The weather looked inviting, so I laid aside my work and traipsed down the hill to the tracks. The train used them once a week; no one seemed to mind that I put them to good use between trains. I had spent much time walking up and down this particular section of track ever since I resolved, about five months ago, to spend one hour a day in prayer. I discovered that by praying out loud, while walking, I could concentrate and shut out the world much more effectively than I could on my knees. Even then, however, it was a battle—more so at first.
Good prayer is hard work; and it takes a while to discipline the emotions and drag them, kicking and screaming, into the attitude of petition. However, as with all worthwhile disciplines, that which is consistently practiced becomes easy and finally enjoyable.
Unfortunately, I had not been as consistent as I would have liked. In fact, well, let's be honest—I had missed the previous two days. My contacting a mild case of the flu was no excuse, for I had spent more than an hour at the computer both days.
What brought me to the tracks was the urge to share something the Lord gave me. 1 had been praying about a problem that I suppose every minister wrestles with: what good am I really doing? When I look around me, how many radical changes of life do I see? Not as many as I would like. Yes, there were some triumphs, but I could name too many people who had sat and listened month after month to good sermons, only to return home to take up the same old petty squabbles, or the same enslaving habit.
I often stop for a few moments at a certain point to throw a pebble or two in a small stream that runs under the tracks. Today as I skipped a stone, I felt the wind of an idea blowing my way. The answer to my question lay in my hand.
What visible result did the few pebbles I had deposited on the bottom of the stream have on the water? None that I could see. The difference in the pattern of flow was undetectable. But I knew that if thousands of those pebbles were deposited all in one place in the stream, forming a dam, the stream would temporarily cease to flow until it had deepened. It might even be forced into a new channel.
Each stone did make a slight difference. My efforts, plus the efforts of others, could change the stream. Every prayer offered, every visit made, every sermon preached, is a pebble. A good minister throws a lot of pebbles in the stream. And eventually, they add up to something that is more than a match for the current.
In this age of instant solutions, the temple of God is still built brick by plod ding brick. One brick makes little difference. But cathedrals are composed of little differences.
The analogy is imperfect, because for most things and most people, change is not a slow, steady progression, but a series of fits and starts. Like the San Andreas fault, the accumulating pressure causes no discernible movement until one day there is sudden, perhaps catastrophic, realignment. The causes are evolutionary, but the result is revolutionary. Streams are that way too. Now and then streams go on the rampage and wash away the well-laid stones—particularly when there are not enough of them in place. But then such a flood might also carry enough debris to complete the dam and force the stream into a new channel.
Most social or spiritual advancement is a culmination of progression and regression. Success often comes after repeated setbacks. Changing lives is like shattering rock: the hammer may strike again and again, making nary a dent, but the last blow does the trick. One must never give up too soon.
Consider the spring. As I write, the temperature is in the seventies. But it's only March 3. I want to believe that warm weather is here to stay, and my experience tells me that it must come sometime in the next three months. But I cannot place too much hope on today's thermometer, nor despair at tomorrow's freeze. Before spring comes, comes the cold again.
Cold weather or no, I know that spring will come—whether I do anything about it or not. God doesn't need my help to change the seasons. But He does to change hearts. Redemptive change is hard work, and I have not gotten in my full hour of prayer yet, so it's back to the tracks. Another pebble in the stream.