As told to this writer by Gladys Aylward, (Ai-Wei-Deh), the renowned English missionary to China, who died in Taiwan in 1970. Once a domestic servant she saved her meager income to pay for her journey to China, so convinced was she that the call and claim of God was upon her. Her biography is told best in the book “The Small Woman” by Anthony Burgess.
The fable begins in a small village. The water supply is in need of repair involving the replacement of some of the pipes that convey water from a stream on the mountain to the village. The woodcutter is sent to the fringe of the village where there was a stand of bamboo. The larger bamboo plants were ideal for making water pipes, and he was charged with the responsibility for cutting them for this purpose.
He began by making his choice, selecting a tall and sturdy bamboo. Then he took his cutting tool and laid it to the base of the plant to bring it down. Next, he removed the haughty tasseled head of the plant that had reached high over the rest. This could not be used. Then he tackled the many sharp spines that grew along the length of the plant and made it difficult to handle. But it was still not ready to be used as a conduit for inside the bamboo there are several hindrances, partitions that separate the various sections, and they must be removed. And so the wood-cutter heated an instrument that burned its way through the partitions until the way through was completely clear. What was left was neither a plant nor a tree, but a clear channel through which the water could flow unimpeded.
Then Miss Aylward gave the explanation. When God chooses an instrument for His special service, He begins by removing all haughtiness and superiority from the individual. Then He tackles the prickly nature and sometimes hurtful behaviors of the individual and renders him or her more amenable to the service of others. But there remain internal hindrances, obstacles to effectiveness, and they must be removed. The process may be painful and is often resisted, but if usefulness is the goal they have to go.
As God manifests His grace in our hearts, leading us forward in our sanctification, it should not surprise us if we find Him preparing and training us for life and godliness. Sometimes this may be through hardship or even suffering. No one can say it will not hurt. We may see this as a negative that we would gladly get over in a hurry. But if pain comes from the good hand of God it is ultimately for our enrichment and therefore for our betterment. Stripping away our prickly ways and resolving our hindrances, asking us to “lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily besets us,” is never pleasant. Nor is it something that we look forward to. But we must be aware that if God is to use us in His service, all of His measures are demonstrations of His gentle love for us.
And so it, as with the bamboo, if the “water of life”, the Gospel of Christ, is to flow freely through us to others, we must regard the disciple and training of the Father as an expression of His loving care and concern for us. As we yield ourselves to Him we become available for His service. As prepared instruments we will know what Scripture means when it says: “… that out of your innermost parts will flow rivers of living water”
-Dr. Wilfred Bellamy, Ph.D. is a longtime pastor and missionary, ordained in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.