Originally published Tuesday, 11 February 2014.
It was my privilege to guest post over at Bronwyn's Corner this week. She and her ministry of words have been such a blessing and encouragement to me. I encourage you to pop over and pay her a visit by clicking here.
Below is the post that first appeared on her blog.
Living in West Michigan this winter has been Down. Right. Crazy.
The snow just Will. Not. Stop.
Frequent hours have been spent at the end of our driveway, heaving shovel after shovel of brown, wet slush over my shoulder onto the white banks that stand as sentries on either side, now taller than my head and growing every day. Bundled in multiple layers, squinting my eyes from the blustering wind and flurries blowing sideways, I’ve often been reminded of this quote by Phyllis Diller: “Trying to clean your house while your kids are still growing is like trying to shovel the sidewalk before it stops snowing.”
The same could be said of our desire to ‘clean our hearts,’ through the ongoing process of sanctification. No matter how many times we go out to shovel the sin away through repentance, it just keeps on snowing. We just keep on sinning. Day, after day, after day.
Our pastor recently gave a very timely illustration for his shivering Michigan flock. He compared the cleanliness of our hearts to the cleanliness of our snow-covered driveways. “Even if you shovel on Thursday night, it’s covered again on Friday morning. And if you shovel on Friday, there is a fresh pile waiting for you on Saturday.” The same is true of our hearts, he said. We need to daily — no, hourly — be kneeling before the throne of grace in repentance, gratefully accepting God’s cleansing power of forgiveness through His Son.
It’s an uphill climb, this process of sanctification. A lifelong, uphill climb.
As a wise four-year-old once observed, "It's not easy to roll up the stairs. But it is easy to roll down."
The same goes for sanctification. It’s not easy to work our way up, but it is oh, so easy to slip down. Like a child grunting his way up the steps of the slide at the playground, heaving those chubby little legs up one, then two, then three rungs of the ladder, it takes careful, deliberate effort to make one’s way toward the top. By contrast, it takes barely any energy at all to slide down the metal slope — and often, with much glee and delight. The slippery ride into sin is often laced with enjoyment — yet just as often, it ends with a thud in the dirt at the bottom … and usually not without tears.
Sometimes I think God gives us these life lessons as warnings — red flags, to keep us from making the same, painful mistakes again.
This past summer, I was slowly shuffling down a flight of stairs in our home, clutching a pillow to my cramping stomach and leaning my right shoulder against the wall. Three steps from the bottom, the banister which had served as my crutch ended abruptly, without my knowledge. As a result, I missed the last three steps and landed — hard — on my big toe, bent under. Instantly broken.
That was over six months ago, and my toe still hurts. I couldn’t drive for six weeks. The lesson was well engraved into my mind. Now, whenever I approach the top of the staircase, I block everything else out of my mind and focus on descending the steps. I refuse to make the same mistake again. The fall that day was quick, and the results oh, so painful.
We learn from experience that it’s much easier to roll down the stairs than it is to roll up. We learn from experience that if we don’t shovel the driveway, we won’t make it into the road.
In his book, An Infinite Journey, Andrew Davis goes into great depth about the Christian’s journey of sanctification. One component, he says, is experiential knowledge. Combined with factual knowledge about God from the Scriptures, the Lord has also provided us with real-life lessons that teach us about His goodness, His holiness, His grace, His jealousy, His love.
One Scriptural example offered by Davis is of Moses lifting up his arms in prayer. Moses quickly learned through experience that if he let his arms sink to his sides, the tide of the battle would turn against the Israelites in favor of their enemy, the Amalekites (Exodus 17:8-13). It was hard work. So tiresome, in fact, that Moses had to request a rock to sit on, and two assistants to help him hold up his arms. The lesson learned, as Davis points out, was that “prayer is indispensable to the journey of victory that God has prepared for His people” (An Infinite Journey, p. 114).
A lesson I gained from this account was that sometimes we need assistants to hold up our arms. When the climb up the stairs toward heaven becomes tiresome, when the shovel full of snow becomes too much to bear, instead of just rolling down the stairs back to square one, or letting the snow pile up until it’s impassable, we can call for help. We don’t have to walk the Christian life alone.
Firstly, we have God. It’s only by His grace and strength that we’re able to raise our foot to the step or our shovel to the bank in the first place. Secondly, we have a spiritual family. Brothers and sisters in Christ who are called to share the burden and bear each other’s load on the long trudge through the blizzard toward glory.
The arduous, persistent task of shoveling the snow from the end of the driveway is not without reward. It almost certainly guarantees safe passage toward the desired destination. Without clearing the accumulation away, even an SUV would fail to break through the solid blockade. Similarly, by continually going to the Father with a broken and contrite spirit — not for multiple assurances of salvation or acts of justification, but for the ongoing acknowledgement that He is God and we are not, that He is good and we are not, that He can save and we can not — that heart posture, only possible through God’s grace and His Spirit, will allow for safe passage between the banks to our eternal destination with Him.
Maybe you’re at a point in your climb where you’ve fallen down a few steps and broken your toe. Maybe you’re hobbling in pain, limping your way back to the staircase. You know from experience that it’s much easier to roll down than it is to roll up. But you don’t want to be at the bottom. You want to be making your way back to the top. If that’s the case, perhaps you’ll be challenged by this portion of Revelation:
“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Revelation 2:4-5)
If this resonates with you, Andrew Davis offers this three-step suggestion: Remember, Repent, and Do. Remember the height from which you have fallen. Remember the affection you used to have for Christ. Repent. Then do the things you did at first. Go back to the stair case, take a deep breath of God’s grace, and start climbing. Zip up your jacket and start shoveling, even while it’s still snowing.
Photo credits: Szapucki (shoveling) and Brian Moloney (stairs)