You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.Matthew 5:48 (ESV)
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.Philippians 3:12 (ESV)
My trip to the workshop had come on a Monday morning. All that day, my mind kept coming back to the piece of wood that Jesus was sanding with such loving attention. It was very beautiful, but that was not why I was thinking about it. I felt like I ought to know what it was; it seemed to be a very important detail to know what Jesus was sanding.
The next morning, I again sought my Pops in prayer. I didn’t try to return to the workshop. For all I knew, that experience was for that one time only. Nonetheless, I wasn’t surprised when I found myself back in the workshop. Pops was still there, but my attention was drawn to Jesus. I immediately went to the back where he was again sanding, slowly, carefully, frequently pausing to examine his work. Unlike my first visit, there was no spoken dialog this time. Even so, as I watched Jesus at work, I knew that the beautiful, richly grained piece of wood he was so lovingly sanding was a person!
What Jesus was so taking so much care with, what he loved enough to want to perfect, was a person. This made perfect sense. Jesus loves us so profoundly that he went to the cross. His sacrifice was much more than to save us from the eternal price for our sins. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, we are justified; that is, we are saved from the eternal consequence of our sin. But Christ wants so much more for us. He also wants our sanctification.
In “Renovation of the Heart,” Dallas Willard recounts the analogy of an ocean-going ship. If its mechanical systems are broken down, it can be towed to a port, made fast to a dock. Then it is safe; this is justification: safety. However, that ship is not sound; it could not go back out to sea. It needs to be repaired. That is sanctification. Sanctification restores our “soundness.” Jesus’ love for us is such that he not only wants us safe, he wants us to be the beautiful people we were created to be. He wants to perfect us.
As I was absorbing the understanding that Jesus was lovingly perfected people, he paused from his work to offer me a piece of sandpaper, which I took. He was inviting me to join in his work, and without thinking, I accepted. Being in his presence is like that; we forget our pretenses and our fears and step into trusting acceptance. By anyone’s standard, I had no business thinking I could help perfect anyone.
I was painfully aware that in the past I would have reached for a chisel or a gouge and hurried to shape the wood to what I thought it should look like. My approach had always been the opposite of what Jesus was showing me. His approach is loving, gentle, and respectful of the “wood.” I was no respecter of people; I was a user of people. I wanted them to conform to my idea of what they should be. Jesus is not trying to shape people into something new; he is focused on revealing the beauty that is already in them. He loves us enough to want to perfect us.
It would be hard to overstate the impact of this moment for me – I was being invited by Jesus to participate in his work, even though I knew myself wholly unprepared and wholly unqualified. Jesus was at work, lovingly perfecting people, revealing their inner beauty, and he was inviting me to join him. I knew that I was receiving a direct, personal invitation to a ministry, a ministry of helping to “perfect people.” As he had said, “If you want to make something perfect, you have to love it.”
His approach is grounded in love. He knows the inner beauty each of us is created with. He loves us for who we are – who we are created to be, not how we appear to be today. He can see through the years of accumulated grime and crud and the layers of paint that hide what we are meant to be. He slowly works through those layers until the beauty God created in us is revealed.
My approach would be to quickly carve the wood into the “right” shape and then add yet another layer of paint. I would make the person look the way I thought beauty should look, probably a lot like me, or at least how I saw myself! I operated under a paradigm that says, “you need to be made beautiful before I can love you.” Jesus’ paradigm is “I love you so much that I want to show your beauty. I want the world, and more importantly, you, to see the beautiful person you were created to be.” This invitation to help with perfecting people was also a calling to love people as they are today, and loving them, help them see, understand, and walk in the beauty too often hidden within them. He certainly doesn’t want people to be like me, except where I am like him. His call to us to become more and more like him. As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:
So all of us … can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.2 Corinthians 3:18, New Living Translation
I am an analyzer. Almost anything that comes my way is analyzed. Why is this happening? What does it mean? As I considered Jesus’ invitation to be about his business of loving and helping to perfect people, I shouldn’t have been surprised. It makes perfect sense from a head-knowledge perspective. Each Christ-follower is called to be about Jesus’ ministry. As the church, we are his body on earth. Yet there was nothing academic about this invitation; it was personal, direct, and specific. I was invited to help perfect people, and that necessarily included an invitation to love them with Jesus’ love and my Pops’ love.
The thought of such an invitation should have filled me with dread. I should have remembered all the times that I acted out of arrogance, doing whatever I thought I needed to do to put the world in order, the order I thought it should be in. I should have worried that I would once again be the proverbial bull in the china shop, breaking and hurting where I intended to help. I should have demurred for fear of hurting people. Instead, inexplicably, I met this invitation with a calm assurance that it was right for me. That level of peaceful assurance comes directly from being in the presence of God. I know of no other way we obtain it. Asserting our wills leads to stress and contention. Saying yes to the Father’s gracious invitation leads to calm and peace.
Still, I was tempted to think that Jesus might have made a mistake. Perhaps he didn’t remember my history of hurting those I loved. Perhaps he had forgotten my arrogance, my bullying ways. But now, with the passing of some time, I realize that nothing Jesus could ask me to undertake could be a mistake. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He is at work perfecting us. We are free to say no, but we can trust that anything he asks us to put our hands to will be okay. It almost certainly won’t turn out the way we think it should, but it will be good.
For now, I was buoyed by my experience with my Pops and Jesus. I could assent to this invitation, not even knowing just how it could be that I could join Jesus in his work of restoring and perfecting.
Throughout my time in the workshop, the Lord would use my curiosity to tempt me to dig deeper. Indeed, that aspect of how I relate to God continues to this day.
Willard, Dallas. Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ (p. 225). NavPress. Kindle Edition.