As I’m preparing to leave our home of ten years and move cross country, I’m reminded of what I discovered the last time I moved.
Sometimes, you just have to walk away.
Despite my best efforts to plan, organize, and work hard, some jobs will not get done. I’ll miss that last coffee break with my girlfriend, a bill may not get paid, I may fail to label a box, and I’ll be too exhausted to clean the dust bunnies from the corners of the linen closet.
Unfinished work drives me crazy.
Aren’t we hard wired to complete jobs? Don’t we all have a guilty lining for the incomplete projects lurking in our closets? What about talk of unfinished business with relationships or the need to seek closure with fragmented friendships?
It will never all get done. In the end, we have to walk away, leaving jobs half done.
It’s true in moving. It happens in life, relationships, ministry, and jobs. And it’s true even at, especially at, the end of life. For people like me who are outcome based, that’s hard to accept.
The apostle Paul wrote something that liberated me from the tyranny of unfinished work:
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work among you will complete it by the day of Christ Jesus.”Philippians 1:6
The word “you” in that verse is plural. Paul is talking about the overall work of the group of people in the Philippi church. He is reminding us of who is in charge. Jesus knows the Big Picture and He will take all the little stuff we do in His name–the fragments of conversations, outreach programs, and living-the-faith-life-out-loud moments–and bring them all together to completion at the end of time.
It’s God’s job to complete the work of the Kingdom, not mine.
I saw this lived out on a short-term mission trip to Austria where I worked in the kitchen of a bible training center. My role as a kitchen helper was to work with other kitchen helpers to make meals for the students. But I found that I never knew what I would do from hour to hour. I started one morning by peeling potatoes. I asked Sunny, the kitchen director, what to do next with the potatoes. Sunny told me to leave them. Instead, she wanted me to crush Oreo cookies into crumbs. What were we going to do with those crumbs? Not my concern: I was to do cleanup in the dish room next. And then slice pimentos.
Just what kind of dish did she plan for me to make with potatoes, Oreo cookies, and pimentos? No, no, those ingredients were for three separate dishes. Over and over, I did a series of tasks without control or awareness of the final outcome. It wasn’t until the noon or evening meal that I saw the end result of our team’s efforts.
The nature of the kitchen work was to leave a job unfinished and go on to something else. I didn’t need to know the use of those peeled potatoes; my job was to trust Sunny to know the plan and show my trust by following her directions.
The Unfinished Work of Ministry
We each have tasks to accomplish that fit like individual jigsaw puzzle pieces into God’s overall plan, and we trust Him to put it all together. None of us are in charge of the final outcome of any ministry, church, corporation, or even our family.
Furthermore, you and I will never finish everything we put our hands to do. At the end of our lives, we’ll still have incomplete craft projects, a drawer full of unscanned or unframed pictures, unread books, and unfinished business with family and friends.
We won’t have all the wrinkles ironed out of our spiritual maturation. I’ll never perfect patience or get a handle on this unconditional love thing. And we can’t always finish the work of serving others either. There will still be children to teach, lives to influence, and words to say. I won’t get it done. Not every child I teach will come to Christ while I’m there, not every woman fully mature in their faith, and not every service project will be wrapped up. I have to leave what I do and let God choose someone else to take up where I leave off.
Sometimes, that unfinished work will look like a total mess. We’ll feel like we’ve failed. But we haven’t. It’s not a failure; it’s just not done. And it isn’t our responsibility to get it to a point of successful completion.
The good news is this: someday it will be complete. Done. Perfected, just as God wants it to be. That moment will come when God sends Jesus back to earth to bring his beloved children home.
What does God want us to do?
Relocation moves us from unfinished work in our neighborhood or community. Retirement means handing the reins to our replacement. Children fly the nest before we’ve taught them all we should have.
Shouldn’t I have a vision for where I’m going with my work? Yes, God wants us to keep the Big Picture in mind, but we need to allow Him to be in charge of the final results. Our job is to do the tasks He calls us to do. And if He chooses to move us to another task, we follow His lead, leaving the knowledge of the outcome in His capable hands.
How does God want you to balance the Big Picture with the task of the moment?
1. Leave the middle management to Him.
We have an end destination: eternity. We have one marching order: make disciples. Do what we are called to do, trusting God and the leaders He has designated for how everything fits together to reach those goals.
2. Do your best.
Your job is to do the very best with the work God has given you to do. “ . . . always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58 NIV2011).”
3. Let it go.
It’s easy to fret about a project’s success, especially after we’ve finished our part. Can’t we do the next step too? What if the next person doesn’t handle the job so well; is that going to make me look bad? Success and results are God’s responsibility, not ours. Trust is walking away, knowing God will take what you and I have done, and magnify it to bring Him and His Kingdom great glory.
4. Move on.
In the Haus Edelweiss kitchen, my responsibility was to hand off those potatoes to someone else and go crush Oreo cookies. Sunny knew it wasn’t time for the next step with those potatoes and she needed me to start preparations for the supper’s desert that needed to set in the freezer for four hours. She knew the timetable and I didn’t; in fact, I didn’t need to keep that detail in my brain. She knew that at that moment, I was most needed and useful to focus all of my attention on just crushing cookies.
When God calls you away from one task, it isn’t because you are a failure at what you are currently doing. God sees that you are more important elsewhere. Even when God puts you in a holding pattern for a few hours or weeks, He is in the midst of getting everything ready for you. He is also getting you ready to be the best for what He has next for you.
Trust God’s judgment. Let him be in control of the outcome. Determine to do your best and be your best at whatever He calls you to do. Thank him that he knows the end result and that whatever he has planned is good and beautiful.
What is God calling you to leave unfinished?