You’re in a relationship with a particularly annoying family member or coworker. You’re doing your job at work, but nobody seems to appreciate or notice, even when you go the extra mile. You’re trying to feast on Christ (like I speak of here), as you seeking to develop some habits of Bible reading or prayer, but most of these meetings your mind is elsewhere, because the Bible is, let’s face it, hard to understand. You’re exercising and eating right, and have been at it now for, let’s say, two whole weeks, but your resting pulse is still in the high nineties. Let’s put it another way; you’re showing up in some or all of these areas of life, just like you’re supposed to do, but nothing seems to be happening. In fact, it’s sometimes the case that things seem to be getting worse rather than better (as your sore abs tell you after exercise).
I look out the window, up in the mountains at the cabin where I write and study. It’s raining, and the snow which had partially blocked the views through the dining room window has diminished enough that I can once again see the forest while I eat my bacon. Then, this morning, I look out the side window and see something that I’ve not seen since Thanksgiving: the garage roof! It gets buried every winter under a mountain of snow because snow just doesn’t go anywhere after it falls until spring, when the snow softens, melts, and eventually slides off the roof into the forest, where it will bring nourishment to the firs.
Isaiah uses this word picture to describe how God’s revelation works in our lives. In his word picture, we’re the soil and God’s revelation hits us like snow and rain. It hits us like snow when we’re not able to receive it and God knows that there are lots of times when we’re not:
1. because we’re not paying attention when we read the Bible. It’s becomes an obligation that you do because it feels so good when it’s over.
2. because we don’t like what God is saying in some passages about living simply, or being content, or forgiving our enemies, or whatever.
3. because God’s is trying to speak to us through trials, challenges, setbacks, and annoying people. We stop listening.
There’s God, showering us with revelation, and there we are, unable to receive it. The good news from Isaiah though is that when we don’t receive it immediately, it’s doesn’t just fly away. It sits there, like frozen snow, until conditions change and we’re able to let the word sink in because our hearts have thawed a bit. You know what I’m talking about? Suddenly, for some reason, you realize that you’ve been stuck in some unhealthy pattern. You look back on who you were yesterday and you say to yourself, “Was that me? That’s not who I want to be. And you agree with God that your bitterness, or lust, or laziness, or duplicity, or greed is wrong (that’s called “confession”) and declare that you don’t want to live that way anymore (that’s called “repentance”).
There’s a second application to the metaphor, or course. Jesus tells us, who follow him, that we’re to pour blessing into this world. He tells us that we’ll be rivers of living water, with joy, hope, love, generosity and healing flowing through us out into our world in real and tangible ways. We’d like to believe it, but there are times when it seems that every gesture of hope, love, or encouragement we offer is met with cynicism, reject, or worst of all, benign neglect. When that happens, it’s easy to get discouraged and disengage from our calling to be people of mercy, justice, and love.
That would be a big mistake because the reality is our living will sometimes be received as snow. Our generosity, service, joy, will fall on deaf ears, frozen hearts. Keep spilling hope my friend – even when you don’t see fruit, even when it appears to be a waste of time because the one thing you know is that this great God of love will take extraordinary measures to help a heart thaw. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with people whose hearts went into a deep freeze for a season and then came out of it and when they did, their heart soaked up everything that had been offered during their soul winter. Once, at a wedding rehearsal, the groom pulled me aside. He’d begun attending church again recently and now, on the night before his wedding, he said, “it’s been a very long time… a very long time… but now, it’s all I want” His frozen soul, when it began to thaw, was soaking up all the joy, hope, wisdom, healing that God had to offer, and I was privileged to be there when the thaw began. There’s nothing more exciting.
To change metaphors, my favorite preaching from the Old book says, “Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days”, which is another way of saying, “nothing’s wasted – so let life pour through you!” Some will receive the gifts you offer with gratitude. Others, not so much… don’t get cynical. Keep on. Somewhere under all that snow there’s a soul that will, if all goes well, receive all you’re offering today, even if it doesn’t soak in until 2024!