God's Workshop
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - The Material and Its Seasoning

We are coming now to the second of those aspects of oneness with God. You remember last time we said that the very first thing in relation to a work of God is our union with Him in His dissatisfaction, that there must be born in us a sense of something very much more than we have ever attained unto, and that sense creates dissatisfaction in us, a Divine dissatisfaction. God is not satisfied with the situation. He is after something very much more, and in order to move with Him in His work, we must be in fellowship with Him in that dissatisfaction. The dissatisfaction is the negative side. What is positive in God's far greater intention?

Now, the second aspect of our fellowship with God is fellowship with Him, or oneness with Him in His purpose, oneness with the Divine purpose. Here it is in the letter to the Ephesians.

"...making known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Him unto a dispensation of the fulness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth; in Him, I say, in Whom also we were made a heritage, having been foreordained according to the purpose of Him who works all things after the counsel of His will; to the end that we should be unto the praise of His glory, we who had before hoped in Christ" (Eph. 1:9-12).

That is the comprehensive statement of the purpose. Let us break it up. "The mystery of His will", meaning, as you know, the undisclosed secret of God's will, something that God had as a purpose which He willed to realise, but which He kept in secret throughout a whole period of time.

But now made known, now revealed, "having made known unto us" what He did not make known unto others before. The mystery of His will, or the purpose of His will, relates (it says) to Christ, "which He purposed in Christ". The purpose, then, is in Christ. You notice the several occasions on which that phrase is used in that first chapter.

Thirdly, "unto a dispensation of the fulness of the times". There is an age in which this purpose will be fully realised.

And then, fourthly, we were foreordained according to that: "having been foreordained according to the purpose". That is the analysis of the statement concerning the purpose.

Later we shall have to look at the purpose itself.

Unseasoned Wood

Thirdly, we come to the material and the work (I do not know how far we are going to get) the material upon which God is working, and the work that He is doing. As our illustrations are coming from this little workshop where we are working on the wood, we might be reminded of the little phrase in Haggai 1:8, "Go up to the mountain, and bring wood." So the material we are thinking of at the moment is that which corresponds to the wood which is to be shaped for the house of God, and first of all there has to be a preparation of the wood. The work cannot really be begun, the purpose cannot be worked out, until something has been done by way of preparing the wood, and that is no small matter. There are many problems connected with unseasoned wood.

Last week I went down to the farm and I saw a nice branch of an oak tree lying on the ground, and I thought there were possibilities in that oak, so I asked my son to just cut me off two pieces. Of course, I knew they were unseasoned wood, and I knew what to expect, but I thought I would have a try and see exactly what would happen and how far we would get.

I put a piece on the machine and got to work. It responded immediately. Chips flew in all directions, and I gradually worked it down to a beautiful-looking block. It was to be the foot of a table-lamp. It looked all right. When I took it off the machine it was perfectly smooth and polished and it did not look too bad. I took it off the machine and put it on the bench and left it for about three days. I went back, and found what I expected, what always happens with unseasoned wood. My beautiful block had split all the way round. It had dried, and in drying had opened up and was perfectly useless. You see the problems of unseasoned wood, all the disappointments if you go too quickly, all the disaster and tragedy of trying to hurry something before its time. It is all very well to bring the wood from the mountains. We are not told how long they kept it for seasoning, but we have to allow for that. There must have been such a time. It has got to be set apart. Paul said that he was set apart from his birth (Gal. 1:15), but that was from God's side, God's act. That setting apart had become a very practical and real thing in Paul's own life, and that period of being set apart or separated, is one of the most trying and difficult periods in any life, or aspects of the Lord's dealings in life.

Time Needed for Seasoning

Just think of Paul himself. Well, there was that great vision between Jerusalem and Damascus, and that great sense of vocation, and what the Lord said to Ananias - "He is a chosen vessel unto Me" (Acts 9:15). Then he started right away in his eagerness, in his enthusiasm, he started right away to try and be the vessel, but he experienced an arrest and two years in the desert. Now, that is not easy for a man of Paul's temperament. It might be easy for some very quiet, sober, restful temperaments, but look at this man, and to be apparently set back, held up, for two years...! But that is not all. He went to Jerusalem, quite expecting, of course, that on the one hand the Jerusalem church and the apostles and leaders would open their arms to welcome him and he would have a great reception, and seeing that he was so well-known in Jerusalem, what he had been, surely all Jerusalem would listen to him because they knew him. What happened? A terrible set-back. A situation arose which became so acute that the apostles and elders in Jerusalem did what many in China have done in recent years: begged the missionary to withdraw for the sake of the future of Christianity. And they just asked Paul, I expect very kindly and politely, "Look here, your presence here constitutes a threat to the whole future of the church; you had better withdraw and get out."

So he went to Tarsus, and you perhaps do not realise that he was there three or four more years doing nothing. Reading the narrative, it looks as though it is one thing following another, but if you read carefully Paul's writings you will find that there is every reason to believe that he was from A.D. 37 to 42 doing nothing, waiting for that day when Barnabas came from Antioch, and said, "Brother, your waiting time is completed, there is a job for you, the Lord needs you". But what a gruelling time for a man like Paul with his boiling zeal, his tremendous energy. The wood had to be seasoned, it therefore had to be set apart, separated. Someone has said: "God often permits those whom He has chosen for some work, to wait a long time." For a will as untamed as his, and a heart eaten up with consuming fire, this period of waiting nearly four years in Tarsus... waiting was no easy matter for Paul. The Scripture is full of this waiting in the Lord, and waiting for the Lord requires strength. The fidgety, nervous, active kind of person cannot wait. He is always either too early or too late, not able to move with God. It is good for us to remember that such times of testing did come to the saints, that there were the times of apparent inactivity when they seemed to be doing nothing, but just searching and groping for the will of God, and not finding it.

That may help some of you. I hope it does not depress you, but it is very true. But I want to say more than that. Will it ever be altogether otherwise? Will there not always be this element of waiting, even when we are active? When we are engaged in the Lord's work and in the purpose, will there not always remain this sense of the more, the unattained, something for which we are still waiting? The place of patience is as much in the work of the Lord as in waiting for the work of the Lord. Was that not true of Paul? Did it not go right through his life even after Arabia and Tarsus and the twelve months at Antioch? When he got right out on his main life business, was it always without this testing? What about the two years' imprisonment in Caesarea much later in his life? Was not that an opportunity for wondering why there should be so much lost time? He was just left. It says "Felix left Paul in bonds" (Acts 24:27). It seems as if it is lost time - what he might have been doing! It will go right on. In the work or out of the work, there will always be a place for this kind of testing and waiting for the Lord.

Now, why do I say that? For this reason, that whether you are in the waiting for the Lord, or whether you are in the work of the Lord, do remember that it is today that matters, and not tomorrow. There is this infinite peril of always thinking in future terms: "Some day I will be in the work, some day I will be in the Lord's interests, some day I shall find myself there." Beware of that snare; shun it as you would shun a plague. I cannot think that Paul in Arabia, or Tarsus, or Caesarea, or anywhere else, was ever doing nothing. There may have been the trial and the testing about the public side, but this man was making good whatever there was of possibility, even while he seemed to be waiting.

Now you see this brings us back to a point which I made last time, that the work of the Lord in us, unlike this mechanical workshop, the work of the Lord in us goes on simultaneously with His using of us. While we may be in the work, He is still doing deep things in us. Our New Testament came to us along that line. The New Testament is not the fruit and product of the cloister, the monastery, the withdrawal from active life. The New Testament was hammered out in everyday experience. It was produced because of everyday demands and situations which arose from time to time and drew out everything. The men who wrote were up against real life, and they wrote by the demands of real life. We must not get into that nebulous position where we are always waiting for something, waiting till we get into the work. We are in the work today, and the work is going on in us, and if we are not today under the hand of the Lord in a fruitful way, a way which is showing itself now, even if it is in our patience, our longsuffering, our endurance, our steadfastness, while we may be waiting for the thing that we think is our life work, today is the day when our life work is going on. You will never be more in your life work than you are today.

What is our lifework? Is it to be preaching, giving addresses, running about conducting meetings? No. What is the purpose here? That we shall be to the praise of His glory. That is our life work. All God's activities in us and upon us and through us are to head up to that, to the place of His glory. That is our work today.

Well, this wood has to be seasoned by being set aside. But when the wood is taken and it is separated, set apart for seasoning, what is happening? All the elements are at work upon it. You have probably seen wood undergoing the seasoning process. When I was young, I used to see so much of it. My grandfather was the biggest timber merchant in this country, and I used to spend a lot of time at his wharves as a little boy. I saw the barges arriving on the canal with wood from the Baltic. It was brought ashore and cut up into planks and then, to my amazement, it was carefully stacked somewhere right out of the way so that the air could get in between and all the elements could play upon this wood, and it stayed there, it seemed to me, for years. What was happening? Well, the elements were playing upon it. The Lord exposes us to the elements to season us.

Natural Heat Eliminated

What takes place in that seasoning? First of all, that great factor in decay has to be eliminated, and moisture is the big factor in decay. I leave you to interpret what moisture may mean. It may be our own heat, our own enthusiasms, our own excitability, our own anxiety, our own restlessness. I think that is true to the Bible. You remember in the Old Testament the priests were never allowed to wear wool; they were only allowed to wear cotton, and it was forbidden to mix wool and cotton, because wool creates heat and perspiration, and no priest is allowed to perspire. There is a lot in the Bible about 'perspiration', this human heat, this natural heat, this going for it ourselves, this moisture. It is true that a well-trained athlete, one who has really trained thoroughly, does not perspire as easily, at any rate, as the other. Perspiration has come under control. It is unfit people who do all the perspiring. We know how unfit we are. We climb a little hill, and there we are, we are betrayed. All that has to be got rid of before the Lord can get on with His work through us, and the Lord allows the elements to play upon us in order that we may beat the elements eventually. This wood has to be able to withstand rain and moisture in the future, and therefore it has to go through this discipline where that sort of thing is not in its constitution any longer, it can resist.

That is a parable. It is very true to life. The Lord does so deal with us like this. The natural perspiration, the natural heat, which is the basis of decay, is eliminated. The Lord is always working with the long view. What He is after is that things shall not decay. They will stand and go right through. So an experienced worker in wood never hurries the seasoning period. That is what I did. I just hurried that piece of wood. It made a wonderful response, but it did not last. The Lord is after the lasting effect, and therefore He must do the seasoning and not cut it short. How we want the Lord to cut this short! Let us see what He is doing with us and face it because it is true. That which is the basis of the various weaknesses has got to be dried up.

Two or three things will happen with unseasoned wood. First, it will shrink. You have seen doors of unseasoned wood shrink and great gaps appearing when it is dry, and then when it gets wet it swells. Unseasoned wood shrinks at times and swells at others, it gets too big for its framework, it will not fit into anything, or anywhere, or with anybody. It has got too swollen. We know all about it. And then there will be splitting, showing holes and gaps and finally early decay. So it must be seasoned, and if there is a period when it is only seasoning - and there will be a seasoning going on with all who are going to serve the Lord - it will have to be. We often speak about the work of the cross. This is just what it is. The effect of the cross in us is to season us, to make us suitable for the purpose.

The Choice of Wood

Then there is the choice of wood. Of course, when it comes to man, he is very selective and very careful in his choice of wood, and rightly so. He chooses for his end that which is suited to it. Some wood will not serve certain purposes, and will not become certain kinds of vessels. Man has to choose what is suitable to the object in view. That is his wisdom. But God's wisdom is altogether above man, altogether above ourselves. God's judgment is so different, and very often just the opposite to man's. What He chooses for His vessels and for His purpose very often cannot be understood by man at all. We have to leave this whole matter of suitability with the Lord and raise no questions. Why has He chosen me? Why has He put me into this work? We have got to leave that with the Lord. We may spoil everything in this workshop of God, we may spoil everything for the Lord by deciding upon our own case. Moses got very near to that. The Lord appeared to him and told him to go to Pharaoh. He said, "I cannot speak, I am altogether unsuited to and unfitted for this. You have got hold of the wrong material, you have made a mistake where I am concerned." That was the argument. "I cannot speak." The Lord said a very illuminating thing. "Who made man's mouth?" (Ex. 3:11), "Who made you as you are?" This so clearly says in other words, "I made you like that, and why did I make you as you are, a man who cannot speak, and then call you to go and do this great speaking? So that I would get all the glory, and you would get none." "Unto the praise of His glory".

Jeremiah nearly crashed on the same point. When the Lord commissioned him, he said, "I know not how to speak; for I am a child" (Jer. 1:6). The Lord said, "Say not, I am a child; for to whomsoever I shall send thee thou shalt go, and whatsoever I shall command thee thou shalt speak." But here is a man saying, "I am not the wood for this job, you have the wrong material." I expect many of you have felt you were called to something for which you are utterly unprepared and unsuitable, called into the purpose of God which finds in you nothing that is of value in that purpose at all. Some of us have often argued with the Lord like Jeremiah and Moses, "Lord, you have made a tremendous mistake here. I am not the person for this job, I am not made this way at all", and yet the Lord holds us to it and will not let us go. I cannot tell you how many times I have asked the Lord to let me go on that ground, but He holds you. You are the bond-slave of Jesus Christ. We have to leave this matter with the Lord. We shall only spoil everything if we decide upon our own case, and we shall also spoil everything if we want or try to be what God does not mean us to be. Oh, we can see many whom we knew quite well were called and gifted by God, gifted for a certain aspect of His work, but they saw other aspects, and went for them. The evangelist with the gift of an evangelist seeing the teacher and trying to become a teacher and spoiling both the evangelism and the teaching; becoming a misfit. We shall only spoil everything if we try to be what the Lord does not mean us to be. Let us yield to the Lord, put ourselves in the Lord's hands, go on with the Lord and trust the Lord that, as we do so, it will quietly become clear, perhaps to others before it is to us, but become clear to us sooner or later that such-and-such is the thing for which the Lord has called us and therewith to be content. So much for the wood.

Do remember that this workshop of God is a very real thing. We are called according to His purpose, we are His workmanship, He is working in us to will and to do His good pleasure. The work of God upon us, as we shall see as we go on, is often, and perhaps more often than not, hard to us naturally, difficult to bear, the deep grooving, cutting, and shaping. It is hard to nature, but grace will see the work done, and this letter to the Ephesians, in which first the great purpose is revealed and then the workmanship is mentioned, is a letter in which grace is everywhere. Perhaps you have underlined the word 'grace' in the letter to the Ephesians. If you have not, do so, and you will get a surprise. It touches every phase of the letter. It is the governing thing in all that is there, from eternity to eternity. When all the wood has come down from the mountains, been seasoned, and shaped, and fitted into the house, they will bring forth the top stone with shoutings of "Grace, grace!"

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