In his book, Unlimited Grace, Bryan Chapell tells of a work of art he once presented to his father. The story goes as follows:
“One morning, we were in the woods cutting logs to burin in our fireplace. We began sawing on a log that we did not know was rotten on the inside. So, when we had just barely sawn into the log, it broke and fell off the cutting frame. The log hit the ground so hard, that a big piece broke off. To my adolescent imagination that broken piece of rotten log looked like a horse’s head.
My father’s birthday came a few weeks later. So I took that piece of rotten timber, nailed a wooden board to it, tied on a rope tail, stuck on some sticks for legs, and partially hammered in a few nails (so they were left sticking out) down the length of the board. I put a decorative bow on my creation, and presented it to my father as his gift.
My father looked at what I had labored so hard to prepare for him and said, ‘That’s wonderful! — What is it?’
I said, ‘It’s a tie rack, Dad. See those nails sticking out on the side of that horse? You can hang your ties on them.’
My father smiled, took my gift, leaned it against his closet wall (because the stick legs wouldn’t really keep it standing up), and used it as his tie rack for years.
At the moment that I presented that rotten-timber-horsehead tie rack to my father, I could not have been more proud. I thought that my work of art was ready for museum display. But I had only to mature a few more years before my perspective changed. Then I said, ‘Dad, will you please get rid of that rotten piece of wood.’ But he received it and rejoice in it, not because it was good, but because he was.”*
I do not remember hearing a simpler illustration and clearer explanation of our sinfully tainted works and our Heavenly Father’s delight. There is nothing we can do that is pure enough, honorable enough, or excellent enough for our God. However, because he loves us, because he has paid for our sins and clothed us in Christ’s righteousness, because he is perfectly satisfied, because he has adopted us, betrothed us, and made us his precious possession, he receives our always less-than-pure worship and smiles. He even gives us crowns and trophies for our performance that we really do not deserve. Consequently, as we mature in our understanding of God’s glory, God’s Law, our sin, and God’s grace, we become progressively less impressed with ourselves, less impressed with our works, much more impressed with his love. Yes, as we travel down life’s road, we become more and more humble and amazed, and this maturation process continues until we finally get to glory. On that day, we will finally know who we really were and are. It will also even be more apparent who God is and what he deserves. No wonder we will fall down before him and cast all our crowns and trophies at his feet. They will not be that important to us, for we will clearly see the truth regarding our works, God’s glory, and God’s grace.
Therefore, reacquainting ourselves with this truth today, we can with humble confidence worship and labor for him. We can busy ourselves laboring for him knowing he will graciously and gladly receive our “works of art,” not because we are good, but because he is.
In addition, we can stop looking about and comparing our “works of art” with that of others. True, their’s is not so good. Equally true, neither is ours. Friends, when we properly understand our works, his glory, and his grace, we can forfeit our pretended credentials of being God’s art critic. We can relax and quit judging ourselves and others. Yes, because God regularly accepts the less-than-pure worship of his children, we can too.
Now go; make beautiful things for God. Be an artist for his glory. Put forth your best effort and walk into his presence with confidence. Your Heavenly Father smiles upon you today, not because you are good, but because he is.