One morning when I awoke, I ran to the window expecting to see a beautiful snowfall. Sadly, nothing had fallen, and I was a little sad. The story that I am recalling was not from my childhood, but from my middle age. The weatherman had forecasted a heavy snow, and area schools had already announced closings early the evening before. Yet, as I saw no snow, it seemed interesting that so many people were having a “snow-day.” Within a few minutes, however, the snow did fall. Fast, furious, but faintly quiet, the snow came down like a rain shower, and within an hour the roads were treacherous. The local school administrations had made a good call to cancel classes for that day.
As I considered this, I thought of how important and disruptive snow really is. And I realized of how important it is to consider the lessons that we learn from snow. In particular, I pondered the practical lessons of preparation, carefulness, enjoyment and warmth. These four lessons are also important for our spiritual lives.
1. Preparation: The best day to buy good snow boots is not the day of the snowfall. In Virginia, people will stock up on necessary groceries on the eve of a predicted snowfall of any amount. No one wants to be caught ill prepared in the event that something small becomes a blizzard. In Almaty, Kazakhstan, I remember when we needed some good winter boots, and we kept shopping around without succeeding to buy any before a significant snowfall. Then the snow fell! So we trudged through the bazaars along the snowy slopes of the Tien Shan range on a cold November morning, and finally chose a pair of boots of questionable quality. Understandably, the seller jacked the price up about 25% higher than the previous day. We should have settled on that pair before the snow had fallen.
“Be prepared in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2).” In this Scripture, Paul instructs Timothy regarding his life and his ministry to be ready for anything. As I have seen in my experiences, those who prepare are better able to persevere no matter what the trial. I remember once being stuck in the snow in the mountains outside of Almaty. I was driving an SUV, but the 4WD stopped operating. Try as I may, I could not move my car. Praise God, someone came by and pulled me onto better pavement with his horse (!). While there was no way to predict that my 4WD would stop working, driving in snow is hazardous, and I should have been prepared to dig my way out. I should have had sand and a shovel (and a sleeping bag!).
Snowfalls now remind me to be more prepared than ever before. Spiritually we need to be prepared, as well. After describing salvation, Peter writes:
“…prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:13).”
It is interesting that self-control is linked to preparation, and rightly so, since the development of self-control prepares us for many challenges in life.
Snow days are times for which we should be prepared. Let us also slow down and be careful.
2. Carefulness: Often on snow days we hear statements about being careful: ”watch your step;” “drive safely;” “slow down;” etc. This is because conditions change quickly due to winter precipitation. Camouflaged ice leads to sore knees and twisted backs. We don’t know what lies beneath that fluffy, lovely, snowy white stuff. I remember during a large snowfall in Almaty, my wife and I were walking from one store to the next, and suddenly I sunk up to my knees in snow. It was not a snow bank but a snow-filled ditch. In the bottom of the ditch was water, so my weatherproof boots were tested (and they passed). In some of these ditches, however, I later noticed that there were broken vodka bottles and even shafts of rebar sticking up.
Remember the Scriptures: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked (Psalm 1:1).” While something might seem safe and even fun on the surface, it could be dangerous. Walk where you know you’ll be safe in the snow and in life.
We are truly blessed as we live and walk as Jesus did. In John’s first epistle we are encouraged us to walk in righteousness, as Jesus walked. Otherwise we are like those who walk in darkness. For a short time we lived in a house 30 miles from any metropolitan area and hidden away in the woods. We had neither driveway nor sidewalk. So, we had to park 50 yards from the house, and negotiate a treacherous path. Often we came home at night, so it became our habit to have flashlights on hand to prevent dangerous stumbling. In the snow, however, we found that we had to be extra careful. The top surface of fresh snow reveals only a general understanding of what lies below. Beneath the snow’s surface might be a root or a hole, and if we stepped incorrectly, we could lose our balance or sprain an ankle. We learned that we needed to be careful and step cautiously. While this was more time consuming, in the end it saved us from small disasters.
So the prepared person will watch his step. Ill-preparedness and haste can wreck a day, especially a snow day. But once we adopt a lifestyle of preparation and carefulness, we need to make sure that we don’t fail to enjoy the beauty of a snow day!
3. Enjoyment: As a child, the prospect of snow was enough to make me jump up and down with joy. But as I have grown up, snow has become a chore. It poses many challenges, produces much frustration and pronounces disappointment (sometimes) due to the canceling of events. Yet, we should not forget the joy of snow, and we should look for joy everyday. Our lives have become so busy that we sometimes fail to take pleasure in each new day.
What was it that we used to do but have been too busy to continue with, lately: play a musical instrument; play a sport; read a book; hike in the mountains? One day in Central Asia, a man who had lived most of his adult life under Communism told me that the difference between life in the USSR and life in the USA was the approach toward work: In the USSR people lived in order to work; in the USA people worked in order to live. Are we living to work, or are working to live? If we haven’t taken time to enjoy life, then we perhaps we are really living like someone under Socialism.
Let snow remind us to take time to enjoy life, like we used to do when we were young. Not only can snow days produce temporary creations of aesthetic wonder, but they can provide some of the best memories of childhood.
• I remember chopping down a Christmas tree and dragging it back to my home on a sled.
• I remember sledding.
• I remember hot chocolate (wasn’t it richer when we were children).
• I remember feeling the warmth of a fireplace, smelling the scent of the burning wood, and hearing the crackle of the fire.
God spoke the following words through a prisoner while he was writing to a church in which two members were in a terrible disagreement: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice (Philippians 4:4).” Personally I think the main reason that Paul wrote Philippians was to tell these two people to agree in the Lord. Any time there is a clash, it affects the joy of all who witness it. But when we consciously decide that we wish to rejoice in the Lord, ALWAYS, the stress of conflict diminishes.
We need to enjoy life, for our own emotional health, and for the sake of those over whom we have influence. Remember we are building memories for our children, spouses, co-workers and neighbors as well as for ourselves. Don’t stress over the snow, but enjoy it.
As prepared and careful people, enjoying the snow, let us remember to enjoy the warmth of the Lord and his goodness, today and everyday!
4. Warmth: There is really no excuse for getting cold on a snowy day, as many of us have winter coats, hats, gloves, boots and scarves. Some like to wear thermal underwear (I remember a person from Southern California who exclaimed that she had worn thermal underwear for nine months while working in Kazakhstan!). But, no matter how much we warn people (or how many times we are warned), someone gets cold, and occasionally someone gets frostbite, too. It is sad to see a victim of frostbite who has lost his fingers. Yet, he can be grateful that he didn’t lose his life! Spiritually we should stay warm, too.
Is there any excuse for turning away from the Living God? Yet, people do. I’ll say that I have known more people who have grown cold toward God than I have known amputees due to frostbite. As Jesus said, “12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved (Matthew 24:12, 13).”
I was speaking with an old friend just the other day whom God had used to influence my life so greatly when I was a teenager that I believe had it not been for him, I might not be a minister today. Sadly, my friend no longer attends church. He said he is “thin skinned” and too many people have hurt him in church. A snow day should remind us of our physical and spiritual vulnerability. We need to follow the Scriptures and “stand firm to the end.”
While we cover thin (and thick) skin with warm clothes, let us cover our souls with the warmth of Jesus’ love and presence. I know what it is like to be “thin skinned,” and I know that I can’t deal with this condition alone. I must rely upon the Grace of God to warm me in my thoughts toward those who hurt me; and remind me that I have hurt God countless times, but He still loves me because of His grace!
The principles of preparation, carefulness, enjoyment and warmth can only be effective in our lives if we have learned one of the most foundational lessons in the snow: God’s promise to cleanse us as white as snow:
“Come now, let us reason together,”
says the LORD.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool. (Isaiah 1:18).
In my home in Central Asia, the air is terribly polluted. Recently I was visiting there, and for the first few days of my visit, a thick cloud of smog dampened my spirit. The previous snow-falls were still about a foot deep in some places, but the color of the snow was grey and even black. Then a fresh gift of snow cleaned the atmosphere and transformed the dirty city into a stunning and pristine wonderland! Through Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection, I have the promise to receive the same effect in my life through the forgiveness of all of my sin. When I look at the snow, I want to remember that because of Jesus, my sins are no longer like scarlet, but white as snow! Let’s continue learning the lessons in the snow for the rest of our lives.