What an embarrassment! What humiliation for St. Paul, Minnesota: Winter Carnival without snow! How quickly a carefully cultivated public image can be shattered by unseasonably and unreasonably warm temperatures.
Before God rested from his creative labors he made winter. And we who live in St. Paul said, “It is good.” We delight in winter’s wonders and virtues. The pesky mosquitoes may keep us indoors during the fortunately brief days of summer, but it is in winter that God has called us to play out of doors. Below-zero temperatures and mounds of snow from Thanksgiving to Income Tax Day spare us the nuisance of lawn mowing. Instead, we cavort and exult in Winter Carnival season, complete with icefishing derbies, sled-dog races, ice palaces, snow queens, and two parades. (Eat your hearts out, Pasadena and New Orleans!)
At least, that is the way a Minnesota winter is supposed to be. But, alas, not this year. As I write this, my city has egg all over its civic pride. Balmy temperatures and an absence of snow threaten to make St. Paul just another Fort Lauderdale.
We hate to admit this, but we have been forced to haul in snow from Iowa or some such place just so we can hold the Winter Carnival’s famous snow-sculpture contests. But now even these magnificent snow figures, displaying such artistry and imagination, are dripping away. How sad. How fleeting. How temporary.
As I watch these sculptors—some from as far away as Japan—work with the snow, their dedication and determination are apparent. Most have carefully planned out their intended design and committed it to paper. Years of practice and thorough preparation lie behind their work. Attention to detail and exacting standards characterize their efforts. And yet, the sun and gentle breezes will soon undo what they have created.
Why do these snow sculptors do it? Why do they believe so passionately that their work is worthwhile though there may soon be little to show for it?
And what about my efforts? Are the results so different from those of the snow sculptors? Are my labors apt to produce something more permanent? Often not. My accomplishments are just as quick to melt from sight. But that need not mean my work is unnecessary, unworthy, or unappreciated.
For instance, sermons carefully prepared and prayed over are quickly gone and forgotten, once diligently preached. Occasionally, however, a sentence, an idea, or an image gives comfort, conviction, challenge, or assurance to one person in the depths of his or her heart. One thought from the entire sermon may be retained in that reservoir from which the Spirit of God draws resources in his ministry of grace to lives. That is enough to justify my effort.
I spend numerous hours counseling a young man, listening as he pours out the meanderings of his mind and the struggles of his heart. We talk of his faith and his doubts. I empathize with him in his fears and frustrations. Gently, patiently, wisely (I trust), I lead him through the decisions he must make, and I guide and encourage him as he chooses the values by which he will live. And then, suddenly and determinedly, he turns away in destructive and tragic ways, seeming to repudiate all that is good and godly.
What do I have to show for my efforts? What lasts? Is there anything I can point to to justify my expenditure of time and life and love on this young man? In God’s sovereignty and wisdom, I believe there is.
The sermon is gone before the sound waves have stopped. The investment in a young life now seems squandered in futility. Does anything remain of my work? Yes, I answer. I don’t shout the yes loudly or lightly, but yes, what I offer of myself in obedience to my calling God will surely use—sometime, if not now—in his gracious work in me if in no other way. And like the sculptor watching the snow melt away, I say, “That’s fine with me.”
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