Based around Ephesians 2:1-10
When I was 11 I started at a new secondary school in Westcliff-on-Sea, near Southend in Essex. They taught subjects I had never studied in any real detail before, such as geography, French and… not history, but Classics, the study of classical history, mainly ancient Greece and Rome (I was at a boys’ grammar school, they went in for that sort of thing. Russian was an option in second year!).
We also started on Metalwork. I had never done anything like that and was really looking forward to it. I mean, my dad was an aircraft technician so surely I would inherit his abilities with this sort of thing.
Well, let’s put it this way, there is a reason I work in financial services now, and not engineering. Our task was to make a garden trowel. I was the last to complete the handle and the last to complete the blade. Then came the time to rivet the two together. Just two rivets needed, plus a coating of polymer, and it would be done.
Now, we are talking 33 years ago here, so the details are a little sketchy, but I think it took me 4 months worth of double metalwork lessons to finally get the first rivet in. I just couldn’t do it! I would bend, warp and break them, but nothing went right. A time went past and I finally got the second one in. I presented it to the teacher, who informed me that the reason I’d managed these rivets where others had failed is that they were aluminium and they’d break on first use.
Six months I worked on this and, at the end, there was no trowel.
My poor dad wondered what on earth went wrong! I think it baffled him until the day he died. How on earth does the son of a man who has worked with metal since joining the RAF in the sixties have absolutely no ability to work with his hands at all?
But I wasn’t made to do that kind of work. My abilities don’t lie in manual or physically creative works, although there have been many times in my life where I have wished that wasn’t the case.
I think that’s a feeling we are all familiar with, the one where we turn put to be terrible at something we would really love to be good in. It makes us feel useless or worthless, and its very easy to let ourselves be defined by what we are bad at. I can spend ages listing things I’m not gifted in, but struggle a lot more when asked about my strengths.
But it is our strengths, our gifts, which God defines us by. Paul writes to the Ephesians,
“For we are God’s handiwork (some translations say “masterpiece”), created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
We have a job to do, a specific job which God has given us the ability to do. Those things we are bad at, no matter how much we wish we could do them, they are not the reason for which we were saved. It’s the things we do well in, or excel in, that he has created us for.
I think that sometimes we worry that, by admitting to being good at something, we come across as boastful or arrogant. Especially for the British, blowing your own trumpet is just not the done thing. However, that’s not what you are doing. Remember what else Paul writes,
“It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, so that no one can boast about it.”
Our salvation and our gifts come from God. If we are good at something it’s not by our own effort, but it’s a gift from God, to be used as he wishes in order to give him, not us, the glory. That’s not boastful or arrogant, it’s the ultimate act of humility.
But even in humility we can go too far. We can describe ourselves as unworthy, not good enough, as if there is something inherently wrong with us.
Take a look at this picture. It’s a pencil drawing, just 19cm high and 13cm across, and depicts the martyrdom of St Sebastian. It’s a good drawing, but if you or I had drawn this it would essentially be a scrap piece of paper. The age of it, about 500 years old, gives it some more value, but not a huge amount.
It has been valued at around £15 million.
It was drawn by Leonardo da Vinci. Just a scrap of paper with a small pencil drawing of a man on it, but its value comes entirely from who made the drawing.
We are the same. On our own we are just people. We, our lives, have little real value in the context of all of time and the vastness of the world.
But we are precious and priceless. Not on our own merit, but because of the one who made us. Because God made us we are masterpieces. And because he made us, we have a use, a purpose. The da Vinci drawing was used as a study, to aid the great artist as he planned one of his magnificent works. Not only does it have great value, but it has a valuable role in the creation of great beauty.
We have both, because God has crafted us that way. It’s not up to me to tell you what your gift or role are. You may already know. But, if you don’t, you need to go back to the one who made you and ask. He will tell or show you, in time. And when he does, we will all, under his guidance, create great beauty which will bring glory to God forever.