Finishing our Work
"This man began to build, and was not able to finish!" Luke 14:30
Some people never catch up with their work. They are always behind with their tasks. There never comes an evening when they can say that their duty has been done up to that time. There always are things left over, which ought to have been done.
Sometimes the fault is the habit of putting off duties. It is said of some men, that they never do anything today, which they can postpone until tomorrow.
Sometimes a lack of system is to be blamed for the failure to get through with one's tasks. There are many people who seem to be always busy, always under great pressure of haste, who yet accomplish really very little, because they work in a helter-skelter way, without order or method.
Then, there are indolent people who dawdle through their days, loitering at every step and accomplishing only a fraction of their duty on any particular day.
So there are very many who are always behind-hand. The hour for closing work in the evening, finds them in the midst of a mass of unfinished tasks.
This is not ideal living. We ought to be able ordinarily to keep ahead of our work. Of course there are days when we are interrupted, and when it is impossible to finish the tasks which we have laid out to be done. Or illness keeps us away from our accustomed place and our work is untouched. But it should be the habit of our life to get every day's duties done before the day closes.
Some careful and thoughtful men never leave any matter of business in such shape, when they close their desk in the evening, that if they should not come again to their place, there would be any embarrassment or confusion resulting, or anyone would suffer. We never certainly know when we come to the end of any day, that we shall have another day. Many men go home from their office on what seems a common evening, just like thousands before — and never come back any more! It is not safe, therefore, to lay aside matters which belong to today, expecting to attend to them tomorrow. The only true way, is to finish up our work as we go along.
We are exhorted in the Scriptures not to let the sun go down on our anger, always to forgive, to get the bitterness out of our hearts, to finish up our Christian duty of love — before nightfall. The same precept may be applied to all that belongs to the day's duty and responsibility. Before the sun goes down, all should be finished. Uneasy lies the head, when the mind is full of care. One cannot sleep well at night, if the day has been one of loitering, of indulgence, or of negligence.
Each day is a miniature life. We are born, so to speak, in the morning — when we awake and begin our duties. We die, as it were, in the evening — when we lie down and sink into the unconsciousness of sleep. Nothing should be left over at the close — everything should be finished. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof," said the Master. Sufficient unto the day are all its tasks, its duties, and its needs. We dare not crowd into any one day part or all of the burden of any other day, for each day has all it can provide for of its own things.
The end of a year would seem to be a time when especially everything should be finished, nothing left undone. We should not be willing to have the volume closed, sealed up and sent away, while its pages show blanks unfilled by us. We shall be judged out of the books we are now writing ourselves, and the judgment will not be merely for the evil things we have done — but will also include the not doing of the things we ought to have done. "I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink."
We could do nothing better than take a quiet hour, during the last days of the year, and go over the record of our year's life, honestly asking whether we have neglected any duty or whether any work has been left undone that ought to have been done. If so, we should seek if possible to do these neglected tasks even yet before the bells ring out the old and ring in the new.
Yet, after all, the only way to have a year's pages filled when the end comes, is to make each day complete as it passes. We cannot go back over our past to correct mistakes, to supply omissions, or to do neglected duties. Life comes to us by days — and must be lived by days. A day lost anywhere during the year must remain lost, with its tell-tale blank, forever. Time never turns backward. We have only one chance to live any hour, and what we give that hour to keep for us and carry for us to the judgment, we must give it while it is ours. We never can get it back to put anything more into it.
Yet it need never seem an impossible thing for us to do all our duty. God never gives to us nor requires of us more than we can do. "She has done what she could" was a noble commendation. Those who have been faithful will receive reward at the last. But our Master does not expect us to trifle, to play at our tasks, to be indolent in the doing of our duty.
More than one godly man has had for his motto the words, "The night comes, when no man can work." This was one of our Lord's own mottoes. If we could be able to say when our last day comes, "Father, I have finished the work which you gave me to do," we must be able to say it at the end of each little day as it passes.
Yet there are many people who never finish anything. They touch a thousand things — but do nothing well.
"There is nothing sadder," one writes, "than an incomplete ruin; one that has never been of any use; that never was what it was meant to be; about which no pure, holy, lofty associations cling, no thoughts of battles fought and victories won, or of defeats as glorious as victories. God sees them when we do not. The highest tower may be more unfinished than the lowest, to him."
Sometimes it is discouragement that leads men to give up the work to which they have put their hands. In one of Wordsworth's poems is a pathetic story of a straggling heap of unhewn stones and the beginning of a sheepfold which never was finished. With his wife and only son, old Michael, a Highland shepherd, dwelt for many years in peace. But trouble came which made it necessary for the son to go away to do for himself for a while. At first good reports came from the boy, and the old shepherd would go out when he had leisure and would work on the sheepfold which he was building. Later, however, bad news came from Luke. In the great dissolute city he had given himself up to evil courses. Shame fell upon him, and he was driven to seek a hiding-place beyond the seas. The sad tidings broke the old father's heart. He went about as before, caring for his sheep. To the hollow dell, too, he would repair from time to time, meaning to work again at the unfinished fold. But the neighbors in their pity noticed that he did little work in those days of distress. Years after the shepherd was gone, the remains of the unfinished fold were still there, a sad memorial of one who began to build — but did not finish. Sorrow broke the old man's heart and his hand slacked.
Too often noble life-buildings are abandoned in the time of sorrow, and the hands that were quick and skillful before grief came, hang down and do nothing more on the temple wall.
Lack of faith is another cause which leads many to abandon their life-temples unfinished. Throngs followed Christ in the earlier days of his ministry when all seemed bright — but when they saw the deepening shadow of the cross they turned back and walked no more with him. In our own days there are many who, through the loss of their faith, are abandoning their Christian discipleship. Who does not know those who once were earnest and enthusiastic in Christian life and service, when there was but little opposition — but who fainted and fell when it became hard to confess Christ, and walk with him?
Sin, in some form, draws many a builder away from his work, to leave it unfinished. It may be the world's fascinations that win him from Christ's side. It may be sinful companionships that lure him from loyal friendship to his Savior. It may be riches that enter his heart and blind his eyes to the attractions of Heaven. It may be some secret, debasing lust which gains power over him and paralyzes his spiritual life. Many there are now amid the world's throngs, who once sat at the Lord's table, and were among God's people. Their lives are unfinished buildings — towers begun with great enthusiasm, and then left to tell their sad story of failure to all who pass by. They began to build and were not able to finish.
In all lines of life, we see abandoned buildings. The business world is full of them. Men begin to build — but in a little while they give up, leaving their work uncompleted. They set out with gladness — but tired at length of the toil, grew disheartened at the slow coming of success, and ceased to strive after the beautiful ideal.
Many homes present the spectacle of dreams of love which failed of realization. For a time the beautiful vision shone in radiance, and two hearts sought to make it come true and then gave up in despair.
Thus life everywhere is full of beginnings never carried out to completion. There is . . .
not a soul-wreck on the streets,
not a prisoner serving out a sentence behind iron bars,
not a debased fallen one anywhere —
in whose soul there were not once visions of beauty, bright hopes, holy thoughts and purposes, high resolves — an ideal of something lovely and noble. But, alas! the visions, the hopes, the purposes, the resolves, never grew into more than beginnings.
We should train ourselves to finish our work. Nothing should be allowed to draw us away from our duty. We should never weary in following Christ. We should not falter under any burden, in the face of any danger, before any demand of cost or sacrifice. No discouragement, no sorrow, no disappointment, no worldly attraction, no hardship — should weaken for one moment our determination to be faithful unto the end.
"He who endures to the end will be saved!" Matthew 10:22