In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.
My kids and I have been into rocks lately, and rock hunting has become a bit of a favorite family activity. I realize that seems fitting, since we are at RockPile Church, but really it simply started with the availability of some really cool stones down by the water on the Colorado River bank. We even started a “rock garden” outside of our house, which I realize now is the perfect garden for me (since I don’t have to water it, keep the critters out, and it’s the only garden that doesn’t end with me eating a salad).
A little over a month ago, while I was hitting some thrift stores and Goodwill to find a table for the church, I came across this:
Not impressed? Maybe it’s because you didn’t see THIS sweet font yet.
Yup, that’s a 70’s (80’s at best) rock tumbler. Complete with everything you need to take rough rocks and turn them into smooth stones (or as my daughter calls them, “gems”). This beauty set me back $4 but I knew it would be well worth it the first time we got a look at some gloriously smoothed out, polished stones… err.. gems.
When I got my new (to me) toy home… I looked inside the box. It wasn’t too complicated, mind you, but I knew instantly that it involved more than just throwing rocks in a small tumbler and plugging it in for a day or two. First, there are all the powders. Bottles with labels that read course, medium, pre-polish, and final polish sat neatly in the box, most had never been opened. If I was going to figure this out, I would need to do the unmanly thing and read the directions. I grabbed the manual sitting underneath the actual machine and began to flip through the pages. Then, I realized another obstacle that stood in our way of having precious gems in a mere three days time. Each of the four powder stages takes about a week. A week of constant tumbling. Do you like it when a quarter makes its way into the dryer and then makes it’s presence known with a barrage of banging and clanging sounds? Yea, picture that lovely sound for about 4 weeks straight. This is what we are in for if we want to get it right. I chose a nice lovely place on our back porch (I’m sure my neighbors love me even more now), added our first powder and water mix, threw in a few stones, plugged it in, and let the barrel get to work.
My daughter’s eyes glowed with excitement, and I’m glad she waited at least a whole 13 minutes before she asked the question I would hear over and over again over the next month, “Can we check the rocks now?”
“No, honey… it says we have to wait a week before we open it up and take them out, and then we have to do it all again, and again.”
I could see the disappointment across her face. What can I say, but that the allure of rock riches being that close in our grasp was simply too much to handle, and definitely difficult to wait on. But that’s ok, it gave her time to promise kids at her school that she would hook them up with some of these, obviously, soon to be highly valued gems.
The first week went by, and I didn’t need to remind the kids that it was time to check the rocks. After church, they ran with anticipation up the ramp on our deck. As we opened up the tumbler, you could see that change did already happen. The really rough edges, for the most part, were gone… but I would hardly call the rocks smooth. My kiddos looked a little disheartened, but I reminded them that this was just the first stage.
“What’s the last part?“, my daughter asked.
“Well, hon, that’s the polish stage…it’s this bottle here”
“Can’t we just skip to the last part now?”
“That’s not the way it works, we have to go through all the steps”, I said… though inside I was actually wondering this question myself.
Over the next few weeks, we had many chances to cut steps. Each time I was tempted. Do we really need a pre-polish stage? How bad could it be to just get the rocks “mostly done”? I was even tempted to skip the polishing altogether after the pre-polish stage, since the rocks looked good enough and my kids seemed to be happy with them. But we decided to finish anyway, after all, we already got this close.
As the hard working tumbler ended it’s time on the last stage, my kids were beside themselves with excitement. As I dumped out the mixture of stones, water and polish mix into the cleansing bowl, it was difficult to keep my kids at bay and to stop them from reaching in and grabbing them (I’m not exactly sure what chemicals are in the polish mix, and my son’s hands still instantly gravitate towards his mouth… or my mouth, regardless… having no polishing mix get in anyone’s mouth seemed like the way to go). As I lifted the, now clean and polished, stones out of the bowl and onto the awaiting towel, I could see two things:
1. We aren’t talking diamonds here. Smooth stones are still stones, just smooth and polished. The dictionary does indeed define these as gems, simply because they are cut and polished. I’m not saying I was expecting actual clear gemstones, but I was still hopeful that my kids would be excited for the results.
2. My kids were excited for the results.
Ok, good…this was worth it. The endless tumbling sound and seemingly never-ending changing of polishing powders over the last month paid off. Sure, we only got a handful of smooth stones, but it’s what we wanted. At that moment, to these kids, those stones were worth their weight in gold.
It reminds me (yea, there is always this spiritual application), of how many times I try to shortcut my God stuff, and how much I’m either:
A. Sorry I did, or
B. Glad I didn’t.
This last year has been a reminder of how long, tedious, and sometimes painful the process can be…. and also how rewarding.
There have been SO MANY times I have been guilty of wanting to shortcut things.
“Let’s forget the playground, it’s too much work.”
“Let’s just go with that first building we saw, it should work “somewhat ok.”
“We can’t afford the nicer, newer playground, let’s just buy something cheap and try to make it work.”
“Let’s forget building a church, and start a STOMP style dance team.”
I do this, of course, with my own spiritual growth sometimes too.
“I’m too busy to spend time in prayer today.”
“I don’t need to read my Bible, I’ll get to that some other time.”
“Maybe I can squeeze some God time in during my drive.”
“I’m pretty close to God now, and I’m doing ok with where I’m at.”
“I should quit the ministry and stick to STOMP style dancing.”
Don’t get me wrong, not all of these are always bad. Those quick, often last minute, crash course times with God can be productive and are very important. There are times where I’m constantly playing catch up, and I’m sure you have those days too. I value those times in the car with God. I’ve grown through them.
Likewise, even while following God’s plan, there are times you have to do what you can to make things work. Sometimes buying things used and/or “making things work” is the way to go… it might even be the only possibility. Sometimes that’s exactly His will!
The importance lies in the following. Are you tempted to cut short what God has told you to do? Are you tempted to settle for “good enough” even when you know, in your heart, that God has directed you to more? His will may involve hard work, it may be time consuming, and it’s often sacrificial. There will be setbacks, doubts and lots of messes, but the payoff and reward to following God’s will is always worth it.
Whether in your own spiritual life, in following His path in obedience, or even in good old rock tumbling, if you cut corners to get smooth stones, all you get is edgeless rocks, not gems.
Maybe you are in the “middle phase” of following after God’s dream for you. Maybe it’s hard to see the end game from where you are, and it looks ever so tedious to get it done. It certainly doesn’t look polished. Just be patient, and take the time to make sure you are doing it right, and by “right” I mean doing what it is that He wants for you. Maybe you are still fairly rough around the edges yourself. That’s ok too, so am I. I’m glad that God isn’t done with me yet, and I’ve still got some stages to go through as I let God chip away at my rough edges and as He polishes out my dullness (no jokes about people falling asleep during my sermons, please).
As I look at what God has allowed us to build here at RockPile Church and Well Played, I get excited. I’m proud to be a part of what He is doing, and I’m so glad we didn’t take some of the shortcuts that we were tempted to take. May God continue to shape it (and us) as He wills, and may we continue to be willing to follow through with the steps.
He isn’t done yet. I wonder what the next step is?
– Pastor Matt