Intro: On the Anvil In the shop of a blacksmith, there are three types of tools. There are tools on the junkpile: outdated, broken, dull, rusty. They sit in the cobwebbed corner, useless to their master, oblivious to their calling.
There are tools on the anvil: melted down, molten hot, moldable, changeable. They lie on the anvil, being shaped by their master, accepting their calling.
There are tools of usefulness: sharpened, primed, defined, mobile. They lie ready in the blacksmith’s toolchest, available to their master, fulfilling their calling.
Some people lie useless: lives broken, talents wasting, fires quenched, dreams dashed. They are tossed in with the scrap iron, in desperate need of repair, with no notion of purpose.
Other lie on the anvil: hearts open, hungry to change, wounds healing, vision clearing. They welcome the painful pounding of the blacksmith’s hammer, longing to be rebuilt, begging to be called.
Others lie in their Master’s hands: well-tuned, noncompromising, polished, productive. They respond to their Master’s forearm, demanding nothing, surrendering all.
We are all somewhere in the blacksmith’s shop. We are either on the scrap pile, on the anvil, in the Master’s hands, or in the toolchest. (Some of us have been in all three.) (Max Lucado: On the Anvil)
Acts 13:36 “For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep and he was buried with his fathers.”
Wouldn’t it be tremendous to have it said of you when you died, “he served God’s purpose”?
Of course, that makes a couple of assumptions:
1) That God is at work in the world around you,
2) That you are interested in being a part of that work.
I believe he is and I believe you are. Your very presence here this morning indicates that there is a hunger for God in your life, a desire to be what he wants you to be, a willingness to do things he commands you to do.
But sometimes we’re not sure what more is required than to show up once a week for church. We’ve never imagined that there is more to serving God’s purpose than to participate in a weekly worship service. How do you make that step from being a member to being a minister? (And remember what we’ve been saying about ministry for several weeks now – you were made for ministry – and ministry is simply using whatever gifts and talents God has given you to serve him and tell the good news of Jesus.)
Let’s begin by talking about the preparation we need to make:
2 Timothy 2:20-21 “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.”
Paul describes most of our homes – we have different kinds of dishes. We have our everyday tableware – the plates and silverware we set the table with for most meals. (On really informal occasions we pull out the paper plates and plastic knives and forks.) But then there is the special stuff – the china and the real silver – we keep it in the china cabinet and bring it out for special occasions – when company comes over or Thanksgiving, or something that requires we treat it with special honor.
And I would guess that if we went to your house right now, we’d find some dirty dishes in the sink, and the beds might not be made and some dust bunnies floating around in the corners, and let’s not even think about your garage. And it’s really no big deal – nobody expects your house to be ready for a photo shoot for Better Homes and Gardens. It’s fine for every day.
I want to make sure you get the right point here, because it would be easy to go off on tangents and mistaken applications. The point Paul is trying to make is that if God came to your house, you wouldn’t serve him on the common ordinary tableware (and certainly not paper plates) – you would serve him from your best. And you wouldn’t leave laundry on the couch and dirty dishes in the sink – you would scrub the house from top to bottom. God would deserve nothing less. Forget the photo shoot, the creator of the universe is coming to your house!
The fact is, God comes into your life, and deserves nothing but your best. You need to do some house cleaning – get rid of the sins and the attitudes and way of life that might have served you well enough in your old life, but are offensive to God and make your life unusable in his service. And you bring out your best for his use – your prime time, most productive energy, your best efforts.
You are made for ministry – and ministry in God’s service demands a preparation of heart and life that will make you useful in his service.
So you’ve done the preparation. You’re dealing with sin in your life (that doesn’t mean you’re perfect, but that repentance and prayer are ongoing in your pursuit of a holy life). You’ve cleansed your motives and your heart so that God holds a place of honor.
But then…. you can’t keep this new life locked up in the china cabinet, out of God’s reach where it is really of no more use to God than when it was filled with the world.
Having prepared your life, you need to present your life to God – (in other words – make it available to him.)
Let me tell you – this is where most of us struggle. We are so busy – we have filled our lives so full (of good things) – that we don’t have time for God. (“Sorry God – I’m looking at my day-timer here and the next available appt. I’ve got is in February 2019 – shall I pencil you in?”)
There are others who excuse themselves from serving God, not because they don’t have the time, but because they don’t think they have anything to offer. (“I can’t preach, I’m not good in front of people, there are so many others around that I’m just not needed.”) So they sit back – rusting out and gathering cobwebs.
Let me tell you about another kind of person. This is the person Paul says has cleansed himself from the ignoble (cleansed sin from his life, made God’s work a top priority). He is made holy, useful to the Master, and prepared to do any good work – he will be an instrument for noble purposes.
That doesn’t mean he spends a 40 hour week in ministry besides his job and family – it means that everything he does is done with an eye towards ministry. He doesn’t shift gears in and out – this for God / this for me. It is literally – everything he has, everywhere he is – God is able to use him effectively. He is both ready and available. Whatever you have, wherever you’re needed.
I love the attitude communicated by Helen Keller, “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty and joy to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble . . . For the world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker.”
I am always challenged by the way Paul looked at life. There is such a power and intentionality to his life.
2 Cor. 12:15 “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.”
2 Tim. 4:7 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Paul’s intention was to be used up in God’s service. There is a huge difference between being worn out and used up. I’ve seen a whole lot of worn out people. They sprint into service with a burst of energy… and then just as suddenly they fizzle out and never do anything again. Or the person who has been a great servant all of their life, and then one day decides they are too old, or they’ve done their time and they literally retire from serving God. If I understand what God is calling us to, it is a lifelong commitment to him. To be a useful tool to him until the day of our funeral.
How do you keep from becoming worn out or burned out? Let me suggest a theology of serving – a way of looking at life that brings it all together and makes it available to God – ready for serving.
Romans 12:1-2 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Three points out of this very rich passage:
First, your life is a living sacrifice. There’s nothing part-time about that picture. It is the complete and permanent commitment of your life to God. You don’t start marriage by thinking “I’ll try this for a little while, if I don’t like it I’ll move on.” And you don’t get 40 years into your marriage and decide, “I’ve given as much as I want to give, I think I’ll just become a husband emeritus.” Entering into a marriage is a lifelong commitment. Entering into a covenant with God is not just a lifetime, but an eternal commitment.
Secondly, he says, “this is your spiritual act of worship.” Now, the word he uses for “worship,” isn’t the normal word that describes what we do when we assemble – singing, praying, preaching, etc. This is the word that describes the work of the priest, who serves in worship, offering the sacrifices. In effect, you are both priest and sacrifice, offering yourself in service to God. The difference is, instead of a burnt offering, you are a living sacrifice. And what you do in serving – in ministry – is a very real part of your worship to God. Worship isn’t just in here – it is also out there, daily offering yourself in service to God.
And three – “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.” Part of what that conforming to the world involves is the “self-ishness” that pervades the world – this is all about me – the bottom line is what meets my needs. That’s not God’s good, pleasing and perfect will at all. Our relationship with God is personal, but it is not individualistic. He puts us in a family – and I hate to break the news to you, but you’re not an only child! Your place is in the family with responsibilities and duties. Imagine being a part of a large family with lots of brothers and sisters, but you act like an only child. The family gathers for the evening meal, but you come, get your plate and eat by yourself in your room. The family is sitting in the living room watching television and you walk in grab the remote and say, we’re going to watch what I want to watch. That just wouldn’t work very well would it? And yet that’s how a lot of Christians act in the family of God – like they are only children. But God puts us in the body of Christ to function as an effective member of the body, bringing health and strength to the body.
And then he speaks about the practical application of that – Romans 12:3-6a “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”
He begins by saying don’t think too highly of yourself – and by the same token, don’t think too little of yourself. Instead, “think with sober judgment” – know what you have available to God.
You may be one of those people who can do many things and functions at many different levels. Or you may be someone who is only capable of doing a few things. Don’t think more highly / lowly of yourself. Don’t get pumped up with pride because you are a multi-talented person, and don’t excuse yourself from serving because you think your talents aren’t as important as someone else’s. Whatever you have has been given to you by God for serving the body.
And then he lists a few – Romans 12:6b-8
“If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”
It’s not a comprehensive list – but an illustrative list. And please don’t disconnect this from vs. 1 that describes your living sacrifice and your spiritual act of worship.
The uniqueness of ministry and the power of the body of Christ is that no one can do everything, but everyone can (and must) do something in order for the body to function properly.
There was a recurring refrain in those verses – did you hear it? Seven times in three verses. There is no such thing as a servant emeritus, an encourager who doesn’t encourage, a teacher who doesn’t teach, or a giver who doesn’t give. Your gift is defined by what you do. And the point he is making is that whatever your gift – USE IT. Whatever you do – do it wholeheartedly. Don’t let your gift lie in disuse, gathering dust and cobwebs. Don’t dig a hole and bury it. Don’t lock the china cabinet.
The point of having a gift is that it is useful to God, not convenient to us. They serve his purpose not ours.
There is nothing more exciting than the moment you discover what your purpose in life is – unless it is at that same moment to discover that your purpose is God’s purpose – and to know that you are fulfilling his will for your life.