“I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Philippians 3:10-12)
When I was a boy, I often worked with my dad and grandfather in the woodworking business they owned jointly. I loved working in “The Furniture Clinic.” While I always believed my pay to be woefully inadequate–my grandfather believed that being allowed to eat dinner each evening was more than a passable salary–the wealth of knowledge I gained working in that dusty old shop stays with me.
My favorite part of working in the shop was turning things on the lathe. I was fascinated by the way a spinning piece of wood could be utterly transformed by applying a sharp chisel to it as it spun. I often worked to recreate broken spindles from chairs or other furniture, being careful to follow the prescribed pattern to match the original. I would sometimes lose hours of time, lost in the movement of the chisel, my leather apron covered in dust and wood-chips and chunks, absorbed only on the shaping of the wood.
When you use a lathe you tend to me able to be rougher with the wood; at least at first. You clamp a rectangular chunk of wood into the lathe, turn it on, which sets the wood spinning at incredible speeds then you go to work. First you use a very large chisel to chip away the corners of the wood. As the carver works, huge chunks of wood fly off. If you are not careful in fact, you can do serious damage to the wood. As the wood begins to take shape, the carver has to use finer and finer equipment.
Ultimately, the spindle has to be taken off of the lathe and worked with hand carving tools in order to create the finer details. When life gets hard, when suffering abounds, it has occurred to me that sometimes we are on the lathe. The spinning starts and the rough gouges set in. They hurt and pieces of our imperfect attitudes fly away. The celestial woodcarver of our souls occasionally slows the lathe to make sure of the accuracy of His cuts and allow the wood to cool off. The spinning starts back up and the cuts become less gouging and more precise.
The cuts still hurt but there is a reassuring clarity to them, as the wood sees itself becoming something, being shaped into something more than what it has been. When the woodcarver finally removes the refined but still splintery rough wood, He caresses it in his palm. He takes a close inspection of its details, seeing where He needs to work with tiny instruments of metal to remove imperfection and bring out the fullest beauty of the wood.
Finally, he holds the wood firmly against His apron as he sands it first with medium grip sandpaper, moving finally to the finest paper as He sets his finished product on the workbench, ready to coat it in glimmering paint or shining lacquer.
I’ve been on the lathe many times. So have you. It is on the lathe of life that God works His purpose in our lives. It is on the lathe of life that the woodcarver works out imperfection, teaches us to trust Him, and shows that there is no distinction between His supreme love for us and His hope for us to become what He has created and shaped us to be.
It hurts to be on the lathe but that’s where I want to be. That’s where I need to because, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Philippians 3:10-12)
Take heart, the woodcarver is at work in your life and mine.
Prayer: Sovereign Lord, hold me tightly in the spinning of life. Let me never take my eyes off Your strong hands as I am being shaped. Teach me to sense Your care in the shaping; Your love in the forming. Amen.
About the author
Chris Surber is the Pastor at Cypress Chapel Christian Church in Suffolk, Virginia. He is a religion columnist for the Suffolk News Herald and a contributor to various Christian publications. You can his website at www.chrissurber.com
When the spinning of this life is happening, when we are being tossed around, how are you finding confidence to trust in the woodcarvers crafting of and care for you?
Curious to see an actual lathe in the process of making a spindle. Imagine for a moment that you are the wood and God is the lathe. -Lisa