Tuesday morning, I sat in the quiet morning light and listened to a lone bird sing his song.
I read Philippians 2.12-18.
“Accordingly, my beloved ones, just as you have always obeyed not just in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, with fear and trembling, work out the salvation which is yours; for God is the one working within you both to will and to work for the sake of His good pleasure. Do everything without grumbling and argument, so that you all may be blameless and pure, unblemished children in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as stars in the world, holding fast to the word of life, unto my boasting on the day of Christ, because I did not run in vain or labor in vain. But if indeed I am poured out upon the altar in the service of your faith, I will rejoice, indeed I will rejoice together with all of you; and in the same way, indeed you must rejoice and rejoice together with me.”
And I wrote:
I think I need to be reminded of what joy is. It’s not circumstantial and it’s not something I can simply feel, and, most importantly, it’s not something I can lose. I may forfeit it. But God will not take it away. Will the hard days come, when serving feels like a slaying of self on the altar for the sake of someone else (as Paul put it)? Yes. Yet Paul rejoiced. And he asked his church at Philippi to rejoice. Why? Because he knows that it is not–ever–in vain.
And that’s where joy springs up, then: in the worth. In the “worth-it” moments of obedience. The easiest? no. The earnest? no. The hardest? yes.
Because it’s in the hardest things that worth is found. Gold is worth nothing until it is refined by fire, purified unto perfection. It’s worth is only made known in the midst of the fire, as impurities rise and are scraped off the surface. Paul, here, is saying that he has found worth, and even joy, in the hardest obedience he has faced. And he invites the church to rejoice together with him.
One verse here deserves to be repeated, as it is so often misused to steal joy instead of infuse it into the worth we have:
“With fear and trembling, work out the salvation which is yours. For God is the one working within you, both to will and to work for the sake of His good pleasure.”
Monday, the day before this, I didn’t do much of anything. That was the day I sat on my couch and just watched it rain. I wrote some letters and I wrote some about gold. And I realized that sanctification–this process of revealing worth as we become more like Jesus–is the process of working out what’s already inside of you.
I’m not trying to attain some next-base salvation; I’m working out the salvation that has already been freely and fully given to me by grace.
And even the command to work it out comes with a promise that it’s not all up to me. This is not a one-woman show of good works to earn salvation. This is a joint-commission of me working out what’s already there. Because there has already been–for years and years before I ever saw His face–One working within me so that I may have both this will, this desire and intention, to grow into gold, and this active energy alive in me to enable me to work the gold out.
But why the fear & trembling then? What worth is found in scared and shaky hands?
I don’t want to be afraid of where this is all going, of the obedience it will take, or the joy that will be birthed out of it. I want to relish & delight in this worth like nothing else. Yes, and that’s God’s intention in burning out the worth of it all, too. His “good pleasure” is etched into the scars that work often bears.
Yet there is also a reverence and awe that must be deeply seated in our bones. In the places that need to move and work for this working out to begin. I think fear and trembling are a clearer picture of humility than any other words could draw. Fear and trembling remind us that we cannot do this.
We. Cannot. Do. This.
It’s not going to seem worth it. It’s not going to be easy or perfect.
So, let those aspirations go with trembling hands and a stammering heartbeat that wonders if the emptiness you feel really makes the cut to become gold (it does, dear). To be worth it (it is, dear).
Because, remember what Jesus did (go back to Philippians 2.5-11): He emptied himself. He made himself nothing. And hear Paul’s own words again, rejoicing “even if I am to be poured out as a sacrificial drink offering upon the altar in the service of your faith.”
Empty hands are exactly what we called to. A heart that echoes in our chest because it cannot handle the fulness it has been invited to is exactly where this journey of becoming gold begins.
Because Jesus’ hands aren’t empty, stretched open wide across a cross for us anymore; their pierced forms hold our own. His heart doesn’t echo in a frail human chest with wounds inflicted for us to be made His own today; it resounds with the glorious, jealous, redeeming love of a Father who seeks to fill our hearts with the same fulness of love.
Worth is found is the furnace of loss. When we are taken to the end of ourselves, we are at the fringes of the Father’s love. Reach out your empty hands. Lift up your overwhelmed heart. Find love vast enough to fill them both. Find joy that comes in obedience.
Find worth in the gold He is making you to be.