The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. Psalm 118:22-23
Co-worker Ron Boyd-MacMillan writes in his epic volume, Faith That Endures, “Your life’s purpose may remain a mystery to you, as may the events of your world, but that’s okay. God is in control. We are relieved of the responsibility of understanding everything and the need to change it.”
R. J. Thomas was a Welsh missionary with a burden for the xenophobic hermit kingdom of Korea in the middle of the nineteenth century. In 1865, while in China, the opportunity he had been waiting a lifetime for arrived. An American ship, the SS General Sherman, was going to steam up the Taedong River to the capital, Pyongyang, in hopes of luring the Koreans into trade. Thomas bought a berth on the ship, hoping to meet some scholars in Pyongyang who spoke and read Chinese, and took as many Chinese Scriptures with him as he could carry on board.
When they reached Pyongyang, they were not welcomed. They got stuck on a sandbank and the ship was set afire. As the crew waded to shore, they were killed by the waiting Koreans. Thomas also waded to shore. Before he could speak, a club swung with murderous force dashed his brains into the water, but his killer noticed he had emerged with books. He picked up a couple of the sodden books. Drying them off, he separated the leaves and saw that they were nicely printed. He could not read but decided to paper the outside of his house compound with the pages, as was the custom at the time.
Imagine his astonishment when he returned from the fields a few weeks later to find a clutch of scholars earnestly reading his walls. One of these scholars became a Christian by reading a Gospel portion plastered onto the wall. A generation later his nephew assisted in the first translation of the New Testament into Korean in Shenyang, China under the supervision of another little-known missionary, John Ross from Scotland.
R.J. Thomas never lived to see the fruit of his labor or his prayers for Korean people. He died, his life’s purpose unfulfilled, his potential unrealized. For anyone aware of Thomas’s death, his life was a mystery for years afterward. But his life was not in vain. The meaning of life does not consist in what we make of it, but in what God makes of it. Success is not about achievement or what we make of ourselves. It’s about placement, or what God makes of us. We take the lesson from the persecuted church that it is okay to die quite unaware of our life’s meaning. We can rest in trust that God, in His mercy, has used us to help build His eternal kingdom.
RESPONSE: Today I leave my placement, my purpose, my potential in the hands of a good and loving God.
PRAYER: May I ever realize that You are in control and thus truly allow You to be Lord of my life.
1. Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, Faith That Endures (Grand Rapids: Fleming Revell, 2006), p. 315.
2. Ibid, p. 314.