In his short story “Leaf by Niggle,” J. R. R. Tolkien describes a kindhearted, perfectionistic painter who failed to complete the landscape that became his life’s work. Because he was kind, Niggle often helped his neighbors rather than work on his painting. And because he fretted over details, he only managed to paint the first leaf on the first tree. He died with apparently little to show for his life. His “one beautiful leaf” was placed in the town museum “and was noticed by a few eyes.”
But when Niggle entered the presence of God, he found a surprise waiting for him. Tolkien writes, “Before him stood the Tree, his Tree, finished . . . its leaves opening, its branches growing and bending in the wind that Niggle had so often felt or guessed, and had so often failed to catch. He gazed at the Tree, and slowly he lifted his arms and opened them wide. ‘It is a gift!’ he said.”
Do you wonder if the things you weren’t able to finish because you were doing good to others possess any value? Paul concludes his long chapter on the resurrection by promising that your works will follow after you. They will result in God’s reward, so “always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
As with Niggle, you may feel that you’ve barely “gotten a leaf out.” But God will incorporate that leaf into His “transformed” creation (1 Corinthians 15:51-53). He will fill you with the joy of His presence, surrounded by the most beautiful landscape you could ever imagine. Like a master artist adding depth and color to the squiggles of a child, so God graciously includes our efforts in the world He’s building. So go ahead, paint your leaf!
NLT 365-day reading plan passage for today: Exodus 16:1-36
Read 1 Corinthians 3:5-15 to learn what will happen to our works that aren’t eternally significant and valuable.
What’s your “leaf”? What will motivate you to work diligently on it, regardless of success or failure?