“Are you finished?” I ask a preschooler as I point to the bright picture in front of him.
His hand pauses mid-air, still holding his sponge.
“Um… Yes.” He puts the sponge back in the paint tray and smiles up at me.
“You did a good job on your painting.” I remark. “I like how hard you worked on it.”
His smile brightens as I lift the wet painting and move it to the drying rack.
I glance at his hands. “Looks like you need to wash your hands.”
He looks at his red and green fingertips. “Yeah.”
“Come on over,” I invite, “I’ll help you wash.”
As he moves toward the sink, I glance at the other preschoolers to ensure they are still fully engaged in painting.
Satisfied, I hold his hands to help him climb onto the stool without touching the walls.
I turn on the water and encourage him to wash his hands.
He lets the water run over his hands. The paint is still there.
He looks at me. “It’s not working.”
“Here, I can help you.” I take his hands in mine and start rubbing.
Immediately, his hands look more coloured. Rather than just red and green, his hands now have black and blue as well.
I frown, then look at my own hands.
Sure enough, I’d forgotten that I had accumulated a thick layer of paint on my own hands.
“Uh oh,” I say, “I forgot to wash my hands first. You rub your hands.”
Releasing his hands and moving my own hands underneath, I quickly rub the paint off them.
A glance at my hands tells me they’re paint-free now.
I take his hands once more. “Let’s try again.”
This time, as I rub his hands, the paint easily comes off. It takes a little longer because of the black and blue paint I’d inadvertently added, but soon his hands are paint-free too.
I hand him a paper towel and help him climb down.
“You go play,” I say.
“Ok,” he calls as he hurries off.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done that. So often, when helping my preschoolers paint, I get paint on my own hands. Rather than wash my hands every few seconds, I simply rub the paint until it’s dry so I can continue helping other children.
This wouldn’t be a problem, until I try to help them wash their hands. The water restores the paint on my hands and, suddenly, I’m making their hands worse rather than better.
This reminds me of something Jesus said.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5 NIV
I needed to wash my hands before I could be of any use in helping the child wash his hands.
The same is true when we’re trying to help someone. My heart has to be right with God before I can effectively help anyone else get their heart right with God.
Does God use imperfect people? Absolutely! I’m one of them.
It is not that we must be perfect and have everything figured out. No, but we must have our hearts right with God.
As David said, after he’d sinned,
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me… Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will return to You.” Psalm 51:10,13 ESV
Paul, too, talked about something similar when he said:
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” Galatians 1:6 NIV
With these verses in mind, I must be intentional to seek God first. My relationship with Him must be right in order for me to be effectively able to help those around me.
Oh, that I would keep my hands continually washed clean so that I can be useful for helping others.
Is it my power, or God’s power, that brings the impact?
Ah, camp. I don’t know about you, but I love being at camp. This summer I was again blessed with the opportunity to volunteer at a Christian summer camp. I thoroughly enjoy such times, though, boy, can they be busy!
Each morning, with the knowledge that I’ll be hardpressed to find downtime during the day, I try to get up fifteen minutes early in order to slip out for a brief walk in the woods.
As I slipped out for my early morning walk with Jesus on the first morning, I wandered into the woods. How wonderful to be out of the city and surrounded by God’s creation.
I found a log to sit on while I stopped to read a short Psalm. Glancing at my watch, I knew I had to get moving, so I put my Bible back in my bag, and strolled toward camp singing a song of praise.
Then I heard it. I stood still and listened. Tap, tap, tap. A woodpecker must be nearby.
Slowly I turned in a circle, eyeing the trees. Could I spot the bird?
It sounded rather distant, so I started walking toward the sound. Five steps later the sound appeared to be coming from the opposite direction. I turned and walked toward the sound again. This time I only took one step before the sound seemed to switch direction again. I was confused for a moment. Then, looking straight up the nearest tree, I smiled.
There it was. A little woodpecker.
He wasn’t a fancy woodpecker – no red crest or orange wings. He was a small brown and white bird.
He was hard at work, far overhead, pecking away at the tree.
I dared only stay a minute or two, as I couldn’t be late for staff devotions, but what a lovely way to start the day. I spoke a prayer of thanks as I moved away.
Seeing the woodpecker brought to memory an allegory I’ve heard before. I don’t know who first used this allegory, but Corrie ten Boom and Jonathan Goforth are among those who’ve included it in their messages. It is a powerful reminder.
The allegory goes like this: Once there was a woodpecker. He went about his business of tapping on trees, whether looking for bugs to eat or building himself a home.
One stormy day, as he pecked at a large sturdy tree, a bolt of lightning struck the very tree he was tapping on. The tree split in half.
The little woodpecker blinked. Then lifted his head proudly. “I didn’t know I had such power!”
Of course, I know it was not the woodpecker’s power that split the tree. The power belonged to the lightning.
The little woodpecker was helpless to take down the tree by himself. Likewise, I am helpless to bring people closer to God in my own power. God’s power must be at work.
Keeping that in mind, I appreciate how this allegory goes a little further. Allow me to explain.
God has instructed me to work with all my heart, on whatever has been placed in front of me, as working for Him. (Colossians 3:23)
The woodpecker exemplified this in that he was pecking away at that tree. He wasn’t sitting lazily on the branch. He was doing the job he was given to do with all his heart.
It was as he laboured at his job, that the lightning struck.
Do you see it? I am to put my heart into what God has given me to do, but the real impact happens through God’s power.
As Paul said:
“I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” 1 Corinthians 15:10b ESV
Or as the New Living Translation puts it: “For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by His grace.”
Oh, that I would never forget what the woodpecker forgot, that even as I work for the Lord with all my heart, it is God’s power that brings the impact, not mine.
I drive an older vehicle. It has been faithful over the years, but no one would mistake it for new.
Recently, when I went to put gas into my car, the pump’s auto shut off activated as though my tank was full, but I knew it wasn’t. To get around this, I held the pump at half-speed. At this reduced speed, I was able to fill my tank.
With my tank full, I went on my way.
When this happened again at the same gas station, I began to suspect something was wrong with their pump. Only recently had I begun using this gas station and I’d never had the problem anywhere else.
Not long after, I again returned to this same gas station to fill up. This time several cars were already there forcing me to circle around to a pump I couldn’t recall using before.
I began filling the tank, again using half-speed. As I did so, I noticed liquid beginning to drip beneath my car.
This alarmed me. I stopped pumping and looked closer. The dripping slowed. The source of the dripping wasn’t visible to me. It was coming from underneath. I decided to try pumping some more. Again the dripping increased. I tried turning the pump at different angles in case I could find an angle that wouldn’t drip. No luck.
I didn’t fill my tank all the way this time, but enough to let me drive for the next while. As I drove away, I glanced back. There was no trail of drips following me. I made mental note of which pump I’d used.
When I got home, I drew a rough sketch of the layout of that particular gas station and marked the pump I’d used. It must have been a leaky pump. I would avoid it in the future.
It crossed my mind that maybe I should report the leaky pump to the staff at the gas station, but they probably already knew about it, right?
As the time drew near for me to get more gas, I considered going to a different gas station. However, I wouldn’t earn as many points at a different one and this one was in a convenient location. I would try one of their other pumps. Surely not all their pumps were faulty.
Pulling into the gas station, I chose carefully which pump to use – not the leaky one! Even if it meant waiting for someone else to move, I was determined to use a better pump this time.
When my turn came, I went through the motions of pre-paying and selecting the type of gas I wanted. Then I lifted the pump and put it into my car. I didn’t bother trying full-speed. With the gas flowing at half-speed, I watched for any signs of trouble. Almost at once I began to see that same dripping again. I tried twisting it at different angles to no avail.
It occurred to me that maybe the problem wasn’t with the gas station or even this particular pump. Maybe the problem was with my car.
With this new revelation, I only filled my tank about halfway.
What good is a car if I can’t put gas into it? Realizing what was at stake, it was decided to take the car to the mechanics.
Sure enough, while the gas tank itself was unaffected, the hose channelling gas from the pump to the tank was rusted through.
Here I’d been blaming the gas station, but all along it was my car at fault.
Then I stop and ask, are there ways I have unwittingly done this in my own life?
As a Christian, my source, or you could say my fuel, comes from God.
In a related illustration, Jesus said: “Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.” John 15:4-5 CSB
A branch is reliant on the vine for nutrients and water. In the same way, a car is reliant on the gas station to give it fuel.
If the connection between the vine and the branch is weak or broken, that branch will not receive what it needs to be strong and healthy. Likewise, when the gas pump doesn’t properly pass fuel to the car, that car won’t be able to run.
Just as I at first blamed the gas station for the faulty connection between my car and the gas pump, do I sometimes blame God (the Vine) for not filling me with what I need to produce fruit?
God never runs out of fuel to give me, nor does He have imperfections. If I am not receiving from Him what I need, is it His fault or mine? Perhaps I have a hole in my fueling system that needs looking at?
I’m still trying to figure out exactly what this looks like in my life. I know that being intentional to make time to study the Bible and pray is part of staying connected with God. I also know that taking time to sing praises and to give thanks to Him are important.
With His help, I will get better at connecting to Him so that I can receive the fuel He desires to give me.
Getting ready to leave the house, I smooth my hair, slip on a necklace and take a close look in the mirror.
No! I have a black hair growing on my chin!
I, as a female, am not pleased with this discovery. Indeed it must go before I face the world!
Immediately I try to grasp it between my fingernails to pull it out.
It takes me several tries to get the angle right, gaining some form of grip on that unwanted hair. I pull, but it doesn’t move. I try again… and again… That pesky hair refuses to budge.
With a frustrated sigh, I reach into the drawer beside me to retrieve my secret weapon – tweezers.
I grasp the hair with my tweezers and pull. Out it comes without a fuss.
As I put my tweezers away, I shake my head and smile. Why didn’t I simply get the tweezers out when I first discovered the hair? They were right beside me within easy reach. All I needed was to open the drawer and pull them out, yet I tried with my fingers several times before retrieving the tweezers.
Next time I will get the tweezers right away… or not. I have repeated this process many a time, and can hardly recall ever reaching for the tweezers until after trying several times unsuccessfully with my fingernails.
Unfortunately, the same is often true in far bigger parts of my life.
As a Christian, God has promised many things to me. In John 14:27, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (NIV)
Jesus has given me peace. It is mine. However, just like with my tweezers, I must make the effort and take the time to pick it up and use it. “Do not let” is an action I must make with His help.
Far too often I try to use my own resources. I make a strategy to help me feel better, which can be good, but unless I tap into the resources and tools God has given me, I will never experience the peace He offers.
Okay, this all sounds good, but how do I actually not let my heart be troubled? My heart is often troubled as I listen to the news or scroll through Facebook.
Thankfully Jesus answers this question a few verses earlier.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me.” John 14:1 NIV
The New Living Translation uses the word “trust” in place of “believe.”
Easy? No. Worth it? Yes. Oh that I would learn to continuously believe that God is all He says He is.
And that’s not the only tool or resource God has given to me as His child.
“His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” 2 Peter 1:3 CSB