Once upon a time, in the heart of a great Kingdom, lay a beautiful garden. And there in the cool of the day the Master of the Garden went to walk. Of all the occupants of the garden, the most beautiful and beloved was a gracious and noble Bamboo. Year after year the Bamboo grew more noble and gracious, conscious of his Master’s love and watchful delight, but modest and gentle as well. And often, when the wind came to revel in the garden, the Bamboo would cast aside its grave stateliness to dance, swaying and leaping and bowing in joyous abandon, leading the great dance of the Garden which most delighted the Master’s heart.
One day, the Master himself drew near to contemplate his Bamboo with eyes of curious expectancy, and the Bamboo, in a passion of adoration, bowed his great head to the ground in loving greeting. The Master spoke, ‘Bamboo, I wish to use you in a way that will bring glory to me and blessing to others.’ The Bamboo flung its head to the sky in utter delight – the day of days had come, the day for which it had been made, the day to which it had been growing hour by hour, the day in which it would find its completion and destiny. ‘Master, I am ready … use me as you will’ the Bamboo responded
The Master’s voice was grave, ‘Dear Bamboo, I wish to take you and cut you down!?’ A trembling of great horror shook the Bamboo: ‘Cut… me… down? Me… whom you, Master, has made the most beautiful in all your garden? ‘ Not that, not that. Use me for your joy, O Master, but please do not cut me not down!’ The Master’s voice grew graver still: ‘Beloved Bamboo … if I cannot cut you down I cannot use you!’ The garden grew still. Wind held its breath. The Bamboo slowly bent its proud and glorious head. There came a whisper: ‘Master, if the only way you can use to fulfil your purpose for my life is to cut me down… then… do your will and cut!’
So the Master of the Garden took the Bamboo out and cut it down, hacked off its branches, stripped off its leaves, divided it in two and cut out its heart. And lifting it gently, carried the Bamboo to where there was a spring of fresh, sparkling water in the midst of his dry fields. Then putting one end of the broken Bamboo in the spring and the other end into the water channel in his field the Master laid down gently his beloved Bamboo. And the spring sang welcome and the clear sparkling waters raced joyously down the channel of the Bamboo’s torn body into the waiting field. Then the rice was planted, and the days went by, and the shoots grew and the harvest came. And in that day, the Bamboo, once so glorious in its stately beauty, was yet more glorious in its brokenness and humility. For in its beauty, it was life abundant, but in its brokenness it became a channel of abundant life to his Master’s world.
I suspect, that deep in our hearts, we all want to be used by God to make a difference in this broken and hurting and needy world that we live in. Somehow to be a channel of God’s blessing to others. This is a good and godly desire to have. It is something born of God’s Spirit. We know that, in and of ourselves, we cannot be the source of blessing. The word of the Lord that came to Zechariah in one of his night visions is as relevant now as it was then, 500 years before Christ: ‘“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” says the Lord Almighty’ (Zechariah 4:6). We can no more bless others, or do them real good, or build anything significant for God, than Zerubbabel (the leader of the tribe of Judah in Zechariah’s day) could re-build the Temple in Jerusalem in his own strength. This truth is reinforced by the words of Jesus to his disciples during his Upper Room Discourses shortly before his arrest and trial: ‘I am the vine, and you are the branches of the vine. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. But apart from me you can do nothing!’ (John 15:5). The good news, however, is that we can all be instruments in God’s hands, channels of his blessing to others. God works in wonderful ways, not always in very dramatic ways, sometimes in seemingly very ordinary ways, often in ways we do not anticipate. It can happen to anybody. Being used of God is not confined to Pastors, Preachers or Teachers. Anybody can be an instrument in God’s hands.
Writing to his young protégé, Timothy – a young man with great potential but low self-esteem – the Apostle Paul reminds him (and reminds all of us) that ‘In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use.Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.’ (2 Timothy 2:20,21). Although written 2,000 years ago this analogy stands the test of time. The majority of us may not literally use jugs or goblets or cutlery of gold and silver today, although we use china cups and plates, and even wooden platters are becoming fashionable again in many restaurants. But we all have articles in our homes that we use every day that are ‘worth their weight in gold’, things that are essential to us in one way or another. Some of these have a special use – the best dinner service for when we entertain guests perhaps. Others have a less spectacular use – the plastic bucket we keep under the sink, hidden from sight, into which we put the vegetable peelings etc. prior to taking them to the compost heap?!
On one hand here, Paul is attempting to explain why the Church – most commentators take the reference to ‘a large house’ to refer to the Church – is always made up of a mixed bunch of people. On the other hand he is seeking to encourage Christians – like Timothy – who feel they haven’t got much to offer, to see that God can still use them as his ‘instruments’ and that they can still be ‘useful to the Master’ whether they are made of ‘gold and silver’ or ‘wood and clay’. Some may indeed be used for ‘special purposes’ although the majority of us will probably be for ‘common use’. What counts, however, is that we make ourselves available! Every person, who names the Name of Jesus, is a potential vessel for God to use. Personally, I have found what is both encouraging and humbling at the same time is that the Bible suggests that God is not too choosey about whom he uses. Scripture reveals that God uses people like King David (an adulterer and a murder), a pagan such as King Cyrus, a religious hypocrite such as Caiaphas, someone as rash and flaky as Peter, and even Balaam’s donkey … as well as those we consider to be ‘good and Godly’. And even those we consider as ‘good and Godly’, like the Apostle Paul himself for example, often saw themselves somewhat differently. Paul may have begun his ministry exhorting others to ‘be you followers of me’ (1 Corinthians 11:1) but he concluded it by confessing himself to be the ‘chief of sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15).
Furthermore, as Christians, we already have within us that with which we can bless others, do them real good, build something significant for God! The Apostle John tells us that at the conclusion of the Feast of Tabernacles – just as the Temple Priests poured the water they had drawn from the Pool of Siloam on the altar recalling the water drawn from the rock during the wilderness wanderings (Exodus 17) – Jesus stood where all could see him, and shouted in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them’ (John 7:37,38). John goes on to tell us that, ‘By this (Jesus) meant the Spirit whom those who believed in him were later to receive’ (John 7:39). We, of course, live this side of that first Day of Pentecost in the Christian era. As Christians we have God the Holy Spirit living within us, we have those ‘rivers of living water’ welling up within us wanting to overflow from us to bless others, to irrigate dry and barren ground, to make us channels of abundant life to the Master’s glory and for the good of others!
How I praise Thee, precious Saviour,
That Thy love laid hold of me;
Thou hast saved and cleansed and filled me
That I might Thy channel be.
Channels only, blessed Master,
But with all Thy wondrous power
Flowing through us, Thou canst use us
Every day and every hour.
Just a channel full of blessing,
To the thirsty hearts around;
To tell out Thy full salvation
All Thy loving message sound.
Emptied that Thou shouldest fill me,
A clean vessel in Thy hand;
With no power but as Thou givest
Graciously with each command.
Witnessing Thy power to save me,
Setting free from self and sin;
Thou who boughtest to possess me,
In Thy fullness, Lord, come in.
Jesus, fill now with Thy Spirit
Hearts that full surrender know;
That the streams of living water
From our inner self may flow.
Mary E. Maxwell