Just in time for Father’s Day, this one was written by Julian Brooks.

My first summer home from Bible College left me with four months to get to work and save some money for the year’s upcoming tuition. Thankfully I had a job lined up and a place to stay that would allow me to save some money. Even so, I was still going to come up short on what was needed to cover the cost for another year of school.

My dad told me before the summer began that whether I worked or took time off to spend with family and friends, he would make sure I had enough to pay for school. Quite a relief, but still, I felt I needed to work, partly because I wanted to have some skin in the game, but also to keep me busy. Four months off for a twenty-two-year-old and he might not make it back to Bible College.

As the summer went on and I realized just how short on money I actually was, I asked my dad if I could do some extra work with him on the weekends. He is a very talented carpenter and handyman who always keeps himself busy with side work. However, his gift of carpentry was not hereditary; or perhaps it skipped a generation. From a productivity mindset, I’m not quite sure how appealing my offer to him was.

I showed up eager to work. Patiently, my dad took the time to train me on how to do basic things, things he could have done twice as fast without me. Not only did he lose time training me, but I made several mistakes, whether that be with measuring things or breaking things he was going to reuse. By the end of the day we were both tired and sweaty, and I had no doubt cost him at least a days’ worth of work and possibly hundreds of dollars in supplies. In spite of this, he made sure to tell me how much he appreciated my help and that I had done a great job.

The next weekend I had something come up and wasn’t able to help him with the rest of the project. And he didn’t have any more side jobs for the next few weeks (at least that’s what he told me), so I didn’t get another opportunity to slow him down. But just as he promised, as I got things ready to go back to school, he made sure to cover the difference, and I had all the money I needed for the upcoming year.

Looking back on the experience, that weekend taught me so much about the tenderness of our Heavenly Father, especially in the context of our good works.

Our righteousness with God, or right-ness with God, is settled upfront on account of Jesus’ work for us—just as my finances were secured by my dad’s word to me and his own ability to provide those funds through his labor. That summer, there was no demand on me whatsoever to work for what I needed. The money was offered to me solely as a gift.

Of course, this was hard to receive. How could I just sit back and do nothing all summer while my dad did all the work? That would be unfair! But consider the alternative, which was also demonstrated in my story: I offered to help. I brought my great carpentry skills to the table and got to work. Which didn’t help my dad at all.

Our good works, when they are directed towards God as payback or justification, look as good as me trying to cut a 2-by-4 at a 45-degree angle. Or as the Bible puts it, dirty menstrual rags. (Sorry ladies and gentlemen, you can thank Isaiah for that one.)

After a decade of reflection, I had to ask my dad why he ever agreed to let me work with him that weekend, knowing just how bad my carpentry skills were. His answer should have been expected, but it crushes me every time I think about it.

“I just wanted to spend time with you.”

“You mean you really didn’t need my help? You were really going to give me everything I needed for free?”

“Yes!”

Because of our sinful nature, it is impossible not only to love people in the way God tells us to but also to believe he loves us the way he says he does. This makes it very easy to get confused when it comes to the importance of good works in the Christian life. We gravitate towards the idea of doing works not because we love others or God and want to serve them but because we can’t believe that God, who knows everything about us, would really love us no matter what.

Allow me to go totally Christian-cliché for a moment, but I can only imagine what that day will be when I’m standing before my Heavenly Father and I realize I’m standing there solely on the merits of Christ’s work alone.

“None of my works counted towards this at all? You mean you really did pay for everything?”

“Yes.”

“Then why did you let me mess so many things up trying to serve my neighbor?”

“Because I loved spending time with you. Well done my good and faithful servant.”