The Work of a Lifetime

From the study of life’s instruction book, we know that Christ often used everyday events to drive home a point. We call these occurrences parables. One of my favorite parables is that of the sower. It was one of the first ones I knew about in any great detail, and how I first became familiar with it is an interesting story.

Twenty years ago, I was the chief financial officer for a non-profit organization that operated bookstores in United States National Park Service areas. We had approximately sixty outlets in eleven western states. It came to pass that we needed to hire a controller. One of the applicants, when inquiring about the position, asked if it required working on Saturdays. I explained that at that point in time, I had worked for the organization for seven years and had never had to work on a Saturday and that our work was typically Monday through Friday. He responded that he would not want to apply if Saturday work was required, as he was a Seventh-day Adventist. Since I had never heard of Seventh-day Adventists, his remark did not mean much to me, other than that he was willing to turn down the chance for a relatively high-paying job simply because he did not want to work on Saturday.

During our interview, the applicant again stressed the fact that he would not work on Saturday, further explaining that his determination often made him the “odd man out” in previous positions. We acknowledged this restriction to his work and admonished him that if he were hired, he could not evangelize at the office, a condition to which he agreed.

Our interview was on a Friday. When it concluded, I asked him if he was going to head back home that evening, which required a two-hour plane flight, or wait until Saturday to go home. He replied that he was going to stay over until Sunday, at his own expense, because he did not want to travel on Saturday.

Again, I was struck by his determination to keep a low profile on Saturdays. It brought to my mind an incident that had occurred forty years before when I was about ten years old. I was attending Sunday school in the Methodist church. We were studying the Ten Commandments. When we read the fourth commandment, my little numbers-oriented brain did a quick calculation and realized that we were in church on the first day of the week, not the seventh. When I asked my Sunday school teacher about it, and later my parents, I received a vague answer that did little to satisfy my curiosity.

Nothing more occurred that caused me to reflect on this disparity for forty years—until this young applicant made it so prominent during the application and interview process.

After the applicant left our office, the executive director of our organization advised that we ponder this situation over the weekend and decide on Monday whether or not to make a job offer.

During the entire weekend, I was pondering the situation and anxiously looking forward to an opportunity to ask this young man about this “seventh-day thing.”

Monday morning, the executive director asked me to what conclusion I had come regarding a job offer. My exact words were, “I am absolutely giddy with anticipation,” which was clearly not the answer that he had expected. He had decided not to make an offer, as he felt that this man would indeed be an “odd man out” and would not participate in our Friday afternoon “attitude adjustment” sessions or other office social events.

However, since the controller position reported to me, he said that if I was willing to make it work, he would allow me to offer the young man the position, which he accepted.

The largest grossing outlet that we operated was a trading post on the Navajo reservation in northeast Arizona. Because the controller was primarily responsible for the financial record-keeping of that operation, it was important that he become familiar with that operation as soon as possible. Accordingly, after a couple of weeks of orientation in the home office, he and I made plans to travel there. It was a six-hour drive, as there were no airports anywhere close to the trading post.

Once we were in my car and well out of town, I asked the young man about this “Saturday thing.” He responded that he had been admonished not to discuss his religion on the job and that he did not want to violate his agreement. I assured him that since I had brought it up, there would be no negative consequences to our discussion.

Well, being a faithful Seventh-day Adventist, he had his Bible tucked in his suitcase. Every question I had, he answered with an appropriate Bible text. When we reached our destination, I got the Gideon Bible from my motel room and joined him in his room. We studied until eleven o’clock that evening, at which point I was a converted man.

The readiness with which I had accepted the truth came as a bit of a surprise to this young man, and he cautioned me that it was important to nurture the seed that had just been planted. He turned to Matthew 13 and read me the parable of the sower, and asked that I carefully consider that three of the four outcomes from sowing seed did not produce fruit—an expression that I did not fully understand at that time.

Well, twenty years later, that seed has not only sprouted, but it has produced a plant that, through gracious pruning by the Holy Spirit, has entered the fruit-bearing phase of growth.

The parable of the sower is the first one discussed in Christ’s Object Lessons. Sister White’s explanation of it consumes 29 pages, more than that of any other parable other than the talents.

In her analysis of this parable, Sister White made this statement on pages 42 and 43:

“The education to be secured by searching the Scriptures is an experimental knowledge of the plan of salvation. Such an education will restore the image of God in the soul. It will strengthen and fortify the mind against temptation, and fit the learner to become a co-worker with Christ in His mission of mercy to the world. It will make him a member of the heavenly family; and prepare him to share the inheritance of the saints in light.”

I encourage you to read for yourself to determine why she made this statement in her discussion of the parable of the sower. In this article, I would like to mine the Scriptures and inspired writings so that we can make perhaps a bit of progress in the five objectives enumerated in the preceding paragraph.

  1. Restoring the image of God in our characters
  2. Strengthening and fortifying our minds against temptation
  3. Fitting ourselves up to become co-workers with Christ in His mission of mercy to the world
  4. Becoming members of the heavenly family
  5. Preparing ourselves to share the inheritance of the saints in light.

Clearly, any one of these objectives could be the source of a lengthy article all by itself—if not a whole series of articles. So here we will be able to skim only the surface. But I hope to pique your interest in one or two of these areas enough to give you something to study on your own during your private devotionals.

Keep in mind that we are told by Inspiration that study of the Scriptures will give us a deeper understanding of the plan of salvation and will accomplish these five essential objectives in our lives and our character.

The first one we’ll look at is “restoring the image of God in our character.” That is a big subject and clearly one that cannot be covered fully in even one entire article, much less in part of one. It is summed up fairly succinctly in Matthew 5:48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” We are to be as perfect in our sphere of existence as Christ is in His sphere. (See Our High Calling, 108 or That I May Know Him, 131.) “First the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.” Mark 4:28.

In commenting on this text in the book Education, Sister White wrote, “The germination of the seed represents the beginning of spiritual life, and the development of the plant is a figure of the development of character. There can be no life without growth. The plant must either grow or die. As its growth is silent and imperceptible, but continuous, so is the growth of character. At every stage of development our life may be perfect; yet if God’s purpose for us is fulfilled, there will be constant advancement.” Education, 105, 106.

Let’s begin exploring that injunction for constant advancement to completion by reading John 14:1–9 ISV:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going away to prepare a place for you? And if I am going away to prepare a place for you, I will come back again and welcome you into My presence, so that you may be where I am. You know where I am going, and you know the way. Thomas asked Him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where You are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you have known Me, you will also know My Father. From now on you know Him and have seen Him.’ Philip told Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and that will satisfy us.’ ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know Me?’ Jesus asked him. ‘The person who has seen Me has seen the Father. So how can you say, “Show us the Father” ’?”

This is a wonderful passage and contains much food for thought, but I want to concentrate on verse 9. “The person who has seen Me has seen the Father.” The disciples had the privilege of actually physically seeing Christ. We have the Word that portrays Christ to us and, through diligent study, we can essentially know Christ as well as His disciples did.

In addition to the Bible, we have been blessed with the Spirit of Prophecy, written by one who, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, also saw and conversed with Christ. I’d like to quote a description of Christ’s character from a letter that Sister White wrote to Emma and Edson in 1874. In it, she lists twenty aspects of His character which we are to manifest in our own character if we are to be a faithful reflection of His.

“Christ never murmured, never uttered discontent, displeasure, or resentment. He was never disheartened, discouraged, ruffled, or fretted. He was patient, calm, and self-possessed under the most exciting and trying circumstances. All His works were performed with a quiet dignity and ease, whatever commotion was around Him. Applause did not elate Him. He feared not the threats of His enemies. He moved amid the world of excitement, of violence and crime, as the sun moves above the clouds. Human passions and commotions and trials were beneath Him. He sailed like the sun above them all. Yet He was not indifferent to the woes of men. His heart was ever touched with the sufferings and necessities of His brethren, as though He Himself was the one afflicted. He had a calm inward joy, a peace which was serene. His will was ever swallowed up in the will of His Father. Not My will but Thine be done (Luke 22:42), was heard from His pale and quivering lips.” This Day With God, 263.

So, if we expect to have the image of God restored in us, we need to manifest the twenty characteristics that are enumerated in the above paragraph.

  1. Never murmur
  2. Never complain
  3. Never utter discontent
  4. Never express displeasure
  5. Never express resentment
  6. Never be disheartened
  7. Never be discouraged
  8. Never be ruffled
  9. Never fret or worry
  10. Be patient
  11. Be calm
  12. Be self-possessed under the most exciting and trying circumstances
  13. Perform our work with a quiet dignity and ease, regardless of the commotion around us
  14. Never be puffed up by praise or approbation from others
  15. Remain unfazed by threats from our enemies
  16. Be unmoved and unexcited by passion and trials
  17. Empathize with the woes of our fellow pilgrims
  18. Be moved by the sufferings and necessities of our brethren as though we were the ones afflicted
  19. Manifest a calm, inward joy and a peaceful serenity
  20. And perhaps most importantly, fully surrender our will to the will of our heavenly Father so that we can say with Christ, “Not my will, but Thy will be done.”

Although this is a tall order, remember that our objective is to understand the plan of salvation through the study of God’s word. We have several promises in the Word that give us absolute, incontrovertible hope toward this goal—texts that we are familiar with that contain promises that we have every right to claim as our own. Keep in mind that it is not presumption to claim the promises of God, so long as we comply with the conditions under which those promises are given.

The first promise is contained in Philippians 1:6. “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” The Greek word that is translated perform in this text is actually a compound word that means to fulfill completely, to execute or to terminate.

The second wonderful promise we can claim is also in Philippians and is another that we should claim daily: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 NKJV.

We also have a more sure word of prophecy that tells us that, “Sanctification is not the work of a moment, an hour, a day, but of a lifetime. It is not gained by a happy flight of feeling, but is the result of constantly dying to sin, and constantly living for Christ. Wrongs cannot be righted nor reformations wrought in the character by feeble, intermittent efforts. It is only by [1] long, persevering effort, [2] sore discipline, and [3] stern conflict, that we shall overcome. We know not one day how strong will be our conflict the next. So long as Satan reigns, we shall have self to subdue, besetting sins to overcome; so long as life shall last, there will be no stopping place, no point which we can reach and say, I have fully attained. Sanctification is the result of lifelong obedience.” [Emphasis added.] The Acts of the Apostles, 560, 561.

There is one key phrase in this paragraph that I’d like to bring to your attention: “So long as Satan reigns.” How long is that? Until Christ returns. The second point I want to look at is strengthening and fortifying our minds against temptation. We’ve just read that so long as Satan reigns, we shall have temptations to resist. So long as life shall last on this earth, we will be faced with daily, perhaps even hourly, temptations to stray from the path of truth and righteousness. So what can we do about that?

As you might expect, the Bible does not leave us to speculate about that. There are several texts that give us divine wisdom in strengthening and fortifying our minds against temptation.

First, let’s look at the wisdom of David. In Psalm 101:3 he wrote, “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.”

There are two bits of wisdom in this text. The first is obvious. Do not look at anything that causes your mind to stray into forbidden paths. This is sometimes a difficult thing to do, especially in today’s world. To accomplish this objective, you must—and I know that I’m making a rather dogmatic statement here—you must destroy your television—at least figuratively. I believe it to be the single most effective means that Satan uses to promote his agenda of reproducing his malevolent character in humans. It is also imperative that you put mental blinders on. Satan uses billboards, magazines, advertisements of all kinds, Internet pop-ups, and a myriad of other means, ceaselessly tempting us to set wicked things before our eyes. You cannot even walk through the check-out line when buying groceries without being confronted by displays of unrighteousness.

The second bit of wisdom that is expressed in Psalm 101:3 is this: “I hate the work of them that turn aside. It shall not cleave to me.”

This text may mean something different to you, but to me it means that I will not use the sinful acts of others as an excuse for my own sin. Stop and think how common that is. How often have I been prone to think, “Well, I may lie now and then, but at least I don’t steal.” Just because you don’t speed doesn’t mean you can run red lights. And just because someone you know and perhaps even admire commits a transgression, that does not give you license to do the same.

Another wonderful piece of wisdom that the Word gives us is found in 11 Corinthians 10:5 NKJV: “Casting down arguments [the KJV says imaginations] and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”

“Bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ”… that is the hard part.

And what occurs when we have succeeded in this effort? We are clearly told in Isaiah 55:7 NKJV. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”

Here God promises us that when we turn from our unrighteous thoughts, He will have mercy on us and will abundantly pardon. What a wonderful thing of which to be ever mindful.

A wonderful promise is given us in I Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

My experience is that finding the way of escape sometimes takes effort and the exercise of will, often beyond what is typical. Remember what we read earlier from The Acts of the Apostles, “sore discipline” is required to overcome. Sore is not a word that connotes to me something that is easily done. The Christian walk is indeed a battle and a march.

The third area in which we are to make continual progress is “fitting ourselves up to become co-workers with Christ in His mission of mercy to the world.”

We all are familiar with the great commission, which, according to the synoptic gospels, was the very last divine command given to us by Christ before His ascension into heaven: “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Matthew 28:18–20.

The obvious question is, How do I fit myself up to become a co-worker with Christ in His mission of mercy to the world?

One way is clearly implied in that text: “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” I cannot teach Christ’s commands to others unless I know them myself. And how can I hope to know them without studying the word of God?

I would submit that fitting ourselves up to become coworkers with Christ involves a deep commitment to come apart from the world and be separate. Unless we separate from worldly influence, we will obviously be like the world. John gave us some explicit instruction on that in I John 2:15–17: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”

Here again we are confronted with the need for “not my will, but Thy will” be done.

Inspiration also gives us some wonderful counsel on becoming a co-worker with Christ.

“The worker for God is not left without a pattern. He is given an example which, if followed, will make him a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men. He is bidden to glorify God by carrying out unselfish aims and purposes. The Lord understands man’s nature, and He holds up before him the laws of the kingdom of heaven, which he is to honor and obey. He places the Bible in his hands, as the guidebook that will show him what is truth, and what he must do in order to inherit eternal life. This book draws the attention from temporal interests to spiritual realities. It tells man, fallen and sinful though he is, that he can become a prince and a king in the heavenly courts, an heir of God and a joint heir with Christ.” This Day with God, 30.

A consistent study of the Bible will enable the diligent student to focus on spiritual realities rather than on secular, worldly interests. When we make the determination to live our lives according to the instructions given in the Bible, we will unavoidably separate ourselves from the world, from temporal interests, and become fit to be co-workers with Christ. May the Lord help us in this struggle.

The fourth area in which we are to make continual progress is “becoming members of the heavenly family.” What a comforting thought, “becoming members of the heavenly family.”

Well, ponder this somewhat sobering thought from Christ’s Object Lessons, 270: “When the voice of God awakes the dead, he will come from the grave with the same appetites and passions, the same likes and dislikes, that he cherished when living. God works no miracle to re-create a man who would not be re-created when he was granted every opportunity and provided with every facility. During his lifetime he took no delight in God, nor found pleasure in His service. His character is not in harmony with God, and he could not be happy in the heavenly family.”

Although this statement is couched in the negative, it can be interpreted to reveal how to be a happy member of the heavenly family.

Essentially, it stresses the necessity—not just the desire, but the necessity—of taking advantage of every opportunity and using every facility to be recreated in the image of God, to form our characters in harmony with the divine image. We must find delight in God and pleasure in His service. Our character must be in harmony with God if we would be happy in the heavenly family.

I remind you once again that this is the work of a lifetime.

The last area that I want to look at is another one that should bring joy to our hearts: “preparing ourselves to share the inheritance of the saints in light.”

What exactly is that inheritance? The Bible gives us tantalizing glimpses, but no detailed description. What it does give us, however, should serve as a powerful incentive for us to strive to walk the narrow path and enter in at the strait gate. Before we look at some of those tantalizing glimpses, let me quote a brief statement from Early Writings:

“The true Christian’s joys and consolation must and will be in heaven. The longing souls of those who have tasted of the powers of the world to come and have feasted on heavenly joys, will not be satisfied with things of earth. … Their amusement will be in contemplating their treasure—the Holy City, the earth made new, their eternal home. And while they dwell upon those things which are lofty, pure, and holy, heaven will be brought near, and they will feel the power of the Holy Spirit, and this will tend to wean them more and more from the world and cause their consolation and chief joy to be in the things of heaven, their sweet home. The power of attraction to God and heaven will then be so great that nothing can draw their minds from the great object of securing the soul’s salvation and honoring and glorifying God.

“As I realize how much has been done for us to keep us right, I am led to exclaim, Oh, what love, what wondrous love, hath the Son of God for us poor sinners! Should we be stupid and careless while everything is being done for our salvation that can be done? All heaven is interested for us. We should be alive and awake to honor, glorify, and adore the high and lofty One. Our hearts should flow out in love and gratitude to Him who has been so full of love and compassion to us. With our lives we should honor Him, and with pure and holy conversation show that we are born from above, that this world is not our home, but that we are pilgrims and strangers here, traveling to a better country.” Ibid., 112, 113.

If we could just remember that we are pilgrims and strangers here and that a better country awaits us, one in which there is no lying, no stealing, no killing, no temptations, no sexual immorality, no intemperance, no dishonoring of parents, no doctors or hospitals, no jails, no locks of any kind on any thing, no tears, nor sorrow, nor sickness, we should be willing to make whatever preparations are necessary to obtain that inheritance, shouldn’t we?

We’ve looked at the “nots,” the things that will not be in heaven. What about the “ares,” the things that are in heaven?

Here is a suggested list of the ten best things in heaven, beginning with number 10. This list is in no way comprehensive, as there are certainly more than ten best things in heaven. And it is not necessarily in order. If you were to compose such a list, it could be totally different.

  • A mansion, apartment, or permanent dwelling of some sort in the Holy City—whatever you want to call it—but permanent, no need of continual upkeep, with your name on the door (John 14:2, 3).
  • Streets paved with transparent gold (Revelation 21:21).
  • Travel to distant planets with perfect speed, such as manifested by Gabriel when he responded to Daniel’s prayer. Whatever type of environment you relish, you’ll be able to enjoy it in heaven.

“I begged of my attending angel to let me remain in that place. I could not bear the thought of coming back to this dark world again. Then the angel said, ‘You must go back, and if you are faithful, you, with the 144,000, shall have the privilege of visiting all the worlds and viewing the handiwork of God.’ ” Early Writings, 40.

  • Free access to the tree of life, with a different heavenly fruit each month, and to the river of life (Revelation 22:1, 2).
  • Animals, perhaps of kinds that we cannot even imagine, to have as pets and companions (Isaiah 11:6, 65:25).
  • Beautiful forests and other unspoiled natural environments lightened by the glory of heaven (Early Writings, 18; Revelation 22:5; Isaiah 60:19–21).
  • Lush gardens, vineyards, and orchards with healthy, disease-free and pest-free fruits and vegetables (Isaiah 65:21, 22).
  • Join with the angels in making heavenly music (Psalm 147; Revelation 14:2, 3; 15:2, 3).
  • The companionship of the saints (Psalm 23:6; throughout Psalm 37; Psalm 69:35, 36; Isaiah 60:19–21).
  • Divine fellowship with our God and our Creator. “They shall be My people, and I will be their God” occurs in one form or another at least eleven times in Scripture. I John 1 says much about the fellowship we will experience as followers of Christ.

A more thorough study of these points will result in a better understanding of the incredible sacrifice that made this incredible gift available to us.

May the Lord bless us and the Holy Spirit guide us as we strive to walk the narrow way.

John Pearson is the office manager and a board member of Steps to Life. After retiring as chief financial officer for the Grand Canyon Association, Grand Canyon, Arizona, he moved to Wichita, Kansas, to join the Steps team. He may be contacted by email at: