I’ve been reading about the life and legacy of Amy Carmichael, and for some reason, a very small part of her biography has lingered with me. A mentor once asked her something like this: Can the person who gives the final mallet blow to break a rock claim all the credit for breaking the rock? Or is it not every strike given previously that also counts?
When I was an intern for a mission organization in Nicaragua during one of my summer breaks in college, I helped with a lot of construction. (I know. kinda funny, right?) At least twice a week, I went out to a nearby community where a church was being built, and there was a large rock about the size of a microwave (or maybe two) in the way that needed to be moved. But it was just to heavy to budge, so it had to be broken up.
Every day that we worked at the construction site, someone was striking that rock with a heavy mallet. Bang, clang, bang, was the steady rhythm behind all the other construction work that took place at the site. We took turns; when one got tired, another stepped in, and we passed the mallet like a baton in a relay race for eight solid hours every day. For weeks.
I even took a few turns, only I thought, what’s the point? I was not as strong as the others of course, and I wearied very easily, especially since I could see no progress made. I honestly thought that rock would never break. Could cumulative strikes actually crack a boulder of this size? It must have been struck over a thousand times every day, and yet each lone strike felt like flicking a giant. It was a tedious, tiring, seemingly wasted effort. But we kept at it.
Until one day.
Crack! Everyone was going about their prospective tasks when the sound split the air, and we all stood silent in reverence as we realized what had just happened.
Yahoo! A victory cry swept across the entire construction site when we saw how the boulder had split open. The proud man standing beside it had no idea that he would be the one to break the rock with his strike on that day. He had simply taken up the mallet just like normal, taking his turn to swing at the rock relentlessly. But he didn’t consider himself the hero, nor did we, for we had all put our hand to that rock. We had all sweat over it, angrily kicked it, and stubbornly whacked at it. It wasn’t that one man’s strength that broke the rock, it was the persistence and combined strength of everyone there.
Amy Carmichael’s friend compared the striking of a rock to the winning of a soul, meaning that the actual moment of leading a person to Christ is just as important as every strike or gentle touch on that person’s heart and life that led up to the moment of decision.
I so often want to take a swing and see a heart break open wide to accept Christ on the first try, on the first day. But it rarely happens that way. Most days, I just pick up my hammer once again and take more swings and hits, trusting that these acts of love and words of truth are all serving to soften a heart and pull it towards God.
It’s worth it. Don’t let your mallet drag in the dirt. Pick it up with confidence and assurance that one of these days, a strike will break the heart wide open, and what was once hard and immovable will become broken, moved, and restored by the salvation of grace by faith in Jesus. I think heaven rings with applause and victory shouts when a single person submits their life to Christ, and I imagine that when we get there, we might discover the impact of the swings we have taken for the renown of his name.
But by then, it won’t really matter, because I bet we will realize that we didn’t have as much to do with it as we thought. That hearts split open and come to faith in Christ only when he touches them, and that it’s his perfect, powerful touch, not our repeated knocking that makes all the difference in the world. Our labor and our love is important, absolutely, but the breaking victory and the glory that comes with it is reserved only for Christ, who was struck and broken and crushed for us.
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