the imprisoned eagles. God had designed for these kingly birds a noble inheritance of freedom. It was theirs to pierce in royal flight the very eye of the mid-day sun. It was theirs to nest in lofty crags where never foot of man had trod. It was theirs to breast with unwearying pinion the storms and tempests of mid-heaven. A princely heritage indeed was theirs. But the cruelty of man had hopelessly shut them out from it. And instead of the limitless liberty planned for them had come captivity, helplessness, humiliation, and death. Even these birds of the air missed God's great plan for their lives. Much more may the sons of men.
Is not this the very thing of which Paul speaks when he says: "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure." What are these inner voices which, if we heed not, cease? What are these visions which, if we follow not, fade? What are these yearnings to be all for Christ which, if we embody not in action, die? What are they but the living God working in us to will and to do the lifework which he has planned for us from all eternity? And it is this which you are called upon to "work out." Work it out in love. Work it out in daily, faithful ministry. Work it out as God's works in you.
But more than that. You may miss it. You may fall short of God's perfect plan for your life. Therefore work it out with—fear and trembling! Searching words are these. Words of warning, words of tender admonition. That blessed life of witnessing, serving, and fruit-bearing which God has planned for you in Christ Jesus from all eternity—work it out with trembling. Trembling—lest the god of this world blind you to the vision of service which God is ever holding before you. Trembling—lest the low standard of life in fellow-Christians about you lead you to drop yours to a like grovelling level. Trembling—lest some little circle in the dark ends of the earth should fail of the giving, the praying, or the going which God has long since planned for you. Trembling—lest the voices of worldly pleasure and ambition dull and deafen your ears to the one voice which is ever whispering—follow thou Me: follow thou Me."
One way of missing God's calling may be by "choosing" our own calling.
Every day men talk of "choosing" a calling. But is not the phrase a sheer misnomer? For how can a man "choose" a "calling"? If a man is called he does not choose. It is the one who calls who does the choosing. "Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you and ordained you that ye should go and bear fruit," says our Lord. Men act as though God threw down before them an assortment of plans from which they might choose what pleases them, even as a shop-keeper tosses out a dozen skeins of silk to a lady buyer from which she might select that which strikes her fancy. But it is not true. It is God's to choose. It is ours simply to ascertain and obey. For next in its eternal moment to the salvation of the soul is the guidance of the life of a child of God. And God claims both as His supreme prerogative. The man who trusts God with one, but wrests from Him the other, is making a fatal mistake. Would we were taught this ere our unskilled hand had time to mar the plan! In default of such teaching let us confess with humbled hearts the mistakes we have made here, in the frailty of our mere human judgment. Young friend are you standing in that trying place where men are pressing you to "choose" a calling? Are you about to cast the die of a self-chosen life work? Do not cast it. Do not try to choose. Does not the text say we are "created in Christ unto good works?" If the plan is in Christ how will you find it unless you go to Christ? Therefore go to God simply, trustfully, prayerfully and ask Him to show you what He has chosen for you from all eternity. And as you walk in the daily light which He sheds upon your path He will surely lead you into His appointed life-plan. So shall you be saved the sorrow, disappointment, and failure which follow in the wake of him who "chooses" his own path, and, all too late, comes to himself to find out that it pays to trust God in this great concern of his life, even as in all others.
Therefore we must needs admonish one another that a man may miss God's plan for his life. He may miss it by his own blindness, wilfulness, disobedience, or self-choosing. But we pass on now to the more blessed truth, that—
Every child of God can find, and enter into God's plan for his life.
You remember the story of the engineer of the Brooklyn bridge. During its building he was injured. For many long months he was shut up in his room. His gifted wife shared his toils, and carried his plans to the workmen. At last the great bridge was completed. Then the invalid architect asked to see it. They put him upon a cot, and carried him to the bridge. They placed him where he could see the magnificent structure in all its beauty. There he lay, in his helplessness, intently scanning the work of his genius. He marked the great cables, the massive piers, the mighty anchorages which fettered it to the earth. His critical eye ran over every beam, every girder, every chord, every rod. He noted every detail carried out precisely as he had dreamed it in his dreams, and wrought it out in his plans and specifications. And then as the joy of achievement filled his soul, as he saw and realized that it was finished exactly as he had designed it; in an ecstasy of delight he cried out: "It's just like the plan; it's just like the plan!"
Some day we shall stand in the glory and looking up into His face, cry out: "O God I thank Thee that thou, didst turn me aside from my wilful and perverse way, to Thy loving and perfect one. I thank Thee that Thou didst ever lead me to yield my humble life to Thee. I thank Thee that as I day by day, walked the simple pathway of service, Thou didst let me gather up one by one the golden threads of Thy great purpose for my life. I thank Thee, as, like a tiny trail creeping its way up some great mountain side, that pathway of life has gone on in darkness and light, storm and shadow, weakness and tears, failures and falterings. Thou hast at last brought me to its destined end. And now that I see my finished life, no longer 'through a glass darkly' but in the face to face splendor of Thine own glory, I thank Thee, O God, I thank Thee that, it's just like the plan; it's just like the plan!"
Then, too, while we do need to walk carefully and earnestly that we miss not God's great will for us, yet let us not be anxious lest, because we are so human, so frail, so fallible, we may make some mistakes in the details and specifications of that plan. For we will do well to remember this. God has a beautiful way of overruling mistakes when the heart is right with Him. That is the supreme essential. The one attitude of ours which can mar his purpose of love for our lives is the refusal to yield that life and will to His own great will of love for it. But when that life is honestly yielded, then the mistakes in the pathway which spring from our own human infirmities and fallibleness will be sweetly and blessedly corrected by God, as we move along that path. It is like guiding a ship. Our trembling hand upon the wheel may cause trifling wanderings from her course. But they seem greater to us than they are in reality. And if we but hold our craft steadily to the pole-star of God's will, as best we know it, she will reach her destined port with certainty, notwithstanding the swervings that have befallen her in the progress of her voyage.
But now we come face to face with a question of supreme importance. And that is this: "How shall I ascertain God's plan for my life? How shall I be safe-guarded from error? How shall I discern the guidance of God from the misguidance of my own fleshly desires and ambitions? How shall I find the path in which He is calling me to walk? We answer, first:
The trouble with most of us is that we do not believe God has such a life-plan for us. We take our own way, we lay our own plans, we choose our own profession, we decide upon our own business without taking God into account at all. "According to our faith is it unto us." And if we have no faith in God's word in this regard, what else can we expect but to miss God's way for our lives, and only come back to it after long and costly wanderings from His blessed, chosen pathway for us? Ephesians 2:10, is as surely inspired as Ephesians 2:8. The promise of a life- plan is as explicit in the one, as the promise of salvation is in the other. Brood over this Ephesian verse. Is it plain? Is it God's word? Does it not say clearly that God has a life-plan for you in Christ Jesus? Then settle down upon it. Believe it with all your whole soul. Do not be shaken from it. Again—
Dr. Henry Foster, founder of the Clifton Springs sanitarium, was a man of marvelous power with God. A man, too, of great insight into the mind and ways of God in the matter of guidance in the affairs of life. What was the secret of that wondrous power and wisdom? Visitors were wont to ask this question of one of the older physicians on the staff of that great institution. And this was his response. He took the visitor by the arm. He led him up-stairs to the door of Dr. Foster's office. He led him into this little chamber, across the corner of the room. There, kneeling, he lifted up the border of a rug and showed to the visitor two ragged holes in the carpet, worn there by the knees of God's saint in his life of prayer. "That, sir, was the secret of Henry Foster's power and wisdom in the things of God and men."
Friend, when your bed-room carpet begins to wear out after that fashion, the man who lives in that room need not have any fear about missing God's life plan. For that is the open secret of wisdom, and guidance in the life of every man who knows anything about walking with God. "Does any man lack wisdom? Let him ask of God." Are you one of the men who lack wisdom concerning God's plan for their lives? Then ask of God. Pray! Pray trustfully, pray steadily, pray expectantly, and God will certainly guide you into that blessed place where you will be as sure you are in His chosen pathway, as you are of your salvation.
Will what? Will to do God's will for your life, instead of your own. Do not launch out upon the sea of life headed for a port of your own choosing, guided by a chart of your own draughting, driven by the power of your own selfish pleasures or ambitions. Come to God. Yield your life to Him by one act of trustful, irrevocable surrender. And then begin to choose and to do His will for your life instead of your own. So shall you come steadily to know and see God's will for that life. Our Lord Jesus clearly says this: "If any man will to do my will he shall know." Without a shadow of doubt, we will begin to know God's will, as soon as we begin to choose His will for our lives instead of our own.
Thus the spiritual field-glasses through which we come to see God's will for our lives are double-barreled. Side by side are two lenses. The one—"I trust." The other—"I will." When a man can hold both of these to his eyes he will see God's will with unclouded clearness. But suppose a man says to God "I doubt." Then a veil falls over that lens of faith. And suppose he says, "I will not." Then the veil falls over the other, the lens of the will, of choice. Straightway that man's spiritual vision is in eclipse. He walks in a darkness of his own making, springing from his own unfaith and self-will, yet the source and cause of which he, in his blindness, wholly fails to perceive.
Friend, are you walking in such darkness? Do you say, "there is such a veil between you and the will of God for your life? Listen. Begin to believe in God's plan for your life. That veil will become translucent. Begin to will do God's will. That veil will become transparent. Begin day by day, actually to do God's will. That veil will vanish! And when it is gone, and you are walking in the full light of God's will for your life you will see that it was self-will alone which shut out the clear vision of God's will. For no man can see the will of God save through these two crystal lenses—the trustful heart, and the yielded will.
Does some one say at this point: "But suppose I have given my life to God to enter into His will for it. What change shall I make in it? Shall I seek a new environment, a new sphere? What shall I do ? We answer—
Stay where you are, and do the next thing.
Talk God's plan, and consecration to it, to Christian men and straightway many of them think you mean them to give up their business and head at once for the pulpit or the foreign missionary field. To come into God's life-plan is to go into some other place, as they view it. But there never was a greater mistake. Consecration is not necessarily dis-location. Not by any means. God's plan for a man's life does not of necessity lift him out from his present realm of life and surroundings. It is not a new sphere God is seeking. It is a new man in the present sphere! It is not transference. It is transformation. The trouble is not usually with the place. It is with the man in the place. And when a man consecrates his life to God to find and enter into God's perfect plan for that life, God will usually keep him right where he is, but living for God and His kingdom instead of living for self. So, until God shows you differently, stay where you are, and live for God.
If God wants you elsewhere He will lead you there; be sure to follow.
We have seen that consecration is not necessarily dis-location. Yet it may be. That God usually keeps a man where he is, when he yields his life to Him. Yet not always. God may lift you clear out from the sphere in which you are moving. God may completely change your environment, as well as change you. God may take you out of your business or profession, and send you to the uttermost parts of the earth as a chosen messenger of His. "But how will this come about," do you say? As you do the next thing. For God's plan for your life will not burst from the heavens in one splendid panoramic vision of his purpose for it. Rather it comes day by day to the man who faithfully does the thing next at hand. God's searchlight falls upon only one bend in the river at a time. Round that and you will have light upon the next. The golden chain of God's great purpose for your life and mine is woven of the single links which we lay hold of, one at a time, along the pathway of daily opportunity. By and by, when we have gathered enough links, the chain begins to appear. The man who faithfully picks up the links need never fear about missing the chain. Therefore do the next thing. As you do it then this thread of daily service becomes in God's hands, like the clew to a maze. By it God leads you on and on in your pathway until you are out from all the labyrinth of darkness and uncertainty, into the clear shining of His will for your life. Therefore do the next thing patiently, faithfully, lovingly. Teach the class, visit the sick, comfort the sorrowing, preach the Word, use the tract and leaflet, witness for Him just where you are. And as you thus serve if God wants you elsewhere he will surely lead you there. Only do you be sure to follow. And thus following some of us will land in China, India, Africa. And some of us will abide just where we are. But all of us will be where He wants us. And that is, in the plan.
"Ah," says some one, "this is all very well for the young, and the strong who have all of life before them. But it is too late for me. My life has been full of blunders and failures. It is only after years of wandering that I have come to Christ. There is naught left for me but the memory of mistakes, and the fragments of a vanished and broken life." Listen, friend, to this truth, as we part to-night:
God is the only one who can take a seemingly shattered life and make a beautiful fife from the fragments.
Have you ever heard this story? In a certain old town was a great cathedral. And in that cathedral was a wondrous stained glass window. Its fame had gone abroad over the land. From miles around people pilgrimaged to gaze upon the splendor of this masterpiece of art. One day there came a great storm. The violence of the tempest forced in the window, and it crashed to the marble floor, shattered into a hundred pieces. Great was the grief of the people at the catastrophe which had suddenly bereft the town of its proudest work of art. They gathered up the fragments, huddled them in a box, and carried them to the cellar of the church. One day there came along a stranger, and craved permission to see the beautiful window. They told him of its fate. He asked what they had done with the fragments. And they took him to the vault and showed him the broken morsels of glass. "Would you mind giving these to me?" said the stranger. "Take them along," was the reply, "they are no longer of any use to us." And the visitor carefully lifted the box and carried it away in his arms. Weeks passed by; then one day there came an invitation to the custodians of the cathedral. It was from a famous artist, noted for his master-skill in glass-craft. It summoned them to his study to inspect a stained # glass window, the work of his genius. Ushering them into his studio he stood them before a great veil of canvass. At the touch of his hand upon a cord the canvass dropped. And there before their astonished gaze shone a stained glass window surpassing in beauty all their eyes had ever beheld. As they gazed entranced upon its rich tints, wondrous pattern, and cunning workmanship, the artist turned and said: "This window I have wrought from the fragments of your shattered one, and it is now ready to be replaced." Once more a great window shed its beauteous light into the dim aisles of the old cathedral. But the splendor of the new far surpassed the glory of the old, and the fame of its strange fashioning filled the land.
Reader, do you say that your plans have been crushed ? Thank God and take heart. Have you not long since learned that the best place for many of your plans is the trash pile? And that often you must fling them there before your blinded eyes can see God's own, better plan for your life? And how is it with your life? Has sin blighted it? Have the mistakes of early years seemingly wrecked it? Have joy and sweetness vanished from it? Does there seem nought left for you but to walk its weary treadmill until its days of darkness and drudgery shall end? Then know this. Jesus Christ is a matchless life-mender. Try Him. He will take that seemingly shattered life and fashion a far more beautiful one from its fragments than you yourself could ever have wrought from the whole. In Him your weary soul shall find its longed-for rest. And the fragments that remain of God's heritage of life to you shall mean in gladsome days to come, more than all the vanished years that are crooning their sad lament in your innermost soul to-night.
Why do I drift on a pathless sea,
With neither compass, nor star, nor chart,
When, as I drift, God's own plan for me,
Waits at the door of my slow-trusting heart?
Down from the heavens it drops like a scroll,
Each day a bit will my Lord unroll,
Each day a mite of the veil will uplift;
Why should I stray? Why falter and drift?
Drifting—when God's at the helm to steer;
Drifting—when God lays the course so clear;
Drifting—when straight into port I might sail;
Drifting—when heaven lies just within hail.
Help me, my God, in the plan to believe;
Help me my fragment each day to receive.
Oh, that my will may with Thine have no strife!
For the God-yielded will finds the God-planned life.
From Life Talks: A Series of Bible Talks on the Christian Life by James H. McConkey. Harrisburg, PA: Published by Fred Kelker, 1911.
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