Three Lessons from Shovelling Snow!

By perseverance the snail reached the ark.

Charles Spurgeon
Me and my son Eli

You may not know it to look at me, but I’m not usually a big fan of physical labour.

No, really.

For example, I do not like shovelling snow. But since I didn’t know for sure when we might get plowed out after last night’s storm, I knew I didn’t have much of a choice. So I grabbed my son Eli and out we went, shovels in hand. And although it was not really how I wanted to spend my afternoon, I’m really glad we did it. Especially glad we did it together.

So I thought I’d share three things (I am a Baptist preacher, after all!) about the experience and what it says about perseverance.

When we were around halfway or more up our long driveway, I told Eli that I couldn’t have done it without him. I told him that this is true in two ways. First, it’s a huge job. It would have taken MUCH longer all by myself. The word daunting comes to mind. Second, having him with me helped me persevere. He was an encouragement to me to keep going.

Here’s lesson one. This is also true in life. If we’re going to persevere, we need people who are with us and who encourage us.

We started shovelling at the end of the driveway, because the snow there was deeper and crustier thanks to the snow plow that did our street. It meant starting at the bottom. Looking up the incline of our driveway, it was easy to think this was going to take forever. I joked to Eli, “Well, we should be done by bedtime!”

But as we made our way up the driveway, both of us looked back with surprise and pride at our progress. Seeing how much we’d shovelled was really encouraging. Even though initially we felt like we’d never finish, realizing how much snow we’d cleared out of the way helped us keep at it. And we were in good spirits, joking and making funny comments.

Here’s lesson two. And this is exactly what I told Eli. Don’t focus on how much further you have to go but on how far you’ve already come. This is also true of life when trying to persevere.

The snow was also pretty deep. Because of this I gave Eli some advice. I told him to shovel in layers. Work your way down from the top to the bottom. Otherwise if you always try to put as much snow as possible on your shovel every single time, you’ll tire yourself out. It’s a job that’s going to take awhile, and you’ve got to get to the finish line. Take short breaks. In other words, pace yourself.

Here’s lesson three. Life is a marathon not a sprint. You can’t go at the exact same pace all the time. God designed us to vary our speed. Most of the time, there’s no need to rush. Going through life as hard and as fast as you can all the time will wear you out.

So those are three lessons from shovelling I learned today.

As it happens, the snow plow guy showed up when we were almost done. While I would have breathed a sigh of relief if he had shown up an hour and a half earlier, I’m actually glad he didn’t. I got to spend that time with one of my sons and while it was a lot of work it was also fun. We got plenty of fresh air and exercise. I never would have anticipated that before plunging the shovel into the snow for the first time at the end of our driveway!

Am I Going to Grumble or Shine Today?

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labour in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

Philippians 2:14-18

Sometimes I make life about me. And sometimes this leads to complaining. I can definitely be a grumbler.

So I find Paul’s words to the Philippians convicting today. I mean, really? Do everything without grumbling or arguing? Those are high expectations! Why not most things? Or on some (crappy) days only some things?

I guess the whole point is growing in Jesus-likeness even when I don’t feel like it, when I don’t have the warm and fuzzies, when life hits me with stuff that is frustrating or uncomfortable. It is on these days—or in these moments—I’m supposed to shine. That happens when I stop focusing on myself and what I want and put it on others around me. Easier said than done, which is why I require the work of the Holy Spirit in me.

Here are some words from today’s Lectio 365 devotional:

“I am struck by the idea that I can shine like a star in this world. Not like the star of celebrity, but the star of service. Paul encourages me in Romans to ‘Take [my] everyday, ordinary life—[my] sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering’ (Rom. 12:1 in The Message).”

And then the prayer: Lord, help me today to pour my life out for the sake and service of others. I want to be known as one who gives and not one who takes. Amen.

The Growing Uncertainty of Middle-Age (or Why I’m Growing More Content with Knowing Less)

The more you see, the less you know
The less you find out as you go
I knew much more then
Than I do now

U2, “City of Blinding Lights,” How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004)

Sometimes I very much feel the truth of the above words from U2’s song. I find myself aware of just how much I don’t understand, how much knowledge I do not have, and of how limited my intellectual abilities are. It feels like it’s a function of growing older, a fact which is relative I know, but being in middle age seems to come with a certain recognition that I’m definitely not as smart as I perhaps once thought I was. And most definitely not as smart as some others seem to think I am. Though maybe I’m just fooling myself on that last point.

In addition, I find myself content with knowing less. I’m ok with more uncertainty about a number of things. Like everyone, I receive data and information from the world around me and I try and process it to the best of my ability. Sometimes I really think I am right in my opinion. Though there are surely times–whether I ever realize it or not–when I am very much wrong. I also make choices based on how I have processed this information. But can I be certain that I’ve made the right choice? Not always. Maybe sometimes I can be. Sometimes I may never know for sure.

What do I really need to know, anyway? My place or role in this world is relatively limited. I am a husband, a father of three kids, and a pastor of a small, but loving congregation. Much of what I need to know consists in how to live wisely and well in these relationships. Truthfully, I don’t even always do that. Hopefully, however, I am at least making incremental improvements. Of course, living well and wisely in our relationships doesn’t mean always knowing what to do or what to say or how to respond to others. At the risk of sounding trite, I at least try to do my best.

Besides, I do feel as though I am more certain about the core, fundamental, elemental matters. As a person of faith, the roots of my beliefs are quite deep down at this point. I am convinced, for example, in the truths encapsulated in historic statements of Christian doctrine like the Apostles’ Creed and in the Nicene Creed. I am convinced that Jesus is the Son of God, the Word made flesh, the one who calls us to and who gives us eternal and abundant life.

But even when it comes to my Christian faith, there are other aspects that I am less certain about or about which I am fine having less certainty about. There are areas of theological debate amongst Christians that I find interesting but which are not hills I am prepared to die on. For instance, I really don’t care about the end-times timeline. I don’t believe that the Scriptures teach a rapture which precedes Christ’s final Second Coming. I don’t know for sure whether the 1,000 reign of Christ is literal or metaphorical. Yet I do believe Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead, that we will be judged on the basis of whether we have trusted in him and in his good news, and that God will usher in a new heavens and new earth where he will dwell forever with the redeemed. And isn’t that the most important part?

I also don’t know for sure whether the young earth creationists or the old earth creationists are correct. Now, I have my thoughts. I also understand that there are those for whom these issues are near or at the center of the gospel. I’m simply not persuaded that they are right in thinking this. What I do know is that God created the heavens and the earth and that the creation declares the glory of God through its design and beauty. That, I believe, is the salient point.

Maybe age brings with it a greater willingness to let some things go, while holding on to what for me are the most important things with an even firmer grip. I’m not going to say age brings humility; it’s not up to me to decide whether that is a quality I have. Perhaps additional years will help me. Honestly, there are moments when accepting that I will not understand for sure about specific things is frustrating or disappointing–especially when I feel like I have to make choices based on what I know about those things. We all make choices with limited information. However, I also find that realizing my limits in this respect can be freeing at times. I am not responsible for everything. I don’t have to have everything figured out to live or make decisions. That is, in part, where faith comes in. Because God knows. He understands completely. He is, after all, omniscient. What I don’t and won’t understand I can leave in his hands. Though there are moments, I confess, when I try to snatch those things back. As time continues to pass, I hope and pray this happens less and less.

“Come!”

This is from the last (and today’s) Advent Project devotional: the Scripture, reflection, and prayer.

I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.” And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.

Revelation 22:16-17

“There is nothing tribal about this water of life invitation. It has its own economy. There are no ‘water rights’ on this water of life; nothing justifies ‘mine, never thine’ possessiveness. The waters of life are new family-forming. You come to the waters, and find yourself taking and receiving with the other ‘whoever desires’ kin; the banks of the waters are called grace. Next to you on the banks is a Samaritan woman, a Tax Collector, a Centurion, a Prostitute, a Thief . . . At the waters of life, there is the simple word, ‘Come’. Will I believe that no-strings-attached invitation? Who or what will I permit to summon my life in 2022?”

Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Rise up within me rivers of living water.
Come and breathe on me, wind of God. Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Demonstrate your power to heal and release captives.
I welcome you as the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.
Come, Father of Lights, with whom there is no shifting shadows of change
Form my heart for your family of lights throughout your world. Amen.