In the poem, “Stradivarius,” the author, George Eliot, speaks as if he were the world-renowned violinmaker, Antonio Stradivari, saying:
When any master holds
’Twixt chin and hand a violin of mine,
He will be glad that Stradivari lived,
Made violins, and made them of the best.
The masters only know whose work is good;
They will choose mine, and while God gives them skill
I give them instruments to play upon,
God choosing me to help Him….
’Tis God gives skill,
But not without men’s hands: He could not make
Antonio Stradivari’s violins
(Poems, 1908, pp. 411-415; from The Works of George Eliot, 20 Vols)
This reminds me of a short story I once heard about a gentleman who found a sizable plot of land, rough and untamed, grown over and not very desirable. The man bought the property and worked it, plowing and shaping, cutting down trees and planting new ones, cultivating the land for a good ten years until it had truly blossomed with elegant beauty. While at church services on a Sunday, the local minister—having heard of the land’s transformation—spoke with the man, and asked permission to come and see his lovely place. The landowner approved with delight. When the minister arrived, he looked over the remarkable countryside and said to the gentleman, “You and God have sure made this place beautiful.” To which the landowner replied, “You should have seen it when God had it by Himself.”
I love that. God chooses to use you and me to bring about His beauty on earth. He needs us.
We hear people say, “The Lord asks us to pay tithing, but the Lord doesn’t need our money. We pay it for our own selves.” Now in one sense this is true. “Our” money, if we can call anything “ours”, will not help God have a better quality of life in His world. But in another sense—and I think this is one of the foremost reasons why we pay tithing—God does need “our” money because those temples are not going to build themselves and those meeting houses are not going to just appear every time we outgrow the ones we have. The point being: God works through man. Sure, He could do all the teaching, all the building, all the cultivating of land and souls, but this is not how He deals with us in this world. God needs man to cooperate with His plans or His plans for them won’t see fulfillment and man will lose out. God needs our tithes, He needs our hours of service, our sacrifices, our fast offerings, our missions, our temple work, so He can get His work done—our immortality and eternal life. He needed Jesus to work for Him…and He needs us to work for Him. According to the eternal plan of happiness, we are here to do some things with our own hands, of our own free will.
William Jones gives us an example of this, speaking of an experience he had in Nauvoo with the Prophet Joseph Smith. He said: “I never shall forget the words [Joseph] spoke on the first Sunday after I came to Nauvoo. The Temple was built a few feet above the ground. While preaching he pointed towards it and said, ‘The Lord has commanded us to build that Temple. We want to build it, but we have not the means. There are people in this city who have the means, but they will not let us have them. What shall we do with such people? I say damn them!’ Then he sat down. On the following day several persons came forward with their means, and this averted the curse which would doubtless otherwise have followed them.” (comp. by Andrus, They Knew The Prophet. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1999, p. 183)
From this we see that “the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes” (Alma 37:7). Sure, He could do it Himself, but again, that’s not how He works. He uses you and me.
I believe it’s our charge to take all the gifts which God has bestowed and will bestow upon us and go bring forth good fruit—fruit that really comes from Him after all. For instance, in our back yard, we have an apple tree. But, the wonderful apples on our tree are not of our making. We plant seeds in our garden and He gives us sweet melons. We tend the grapevine and it brings forth its bounty of grapes. Of course we have to water it, but, just as He did in Cana 2000 years ago, He turns the water into wine. It is by His doing, His creation that we have the delicious fruit. And so it is with the workmanship of our hands and minds. We labor to produce, but the capacity to think and do would not be ours if it weren’t for Him. Our goal is to be a tool ready for His use—that He might set His hand to us in the garden.
The Lord couldn’t make Noah’s ark without Noah. He couldn’t create Handel’s “Messiah” without Handel. And He couldn’t build the Latter-day Saint temples without the Latter-day Saints. Let’s be about our Father’s business—that we might be His instruments.