He Will Complete It

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Are you ever going to finish that meek book, Abigail? Give birth already. It’s been six years since you started.

Kate was blunt. But she was not the first one to mention my unfinished book.

Not Complete

Do you have piles of unfinished projects? I do.

A glance at piles of notebooks with unfinished drafts reveals I start a lot of projects I do not complete. Which, in the writing world, need not be a bad thing. Those idea notebooks belong in Jeff Goins’ bucket #1. Many are best left there.

There are also piles of baggies of bugs on the top shelf in the pantry part of half-finished 4H entomology project—only half the insects are pinned. But since it was my son’s 4H project, I’ll only take half the blame.

But my biggest piles of unfinished are mounting bedside. They are pictured bove. I counted. Of the 25 books there, I’ve finished 11—in fact, I’m re-reading a few. Still, that means I’ve only completed 44%.

But I rest in these words from Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books—a book that I did in fact finish.

Often readers don’t stop reading because they don’t have “permission” to stop. You have permission. The only book you should read entirely is the Bible. All other books must prove their value along the way. Don’t allow unfinished books to pile up in a mountain of guilt.

Tony Reinke, Lit!, p. 115

Side note: You do have permission. No guilt. You don’t have to finish that book.

What Is The Good Work?

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Those are Paul’s much loved words from Philippians 1 verse 6. But what is the good work to which Paul refers? Does it mean that every

Is it when an unsaved friend comes to church or when a family member watches The Chosen with you? Does that mean that he will be with you in heaven forever? Or even that my book will make it to print or your home remodel will finally get done?

To answer that we’ve got to see the Philippians 1 verse 6 in context. Paul had just called his readers saints in Christ Jesus. They were of the faith in Christ Jesus.

God finishes what he starts. He’s even called the starter and finisher, or perfecter, of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). God “started” and gave us faith ( 2 Peter 1:1Philippians 1:29, and Acts 3:16). Since our faith in Christ is a good thing, we can be sure God will complete it.

In other words, Philippians 1 verse 6. The context shows us that the good work God will complete is the faith of believers. It doesn’t promise any less, or any more. Because he completes all of his good works.

Or Does He?

But what about Jeremiah’s field trip to the potter’s house? You can read about that in Jeremiah 18. Does God ever give a project up? Didn’t God show Jeremiah that he might just rework that lopsided pot? That the potter has the right to return the partly formed pot back into a lump?

He does. Which means that you might be asking, “So doesn’t that negate Philippians 1:6—that God always finishes what he starts?”

Actually, no.

Because Paul wrote those words to Christians, individuals, and “fellow partners in the gospel.” But the context of Jeremiah 18 is nations. When nations go bad, God declares the right to do with them as he wishes. (That’s not the point of this post, but if you want me to take it up, please do let me know.)

God reserves divine prerogative to let rebel nations them go their own way. The good work in Philippians 1 verse 6 is a work of faith, which is the gift of faith (Phil. 1:29). This means it is a work that God will complete.

The unbroken chain of Romans 8 relates: Whom God calls, he also justifies, and whom he justifies he also glorifies. No one falls out. The chain will be completed. The circle will be unbroken. The good work starts with faith and is finished when we—perfected and complete—see Jesus face to face.

God will complete it.

Why It Matters

It matters because we fail. We lose heart when we make the same mistakes and break every resolution by January 18th. It matters because perfectionism paralyzes some of us. We want to be perfect, but when we fail, we freeze.

But we can rejoice knowing that if we are in Christ nothing is wasted. Nothing includes everything now imperfect and incomplete. Because God’s ways, his word, and his works are perfect (Psalm 18:30, Deuteronomy 32:4, Psalm 12:6).

As far as I can tell, perfect means a thing can’t get any better. There is no improving on it. When God undertakes a work, it will be as good as it is possible to be. It will be finished, perfect, complete.

Everything will be pulled together. There are not any dangling, unseemly threads from God’s vantage point, from the top of the tapestry.

Take that to the bank next time you mess up. Or at least consider “The Talking Teacup.”

The Talking Teacup

I read about an American couple, both connoisseurs of pottery and fine China who celebrated their 40th anniversary in Sussex, England. There in a little antique shop, their eyes landed on a lovely teacup on the top shelf.

Here I beg your pardon for this uncharacteristic, Disney-esque twist.

As the man gently strokes the teacup, it begins to speak.

“You don’t understand, I haven’t always been a tea cup. There was a time when I was red and that I was clay. My master rolled me, then patted me over and over and over. I yelled, ‘Let me be!” But he smiled and said, ‘Not yet.’

Then I was placed on a spinning wheel. Suddenly I was spun around and around and around. ‘Stop it! I’m getting dizzy,’ I said. The master nodded and said, ‘Not yet.’

Then he put me in an oven where I’d never felt such heat. I wondered why he wanted to burn me and I yelled and I knocked on the door. I could see him through the opening. He nodded his head as I read his lips. They said, ‘Not yet.’

Finally the door opened and he put me on a shelf where I began to cool. But suddenly he grabbed me again and brushed and painted me all over. I thought I would suffocate, the fumes were so bad. But he just smiled and said, ‘Not yet.’

He put me back into an oven, not the first one but one twice as hot, and I knew that I was going to suffocate. I begged and screamed, and all the while I still saw him through the opening, smiling and nodding his head, repeating, ‘Not yet, not yet.’

Work Complete

I was just ready to give up when the door opened and he took me out and he put me on a shelf. An hour later he came back and he handed me a mirror. “Now just look at yourself.”

I couldn’t believe my eyes.

He continued, ‘I know that it hurt to be rolled and patted but if I had left you, you would have dried out. I know that it made you dizzy to spin you around on a spinning wheel but if I had stopped, you would have crumbled. And I know that it was horribly hot in the oven but if I had I not fired you, you would have cracked. I know that the fumes were awful while I painted and brushed you, but if I had not, you wouldn’t have hardened or had any color. Had I skipped the second oven. you wouldn’t have survived. Your hardness would not have held.

But now you are complete. You are what I had in mind when I first began with you.'”

What His Grace Has Begun, His Strength Will Complete

“We are confident of this very thing: that He who began the good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus.”

That last phrase is both encouraging and wee bit disconcerting, isn’t it? This process of becoming like Jesus, called sanctification, will be completed. But it won’t be finished until the day of Christ Jesus.

Which means strap in. Get ready for more rolling and patting and spinning and more fumes and fires. God is still working on us.

But it also means we can take heart. Because God will complete us. One day will look like our brother Jesus (Romans 8:29). We will be perfect. Perfect.

Bible commentator F.B. Meyer wrote,

We go into the artist’s studio, and find there unfinished pictures covering large canvas and suggesting great designs, but which have been left, either because the genius was not competent to complete the work, or because paralysis laid the hand low in death.

But as we go into God’s great workshop, we find nothing that bears the mark of haste or insufficient power to finish, and we are sure that the work which His grace has begun, the arm of His strength will complete.

The word perfect means complete. God is going to complete those things that concern you. He is going to complete that work of His Spirit, that faith, even if it be small as a mustard seed. But He is not hasty.

Jesus Christ will complete it, because he is the author and the finisher of our faith—our faith. He doesn’t promise I’ll get a single book written, project completed or bedside pile read.

But he will perfect that which concerns me. His mercy is more. He will not forsake the work of his hands.

The Lord will perfect that which concerns me;
Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever;
Do not forsake the works of Your hands
.

Psalm 138:8

Tolerance: The Wedding Gift It’s Taken Me 25 Years To Unpack

Marriage author and husband on wedding day
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It was not on our gift registry. Truth be told, I thought I was a pretty “live and let live” 21 year-old bride. But like the rogue aunt who went “off-registry” and bought us the best flexible cutting boards and a silicon spatula set that now I cannot live without, God knew better.

So he gave us the gift of tolerance.

But that snowy Sunday in January as we unwrapped the pile of wedding gifts, this newlywed didn’t appreciate that gift.

Two Bears In Marriage

But I had really been tuned in, I’d have welcomed it. After all, Grandma Beth had told me. At the bridal shower, when everyone shares a nugget of advice with the bride-to-be, she’d hinted. Grandma’s advice came in one short line.

You must take two bears to live with you—Bear and Forbear.

-Grandma Beth

Bear and forbear. We don’t use those words much. To bear means to accept and to endure and to forbear means to refrain, to control oneself (Lexico).

I won’t lie. I used to think forbearance was weak and acceptance meant beat. This last line in Amy Carmichael’s poem sounded like defeat.

In acceptance lieth peace.

Unpacking Tolerance

The Bible uses the words bear and forbear. Jesus bore with faithless disciples (Matthew 17:17), Paul bore with hostile Jews (Acts 18:14), Christians bear each others’ burdens (Galatians 6:2), and our God forbears (Romans 2:4, 3:25).

But the Greek word for forbearance is also translated as—guess what?—tolerance. It means to hold oneself up against; to put up with. Synonyms are bear with, endure, forbear, suffer. In other words, we still may oppose the opinions, annoying habits and even the hurtful sins of others even as we bear with the people.

It’s only recently, that I’ve unpacked that wedding gift. For nearly 25 years, tolerance lay in a bin tucked away because I didn’t want that gift. Why? Because tolerance only had a negative ring to me.

I thought it meant one of two things. Tolerance either meant that one must agree with an opinion that one is opposed to—and how could anyone possibly do that?—or to accept all viewpoints as equally valid. Both were logically inconsistent, and unpalatable to me. 

When it came down to it, I didn’t like the gift because, in G.K. Chesterton’s words, Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.”

And if I’m anything, I am a girl with convictions. But while tolerance can mean that, but it doesn’t always.

He Tolerates Me

Tolerate means to allow someone to do something that you do not agree with or like (Oxford Learners Dictionary). Did you catch the difference?

I used to think tolerance was all about agreeing with the idea, but it really means to abide with the person, regardless of their habits, opinions or ideas.

Jim tolerates my thinking out loud, my being late and my hogging the quilt in a sleepy frenzy in the middle of the night. He tolerates my abrasive Mrs. Business tone, my blasting backward out the driveway, and my sampling his food— no matter what he orders.

Last year I told you 10 reasons I’m glad I married Jim. Make “he tolerates me” number 11. Sometimes he makes me laugh at my annoying ways and sometimes he calls me out. But in every case he tolerates me.

The fact that despite our flaws and sins, we’re happily married after 25 years proves it.

Some of these same issues that hounded us in year one of marriage still hound us today. The same things that annoyed me about Jim when we dated, still annoy me today. In fact, they may niggle at me until we see Jesus face to face.

The Perfect Matrix

When I unpack tolerance this way it’s obvious that it grows best in a till-death-do-us-part relationship. Because anything short of that level of commitment simply does not demand it. The, If my friend (or spouse) doesn’t spark joy, I’m out of here mindset leaves no place for tolerance.

But I must add a word to my unmarried friends. Some of you are the most tolerant people I know. Tolerance can grow in so many ways, including the hard work of lifelong friendships. To flourish, tolerance requires the soil of commitment and the water of forgiveness.

Which are vital in every marriage. So it’s no surprise that master Blogger Tim Challies calls tolerance “the great challenge of every marriage.”

Like Challies, I went into marriage thinking that marriage would help him grow in holiness. He thought that confronting each other about their sin would help them grow more like Jesus (more holy). I thought of how I’d help Jim see his sin and he’d oh-so-tenderly correct me.

But I agree with Challies on how the surprising way this actually plays out. He writes, “Aileen may grow in holiness by having me confront her in her sins, but she seems to grow more in holiness by patiently tolerating my sinfulness—by loving me despite my sin and loving me as the Lord helps me progressively put that sin to death.”

Holiness By Tolerance

If we’re honest it’s often harder to tolerate a bad habit than a bad sin. Maybe only because we brush up against habits more often than sins.

It is often harder to tolerate the way your spouse chews his food or leaves her clothes on the ground than the way he sins against you or the way she remains unsanctified. And again, while Aileen might grow in her sanctification by having me formally point out a way in which she is sinful, she seems to grow more in sanctification by learning to accept and perhaps even embrace some of those non-moral but oh-so-annoying things I do—those eccentricities and matters of preference.

So perhaps the foremost way that marriage has helped make us holy is not so much in calling each of us to serve as the other’s second conscience, a junior assistant to the Holy Spirit in bringing conviction of sin. It is not in calling each of us to be a kind of moral sandpaper to actively scour off each other’s rough edges. Rather, marriage has helped make us holy by calling each of us to extend a kind of divine mercy toward the other—to simply live lovingly with someone who is prone to be sinful and just plain hard to live with.

Tim Challies, The Great Challenge of Every Marriage

Twenty-five years in and I finally see it. Tolerance is not weakness, or leaving your conviction at the door. Tolerance is the path to holiness. It is extending divine mercy to others.

It’s the mercy that the God who disapproves of my pride, envy and impatience—to take three—still shows by loving me.

Showing Tolerance…In Love

That’s the 25 year-old wedding gift, friends, and now that it’s unpacked it’s yours for the taking, whether you are married or not.

It’s to “simply live lovingly with someone who is prone to be sinful and just plain hard to live with.” It’s giving the mercy God gives us to another. It’s walking worthy of Jesus.

So help me God, I intend to use this gift. Maybe it’ll become as prized as the flexible cutting boards and silicon spatulas. Either way, I intend to make room for the two bears in our home.

What? You’ve also invited them in?

Fantastic! Now let’s watch and wait.

Because I think their friends, friends like patience and humility, holiness, tolerance and peace, will come to dwell with us too.

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4:1-3 (NASB, 1995)

To See Grace in All the Things & To Give Thanks

Bird singing in winter like saint who gives thanks in adversity

If you’d enjoy listening to the Spotify podcast of this JoyPrO post, check out Keep On With Abigail Wallace.

The 1621 Project

Fully one half their number was dead. Of the 102 who crossed on the Mayflower, only 50 remained. Of eighteen married couples who embarked together, just three remained intact. In fifteen marriages, one or both partners had died.

This was the group who paused to thank God. This was the thanks giving group.

But as Tracy McKenzie points out in this insightful The Real First Thanksgiving podcast, those 50 wouldn’t have dubbed that autumn week a first anything. The feasting was simply God’s children being the grateful people he had made them to be.

God gave them eyes to see his grace. Then they gave thanks.

Which reminds me of a story.

A Giving Thanks Story

After the Second World War, two seriously ill woman were placed in the same London hospital room.

Marie was blind, and Ginny was assigned the bed next to the room’s only window. The days flew by. Despite her sickness, Ginny’s words were full of good cheer. She inquired about Marie’s friends and family and prayed for those they knew. And always Ginny thanked God for the day.

But there was this other thing she’d do. It started their third afternoon together, when a discouraged Marie needed hope.

“What’s outside the window?” she’d ask.

Ginny by the window described the squirrels and trees, and the park with the little lake just beyond. She’d tell about the kids and their kites, the rowers and long-necked swans. And Ginny could paint a sunset. The sunsets were Marie’s favorite. Her face would glow as Ginny spoke.

Ginny Could See

In fact, Marie began to live for those “paintings” of the world outside the window. They inspired hope and healing even though her eyes could not see. But while Marie’s health improved, Ginny’s rapidly declined.

Shortly after Ginny died, Marie’s new roommate settled in.

“Would you tell me what’s outside the window today? Who’s at the park? Are the swans on the lake? If the sunset is pretty tonight, would you describe it to me, too?”

Silence filled the room.

“The park? A lake? Our window faces a brick wall. And there’ll be no sunsets tonight or any other, for even if the wall weren’t there, this window faces east.”

Now Marie knew. How Ginny could see.

Seeing Grace in All the Things

Ever since I first heard a version of that story decades ago, I wanted to be Ginny. I still want to be Ginny.

But my honest friends and family will tell you I’m a far cry from her. I dwell on my hurt and others’ wrongs and don’t always see through to the sunsets and swans. This bird gets quiet in winter.

But giving thanks is a miracle drug for our souls. It is a silver bullet for spiritual disease. It trumps every ugly that messes with our souls. You can’t sing as you sneeze and you can’t whistle while you yell. You can’t grumble as you give thanks. My friend Shari says: you can’t ride two horses with one heinie.

Thankfulness is a divinely given spiritual ability to see grace.

Sam Crabtree

But you also can’t conjure up a thankful heart. Seeing grace is a gift. Author Sam Crabtree defines thankfulness as a divinely given spiritual ability to see grace. Giving thanks, then, is the corresponding desire to affirm that grace and the Giver of that grace as good. 

This ability to see grace is a God-given gift. And affirming the grace and the Giver is called giving thanks. Crabtree explains, “I can ask God to help me look at my circumstances through a different lens or from a different angle. And He wants to do it, He wants me to be thankful.”

Give us what you command, Augustine prayed. We can echo him and say, You command us to give thanks, so give us eyes to see your grace.

Giving thanks does not depend on our circumstances. A difficult husband, problem child, poor health, unjust boss or a nasty neighbor might make it hard. But we can ask God to give us thankful hearts.

I’m here to tell you, that whenever I pray that prayer, he answers yes.

Singing Birds In Winter

Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father… Always and for everything is what Paul wrote (Ephesians 5:20). Not just in everything, which is God’s will for us (1 Thessalonians 5:18), but for everything. Everything. All. The. Things.

I want people to see Christ as all that. Giving thanks for everything does that. My Uncle Steve did that.

Uncle Steve has had a year. He was hospitalized, near death and discharged, then came bedsores, hospitalized, and G-tube. His breathing is still not right. A specialist next week may tell him there’s something big wrong. But more than once today Uncle Steve said, “God is good.” He sees grace and he gives thanks.

I want to be like that. Like Ginny and Uncle Steve. Because that kind of thanks giving is supernatural. In fact, the call to give thanks in Ephesians 5 verse 20 is an expression Paul’s main command to be “filled with the Spirit” in Ephesians 5:18:

Be filled with the Spirit….giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Spirit is supernatural—he’s God. And I’m supernatural and you’re supernatural if we’re in Christ and his Spirit lives in us.

Giving thanks when you’re healthy and all speak well of you, when your kid is a starter and your business thrives is natural. Most every bird can sing can sing in the spring.

But when we give thanks for illness and hurtful words, for kids who don’t make the team and fails at work—this is supernatural. These are birds singing in the dead of winter.

Which is what happened in 1621.

The 1621 And 2021 Project: Give Thanks

There are only two primary sources detailing the Pilgrim’s 1621 harvest feast. William Bradford’s is less detailed than this one by Edward Winslow.

[O]ur harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors…we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation…And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

Edward Winslow, Mourt’s Relation

That’s it. Yet by the goodness of God…The harvest feast of 1621 was a decimated, threadbare group who gathered to rejoice together and to celebrate the goodness of God.

That’s my 2021 project. Heading into a cold winter, I want to celebrate the goodness of God as he gives me eyes to see.

I want to be like the Pilgrims in 1621 and like Ginny and Uncle Steve. I want grace to sing in the dead of winter.

We should give thanks for all things; not only for spiritual blessings enjoyed, and eternal ones expected, but for temporal mercies too; not only for our comforts, but also for our sanctified afflictions

It is our duty in every thing to give thanks unto God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and our Father in him…

Matthew Henry

Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…

Ephesians 5:20

My Apology To You: Please Pardon The Typos

Typos on side of Dept. of Corrections van

Your Pardon For My Typos

I owe you an apology. Yes. I do mean you.

Because you, dear reader, are still reading. And unless this is your very first JoyPrO post— and if it is, a big warm hug of a welcome to you—you’ve suffered your way through an unkind number of typos.

Once upon a time, I wrote “Be Freed From Perfectionism.” Alas, it seems I’m a wee bit too free. It’s not perfectionism that’s plaguing me.

Reader, I’ve treated you with less than my utmost respect. I’ve drug you through the mud of my sometimes sloppy and slapdash ways. I am guilty of overthinking and under-editing. And, if I’m a writer who cares for my readers—indeed, who has readers—that’s a lethal combination.

In short, you’ve endured far too many typos. You deserve better. So I humbly beg your pardon.

To Love Is To Proofread

Some of you are thinking exactly what I’d be thinking right about now. Namely, “The proof is in the pudding.” Because you know that the mark of true repentance is turning from error.

In other words, here now, real repentance means that I must proofread. It means that I must be more patient. I must wait to hit publish longer than it is comfortable to wait.

By the way, the end of all this proofreading and patience is love. And I don’t mean mostly the self-love that knows you’ll stop reading if I keep publishing sloppy posts. I mean the care for my readers that says, “Slow down. Don’t push “publish” until fresh eyes have checked it for typos.”

In other words, I’d best deny myself and wait awhile for your good, dear reader. Because if what I have to say has any encouragement at all, you’ll miss it. It’s just not worth it if you must wade through missing punctuation, misspelled words and fragmentary phrases. It’s just not loving. So I must deny myself and wait.

I love how counselor Ed Welch explains that connection: Self-denial is the just the means to the end. And the end is love. Self-control is the grace that allows us to say no to indulging ourselves for the sake of others. You could call it love…

That Would Be A Good Idea

Abigail, you need a proofreader.

That’s what my sister-writer-friend Kat texted after she read the post. And I was convicted in a painful minute on Saturday morning. She was right.

Within minutes, a wise, insightful friend who reads with a careful eye came to mind. I didn’t waste time.

Her reply?

Yes, I think that’s a good idea. And I’d be proud to help.

I won’t tell you her name in case you spot a mistake. But my proofreader friend is another one who has the precious gift that some of you have. You encourage and correct in one fell swoop. When you correct, it feels like love.

Because, like Lincoln said, he has the right to criticize who has the heart to help. And believe you me, Kat has a heart to help. She told me I needed a proofreader, then she gave up her next half hour to be that proofreader.

When uncaring souls calls out our faults, our souls deflate. I call that “dish and dash.” But criticism tethered to a helpful heart is how the world is changed.

Criticism tethered to a helpful heart is how the world is changed.

Christopher Abel

Back to you, reader: I ask your forgiveness and I promise to do better. You see, I am taking steps.

Listen In: Onward & Upward With Abigail Wallace

This has been a sort of DTR (Define The Relationship) post. DTR talks are dangerous. Sometimes couples and friends get too meta and that can get messy. But I hope this DTR has been less messy and more clarifying. I will do a better job proofreading, and in turn, I pray you will read with greater joy, and ease.

Because I want to serve my readers better. I want to write words that help build you up in your most holy faith as we become stronger, softer saints who embrace God’s sometimes uncomfortable grace. For the record, if there’s a question or topic you’d like to see me address, please send it my way. I want to scratch where you itch. Odds are, others itch there too.

One final note. A few readers have said they’d prefer to listen than to read. I get that. If you’re one of those readers, you’ll be happy to know that future posts will include a link to the brand new Onward & Upward With Abigail Wallace podcast, which for now, is simply me reading these posts.

I hope the podcast format helps you redeem your time. Plus, if typos sneak into a post, you won’t even know.

Enthusiasm without knowledge is no good; haste makes mistakes.

Proverbs 19:2, NLT