Summary: Our lives find meaning and completeness if we first recognize what God has already done in us, if we see that God never stops working in any life, and if we devote ourselves to His purposes.
If I were to take you to my home this afternoon, I could show you a parable of the human condition. My house would tell you a whole lot about our family, of course, but it also would tell you about the whole human problem.
You see, our house is unfinished. It is incomplete. Oh, it was built in 1965, more than a quarter century ago. And we have lived in it for nearly 21 years. But still, it is unfinished; it is seriously incomplete.
Enter the living room and take a look at the paint on the woodwork. A nice fresh creamy off white. But move the couch or look around the corner into the closet, and you will see remnants of something called Aztec gold. I think it was one of the popular colors in the 70’s, when all the men were wearing deep-toned shirts and their wives were painting rooms in even deeper, even more intense tones. We got tired of Aztec gold and painted over it, where it shows. But we never quite got finished behind the scenes, where it doesn’t show. Take heart; it’s only been fifteen years. We’ll get it done.
Turn the corner into the kitchen and look at the door that leads out to the back stairs. Up around the deadbolt lock and here and there around the other latch you will see patches of a whitish substance. It’s not lime green, like most of the door. It’s not smooth, like the wood. It’s wood filler and patch plaster. When in the 80’s there was a sudden concern about security, I bought a hole saw attachment for my electric drill, cut holes in the door, and installed a deadbolt lock. But these hands were made for preaching, not for precision carpentry, and so I managed to mangle the wood and ended up patching it, sort of, with wood filler.
I cannot exactly tell you why we’ve never gotten around to sanding that and finishing it off. It remains incomplete. But take heart; it’s only been five years. We’ll get it done.
Then come with me downstairs to my study, where I sit surrounded by about 3000 books, some of which I have actually even read. Many of them, however, have markers jammed in them at the point where I stopped reading, promising myself I would finish this soon. And when you have climbed over the books, watch out that you do not knock over the stacks of periodicals, skimmed but not assimilated, glanced at but not studied. In the 90’s the demands on my time leave little energy for reading.
Unfinished, incomplete. But take heart; there is not a magazine there that’s older than three years, and one of these days I’m going to find out how that Dukakis fellow did in the last election!
As you can see, I’ve got an unfinished relic from three different decades now. Might get them finished in the retirement years; but then, why bother?
The truth is that every human life is cluttered with incomplete tasks; every one of us sets off down roads we think will be productive, only to be sidetracked or stopped. And those incomplete tasks, those life sidetracks, are a whole lot more important than the condition of my study or the out of date colors on my woodwork. Most of us, I say, live with incomplete lives, unfinished personalities, and that is more serious by far than patched-up deadbolt locks.
If today, then, you feel a certain futility; if you sense a certain loss of direction; if you think you’ve really never accomplished anything worthwhile and certainly never finished anything noteworthy, then listen to what the apostle Paul suggests about getting something completed.
"In my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church."
"I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions." That’s a strange turn of phrase! And yet what possibilities it holds out for us! It says that even God has unfinished work, even God has not yet completed all that He set out to do. And it also suggests that you and I can find satisfaction and some sense of closure, some sense of completeness. How do we do that?
Notice first that who we are and what we are about can be founded on what God has already accomplished. We don’t have to do this living thing all by ourselves; God has already begun the work and has put it on a solid foundation. The purpose is clear and the fundamental work has been done. The major problem has already been solved.
"You who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him."