Summary: We can become what God wants us to become if we downplay disappointment, pick perceptive people, consider consequences, and accept affirmation. Revised from a 2003 message.
Luther Rice Memorial Baptist Church, Silver Spring, MD, June 5, 2005
It is said that the Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo could sense that in a rough block of marble there was an angel struggling to get out. He said that his job was to free that angel. Isn’t that remarkable?! To know that in a rough exterior there is something beautiful, something available for shaping. Personally, I cannot fathom how anybody can shape a sculpture. How can anyone take a hammer and a chisel and remove unwanted stone to create a likeness out of marble? It takes a special genius, a Michelangelo, to do that.
But then how much more remarkable it is to know that inside your rough exterior and mine there is a life available for shaping! How much more wonderful than one of Michelangelo’s stone angels is a life made beautiful by someone shaping it! It can happen, if you and I are available for life-shaping. What will it take to be ready for sculpting?
The boy Samuel was born in a troubled time. The Bible describes it as one in which the word of the Lord was rare and visions were not widespread. It was a difficult time. But Samuel, if you remember, was born as the result of his mother’s prayer. Hannah had cried out to the Lord to give her a child, and God had heard that prayer. Samuel’s grateful parents dedicated him to the service of God. They sent him to the temple at Shiloh to be trained as an aide to the priest Eli. Samuel, there in the temple with Eli, became, like Michelangelo’s angel, available for life-shaping. How did it happen?
There are four simple truths I want you to see in this story. Let me share them first and then we’ll develop each one. How can we be available for life-shaping? We can be ready for sculpting and shaping if first we downplay disappointment; second, if we pick perceptive people; third, if we consider the consequences; and, finally, if we accept affirmation.
I am going to repeat those. We can be available for life-shaping – we can free our angels from their rough exteriors – if we downplay disappointment; if we pick perceptive people; if we consider consequences; and if we accept affirmation. Let’s work on these together.
First, to be available for life-shaping means: downplay disappointment. If you want to become something worthwhile, discount those times when you feel as though you are heading down a dead-end street. The fact is that it takes time to shape a life, and we may start some things that won’t pay off for a while. But we have to stick with our life vision and downplay disappointment, or else we will not be shaped.
Young Samuel heard a voice calling, and he said, “Here I am”. He reported to Eli, who told Samuel that it was not he who called. A little later he heard it again, and once again went to Eli, who once more told Samuel that, no, he had not called. And then a third time, the same thing.
But look! Young Samuel kept on going back and kept on saying, “Here I am”, despite the disappointment of finding out that he was mistaken. Samuel didn’t give up. He didn’t surrender to his disappointment. He knew that he was in the right place, he knew that he was with the right person, and most of all, he knew his own mind, and stayed by the stuff. It would have been easy on that third time to have said, “I must be hearing things. I’ll ignore this call. I’ll just give up on this thing.” But Samuel didn’t give up. Samuel downplayed his disappointment, and thus became available for life-shaping.
I’m afraid the landscape is littered with people whose lives don’t count for much because they let something get in the way of their doing what they really felt led to do. They let disappointments stop them. My father used to talk about how, when he was about eighteen, he felt called to preach, but his father stopped that with a snarl, “We aren’t having any preachers in this house.” And then after he and my mother married, my musically gifted dad got an offer to move to Cincinnati and sing for a radio station – but this time it was not his father, but my mother’s father, who stomped that out, declaring that nobody was going to take his little girl way out there to Cincinnati. And so, throughout much of his life, my dad nursed a deepening disappointment. He had not followed his own heart, he had not downplayed his disappointment, and it held him back.
I can assure you of one thing: if you live long enough, you will be disappointed. Things will not always go your way. You will get bent out of shape by somebody. But the glory of the Gospel is that “even while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”. Jesus Christ stays with us even when we disappoint Him. And so we need to trust ourselves, we need to keep on keeping on, as Samuel did, and downplay disappointment. Stay with what you hear in your heart of hearts; know your own mind. Then you will be available for life-shaping.