The Rocky Road to Restoration

The entire Bible can be summarized by two different phrases – one terrifying and the other beautiful. First, there’s “All have sinned” (Romans 3:23), the disturbing synopsis of humankind’s loss of paradise and subsequent history of brokenness.

Yet, thankfully, this is not the final outcome of the story. Since mercy triumphs over judgment, I’m convinced the most beautiful phrase in the Bible is “I will restore” (Joel 2:25, Amos 9:11).

Your life today is somewhere in-between these two phrases, impacted by the consequences of sin but in the midst of God’s restoration process. It’s puzzling that both can be occurring at the same time. Although believers are instantly a part of the Lord’s new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), our new birth is just the beginning of a daily journey of transformation (Romans 12:2, 2 Corinthians 3:18).

Christian friend, never forget that you are involved in a lifelong restoration process. Yes, you’ve been saved, but you are also being saved (1 Corinthians 1:18, 2 Corinthians 1:10).

Fortunately, the outcome of this process has already been determined (1 John 3:1-3). This is not because of YOUR faithfulness, but rather HIS faithfulness (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

If you’ve never read Revelation chapters 21 and 22, perhaps you haven’t yet understood the amazing way history ends. Jesus declares that He’s in the process of “making all things new” (Revelation 21:5), and the restoration looks remarkably like the Garden of Eden before sin broke our fellowship with God.

Restoring Grandma’s Furniture

I used to get really excited whenever I heard a preacher teach on how God is restoring individuals to His likeness and returning the church to its former glory. But lately I’ve had a more sober view of the restoration process, remembering an irksome experience in my younger years.

When my cousin Jack and I were in high school, Grandma Buchan took us into her basement one day to show us a job she wanted done.

“Boys,” she told us, “I love these two pieces of furniture, but the finish has become worn and unsightly. I will gladly pay you to make these like new again.”

If Jack and I had been teens in today’s world, it might have been hard for Grandma to convince us to take on such an assignment. Yet back then it sounded like a fun way to make some extra spending money – or so we thought.

My cousin and I soon discovered that restoration is a tough process, seldom pleasant or pretty. First, Grandma instructed us to use sandpaper and steel wool to remove the old finish. To make sure the furniture was down to the bare wood, we then had to use turpentine to remove any lingering remnants.

In addition to being monotonous and time-consuming, our task was also dirty and smelly. Grandma had given us a drop cloth to catch the droppings, but Jack and I were filthy after just a few hours of our restoration mission.

To our dismay, the furniture initially looked worse instead of better. And while we had assumed we could finish the job in just one afternoon, it soon became apparent that this was a slow and messy process, requiring several days.

When we finally could see the end in sight, it was time to apply new varnish on the stripped-down wood. But even this was more difficult than we anticipated.

At various stages in our challenging assignment, Jack and I were tempted to give up. We wanted to please Grandma, but things clearly were not going well. Not only were we completely inexperienced in furniture restoration, but we also struggled to envision what the finished product was supposed to look like.  

Worth the Effort?

You’re probably wondering how things turned out with Grandma Buchan’s furniture project. Honestly, not so good. Although Jack and I did our best, I don’t think Grandma was ever able to use that furniture again.

As I’ve reflected lately on this grueling experiment in furniture refinishing, I find myself cringing every time someone says God is a God of restoration. Can’t you see why?

Yes, it’s good to know that God is working to restore us to His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-28, Romans 8:28-29, Philippians 1:6). But His process may require some sandpaper and steel wool – or even more drastic measures – to remove our sin-damaged varnish.

Thankfully, God is both experienced and patient in this process, quite different than my cousin and me. Although the transformation process may seem long and agonizing, He’s relentlessly dedicated to making the finished product look like His Son Jesus.

As the Lord answers our prayers for restoration of the church, I’ve been dismayed to find that things often seem to get worse for a while. The first sign of revival is usually the revealing of hidden sins, which is never a pleasurable sight. It’s also hard to fathom that Brother or Sister Sandpaper are part of God’s loving plan to make us more like Christ – but they are.

Amid the restoration process, I guarantee you’ll lose hope at times, just as happened to my cousin Jack and me. However, the Bible assures us that the process will be worth it in the end. One day Jesus will return for “a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).

When we look at our condition today, we may struggle to believe that such an outcome is possible. As one old preacher observed, “If the church is going to be without spot or wrinkle, we’re going to need a lot more laundry soap and ironing!”

Indeed, instead of using sandpaper, steel wool, and turpentine, God will transform us through the “refiner’s fire and launderer’s soap” (Malachi 3:2). Painful stuff!

But don’t despair during the process, my friend. Today things may be unpleasant and messy, but the result is going to be glorious. Let’s keep praying for God to do whatever it takes to reveal more of His Son in us.