In my experience, trees never fall where convienient. A windstorm a few weeks back dropped an elm on a picturesque 5-strand barbed wire fence of mine. In the couple week break from school, I took the initiative to clean up the fallen trees from my pasture and cut some new fence posts.
I don’t burn wood at all, but I know people who do and people who burn firewood are always willing to take a chord of wood. At the same time, splitting firewood is a whole lot cheaper than a gym membership. So I cut up the elms that had destroyed my fence and began splitting. There are a few realities that come with chopping wood:
- It wears you out. Shoulders, back, arms, core…it is a full body workout especially for a skinny armed, outta shape guy.
- Time slows down and drags on…Einstein must have been chopping wood when the Theory of Relativity hit him.
- Activity and Achievement aren’t necessarliy synonymous. You can wander around, stack wood, pet the dog, move the truck, but none of these things makes the pile any smaller…what does? Every swing of the axe…only when splitting wood are you actually splitting wood.
There have been times when chopping wood, that the job seemed endless, the destination seemed unlikely, and the ending point unattainable. The people of Isreal felt that way about their expedition. Fresh off their march through the Sea and into the desert where Pharoah had no jurisdiction, the People of God experienced their first freedom in years. They were on their way to the Promised Land, but they didn’t know how fast they were going to get there. When they were following a cloud and fire, the Presence of God, but didn’t know the route He was taking them. They were one of Heisenberg’s particle’s, knowing where they were or how fast they were going, but never both. This uncertainty (lack of trust on their part) and desire for comfort, led to some tense moments on the way. For three months (Ex. 19.1) they marched and camped trying to learn the concept of “chopping wood”.
When chopping wood its best not to think about how much is left, how fast (or slow) your going, or when you are going to get done. The way to go about it is to just keep chopping. Through the cold wind, blistered hands, sore back, and tired limbs…just keep chopping. If it doesn’t get done today, you will still have to chop tomorrow. Its going to get done sometime and its going to be you who does it. May as well be today as tomorrow, so just keep chopping. Its a phrase Bill Snyder uses to teach his football team, its a phrase my grandfather would tell me, and its a phrase I had to keep telling myself this past year.
Israel was coming out of the Red Sea and began marching South into the Sinai Peninsula where they:
- Grumbled [lun] against Moses about water. (Ex. 15.24) Five times before they reach Sinai in Exodus 19, the people would grumble about their situation. Every step of the way they would have a problem with what was happening. This word comes up constantly in their 40 years of wandering as well. God turns the bitter water, the cause of their grumbling, sweet by having Moses throw a piece of wood into it (the word for “showed” [yara] indicates God gave Moses directions about the piece of wood). God heard their cry and provided. But then He did one better. He led them to Elim where they would have spring water to drink…an oasis on their trip. They wanted sweet water…he gave them abundant spring water.
- Grumbled [lun and telunnot] about food. Eight times in chapter 8 the Israelites were either grumbling or being described as grumbling. They had plenty of food in Egypt (Ex. 16.3) but now in the desert they were hungry. Again God answered and gave them quail and manna. But even with His provision, some of the Israelites refused to obey God’s instructions. They either kept the manna overnight (Ex. 16.29), an instance of not willing to trust God’s provision for tomorrow, or tried to gather manna on the Sabbath (16.27), an instance of not following instructions.
- Quarreled [rib] with Moses about water, but this time its not bitter water, but the lack of water. They’ve been on their own for 2 1/2 months and things are a little rougher than they thought it would be. It was here, at Meribah, that Israel “tested” [nasa] the Lord. In the same way God asked Abraham for his son Issac (Gen 22.1), Gideon “tested” God with his fleece (Judges 6.39), and the cheif official of Nebuchadnezzar “tested” Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah with the vegetalbes, so here does Israel test the Lord. Questioning and Observing who God is.
- Battled and fought the Amalekites and won because the arms of Moses were held up. It was such an incredible victory that the Lord told Moses to “write this on a scroll as something to be remembered [zakar]…” (Exodus 17.14) To remember is something that will become vital to these people, as is evident from the use of the word zakar in Deuteronomy, especially as take control of the promised land.
- Learned to act in accordance with God’s law. Moses had been carrying the people ever since he returned from Midian. When his father-in-law showed up and saw all that he was doing, he advised Moses: “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy and you cannot handle it alone…Teach [zahar] (or warn) them the decrees and laws, and show [yada] them the way to live and the duties they are to perform.” (Ex. 18.18-20) For Moses it was about learning to let go and for the people it was about taking hold.
So many lessons to learn in the three month journey of the infant nation. At Sinai, Israel would get the brunt of their teaching from the Lord, but the lessons would stick with them for the next 40 years. The main lesson that would serve the People would be this: keep chopping wood, keep moving forward, keep learning, keep growing. It was clear they couldn’t go back, so ahead was the only option. Keep chopping wood.
Looking back 2014 was a wood choppin’ season for me. Getting let go from the church, being lied about and too, losing friends and relationships that were 7 year investments, and the shame of both made for a very long year. But the only thing to do was to keep chopping wood. Somethings went incredibly well like getting to speak at camps, the buckle that I received from the kids and families of the CY, and the chance to fight bulls at some really cool places and with some awesome people. Even when things are going well, keep chopping wood. In the best of times and the worst of times, the infant nation of Israel shows us to keep chopping wood.
Perhaps 2015 will bring the end of the stack, the bottom of the wood pile. Maybe not. But it doesn’t really matter because all you can do is keep choppin’ until you arrive!