Let Nothing Be Wasted

by Susan Whitbeck

During a conversation with a minister who has an Apologetics site online, I told him that I had been in the UPCI for over 35 years. He said in his loud booming voice, "35 YEARS? WOW! JUST THINK OF ALL THOSE WASTED YEARS!" I didn't say anything to him at the time, but it was one of those comments that just kind of cuts into a tender spot. It wasn't a new thought. I had thought before in terms of those being "wasted years," but I guess it was just his loud exclamation that shocked me into thinking about it again.

So when I was alone, I asked God if it was true, that all those years were wasted. It was important for me to know because, if so, then the years before the UPC would have been wasted too since I wasn't serving God. That would mean that my whole life was wasted so far, and that was 56 years. I don't know how many years I have left, but I know it won't be many compared to the 56. I was starting to think, how can anything I do in the future make up for such a waste?

I looked through my Bible and found my attention drawn to John 6:12. When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, "Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted." That is the NIV. A couple other translations say: "so that nothing will be lost."

So I thought about this scripture a while. Why would Jesus be so concerned that a few crumbs be wasted, or lost? And what does that say to my situation? So I looked at the context, and asked God to show me what I needed to see here. I could see that the bread represented Jesus' body and was broken for all. But I still couldn't figure out why he was so worried that nothing be wasted. Well I finally had to set that aside and see what else I could find in the Bible that would help.

I found three people who had something to say to me about wasted years. The first one was Moses. He had grown up living a privileged life in Pharaoh's Palace. He didn't want for anything (unlike the rest of his people) but he knew where he came from and he saw the ordeal the Hebrews were going through. It must have troubled him greatly.

Then one day he saw one of his people being mistreated and acted out of impulse and rage and killed the man who was mistreating him. That meant he had to flee to a faraway land. He ended up staying there for 40 years and he had to work with his hands for the first time. I wonder if he ever thought of those years as "wasted years"? But something happened to him during that time.

I don't read where he talked to God and God talked to him, before those 40 years. But it was during this time that God talked to him from the burning bush. He was still far from perfect. When God told him to go talk to Pharaoh, he was scared and asked if Aaron could go in his place. And he also had an anger problem that showed up every so often. But even so, he had become a man that God could use. He was a leader. And I think he could relate to his people a little better now because he had lived in a foreign land and had worked the soil and labored as he had never had to do before. So if you were to ask him now, I think he would probably say, that though it wasn't God's will for him to kill that Egyptian, He somehow used that time to prepare him for what he was to do.

The next person I found was Joseph. He was sold into slavery by his own brothers and he ended up in Egypt. He was falsely accused and sent to prison. He stayed there a long time and was forgotten. But not forgotten by God. After interpreting Pharaoh's dream, he was let out of prison and made governor. He could have thought of those years in Egypt and especially the ones in prison as a waste. It was not his fault he was where he was, unlike Moses. But God used all of it for his glory. He was able to save his family during the famine.

Joseph was also a different person than the young man who was sold into slavery. Back then he was bragging to his brothers about his dreams and showing off his coat that his father had made for him. Then fast forward and he was crying when he saw his brothers. He didn't seem to hold any grudge against them for what they had done. It was obvious that he had matured and changed during those years. And he ended up being in just the right position to help his family.

The third person I found was Paul. He spent the first part of his life as a devout Jew. He was a persecutor of the Christians and present at the stoning of Stephen. Once he became a Christian, I can imagine it was hard for him to forgive himself for what he had done. He could have easily said those were wasted years. But having known the great bondage of legalism in comparison to the grace he now experienced, he could write books like Roman, Galatians, and Hebrews. No one can appreciate grace like someone who has been under the bondage of extreme legalism.

This was all encouraging and interesting, but these men were men that God used for a special purpose. They weren't just ordinary people like me. I wasn't quite satisfied with the answer I had gotten so far. There just seemed to be something missing, and that scripture in John still puzzled me. So I had to set this all aside and let it simmer for a while.

A few months later, I was traveling through West Virginia and Ohio on business. When I crossed the border into Ohio there was a sign pointing the way to the Fenton glass factory. I had grown up in the area but had never gone to it, so I just decided to take a side trip. When I got there, I found out there was one more tour for the day so I decided to take it.

It was very interesting and educational. Glass starts out with a couple of natural ingredients: sand, soda ash, limestone and one or two more depending on what color. Then it is heated about 1500 degrees until it is melted together. Then it is put on a long pole and put back into the fire until it is glowing white hot, then removed and it goes through a number of processes depending on what it will become. It might be twirled, shaken, rolled, pressed into a mold, blown into, put back into the fire, dumped into water. Then finally it is what it is supposed to be and it is sent to the finishing area to have the rough spots sanded off, polished and sometimes painted. Then it is a beautiful piece of glass that will be bought and cherished by someone.

When we got to the end, someone asked, "What do you do with the ones that are broken or too defective to be sold?" The guide said that they would be broken and separated by color and then sent back through the fire to be made into something else. And the ones that the colors were too close together and couldn't be separated were sold to a marble factory and made into marbles. Then she said, "You see here, nothing is wasted!" Wow, that got my attention. And then all of a sudden I knew John 6 was going to make sense to me. God had to take me all the way to Ohio from Florida to show me what it meant. But I guess He knew I needed an object lesson.

So, when I got home, I opened my Bible and read that verse again. "Let nothing be wasted." And then I understood. Yes, the bread does represent His body that was broken for us, and He was talking about His life. Nothing was wasted. Everything Jesus said, everything He did, all his stories and parables, and sermons, all pointed to who He is and His purpose and the revealing of who He is and His purpose. And even things others said and did to him all pointed to His purpose and who He was. Nothing was wasted. He made everything count, including the actions of others who tried to thwart His purpose. It backfired on them and only made it more clear who He was and what His purpose was.

So if God can make everything in His life on earth count and not have a single part of it be wasted, what about our lives? Rom 8:28 says, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

So if we are "called" according to His purpose, that means that our purpose has become His purpose. And our life is hidden in Him. So that means that since we are in Him and have the same purpose, then just as nothing in Jesus' life was wasted, nothing in our lives is wasted either. The scripture says "all" things work together for good. "All" means everything that happens in our life, whether it's something someone has done to us, or something we have done. "All" is a tiny word but it covers so much.

Whether it's a tragic event, mistakes or wrong decisions we have made, it all works together for good when we allow God to work His purpose in our lives. And just as with a glass vase that is broken, or flawed, and sent back into the fire to be reworked, when we place our lives, including our past failures and mistakes into His capable hands, He can make something beautiful out of it. Maybe even something more beautiful and useful than the original. Because with God, nothing is wasted.

This writing is the copyright of Susan Whitbeck and is reprinted on this site by permission.

Page added January 26, 2007


August 23, 1997
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