The Tale of Two Poems
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10 NLT
The idea of being a masterpiece can be a difficult self concept to fully comprehend. There is a gravitational pull for people to view their lives more as disconnected pieces than a purposely assembled whole. Weighed down by the exigencies of life in meeting never ending obligations and making financial ends meet, it can seem like too many of our life shaping decisions are made more by default than according to a master plan. The dreams and idealism of youth sadly give way all too quickly to coping with mundane realities, and days and months turn into years pulling us farther and farther away from the idea of a cohesively planned life.
I don’t know how many times I have heard people marvel at how they got to where they are, relating how one thing led to another and they “just ended up” in a given life’s work, irrespective of some intentional concerted effort on their part. As a result it can be difficult, even in looking back, to connect the dots and discover some over arching theme that ties everything together.
This verse offers a hopeful perspective in terms of ascribing meaning and purpose to the seemingly haphazard unfolding of our lives. It conveys that there is a creator God, personally interested and actively engaged in arranging the pieces of our lives into a masterful work of art. The Greek word translated as masterpiece here is poiema (poy’-ay-mah) from which we get our English word poem.
What this verse says in effect is that God takes everyone who has entered into a faith relationship with Him through His Son Christ Jesus and crafts an artistic composition from the experiences of their lives. Because of each person’s uniqueness that poiema composition and its resultant message can be as diverse as any creative form, be it poetry, prose, music or the visual arts.
What then is the poiema of your life? What sense have you made of your meaning and purpose? Ironically our own poiemas are not always readily discernible because we are too close to them. It is like trying to see the forest for the trees. Usually it requires an outside perspective and help from God to fully comprehend, accept and appreciate our poiema.
Sometimes we want to make something of our life that is different from what God is intending to make of it. When our poiema is different than God’s poiema we can become frustrated and discouraged because things are not turning out the way we planned. That is why we need a revelation of God’s poiema. Poiemas are more caught than taught. When we finally see it, sometimes we need to wrestle with it for a while to come to a point of yielding our poiema to His and finding a place of acceptance, appreciation and full cooperation with His poiema.
I can fully identify with the poiema struggles of which I write. Although many dreams and plans I had as a young man went by the wayside when God intervened in my life, the ensuing years left me at times wondering what if. What if I had pursued such and such a job or moved to such and such a place? Playing out that scenario can lead to an identity crisis and for me was a prescription for internal strife and confusion.
I battled that on and off for a number of years but finally found relief when God gave me a distinct revelation of His poiema work in my life. Ironically, it happened in a movie theatre while I was watching a film entitled Mr. Holland’s Opus. The story, produced in 1996, starring Richard Dreyfuss chronicles the adult life of a man named Glenn Holland.
When we are introduced to Glenn as a young man he is a moderately successful touring musician with the lifelong dream of becoming a composer. He has taken a temporary position as a music teacher in a high school to enable him to devote more time to his young wife and to write what he hopes will be a life defining piece of orchestral music. Life happens, a son is born, one thing leads to another, the years roll along into decades and his life as a teacher continually preempts him from pursuing his dream. Finally at age 60, facing a forced retirement and despairing over the accumulative regret of repeated postponement of a career as a composer, he feels as if he has wasted his life as a teacher.
To his surprise, on his final day at the school, he discovers that hundreds of friends, students and former students have gathered in the auditorium to thank him for his formative impact upon their lives. Unbeknownst to him, an orchestra of past and present students has been supplied with his unpublished musical composition. In one final and moving tribute, and a grand act of redemption, he is asked to stand before the adoring assemblage and conduct the premier performance of his lifelong work, his opus.
Now he realizes, as the rest of us viewing the film, that the real opus of his life is not the musical composition, but his impact upon the lives of so many people as a teacher. His choice would have been to be music composer, but the higher purpose for his life was to be a music educator.
There in the theatre I could not help but identify with Mr. Holland and I knew that God was using his story to speak to me. It gave perspective to my own life in a way that helped me see the contrast between my own frustrated attempts to compose an opus and God’s masterful hand at crafting it. A manmade opus or poiema at its best brings momentary satisfaction and enjoyment. But the artistic composition of our lives by God leaves a lasting benefit not only for one’s self but also for others that can carry on into eternity.
What have you learned about discerning or discovering God’s poiema in your life?
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