In preparing for a staff devotional earlier this week I was reminded of a story I had come across years ago. It seems that while Nikita Khruschev was the leader of the Soviet Union the economic situation was so bleak that workers would steal anything they could. In order to stop this, guards were posted at the exit of each plant, factory and mill to inspect the workers as they left and curtail thievery.
At one lumber mill a worker named Petrovich would push a wheelbarrow with two bags of sawdust out each evening. The guard would diligently search the bags of sawdust and find nothing. But after this went on day after day, the guard never finding anything in the bags but sawdust, he had to know what was going on.
“Petrovich,” he told the worker, “I won’t tell anyone. But I don’t understand why anyone would want so much sawdust. What are you stealing?” Petrovich smiled slyly, looked at the guard, and said, “Wheelbarrows.”
This story is a great illustration of how we can get caught up in things that really matter very little, if at all–the bags of sawdust–while completely missing the important things–the wheelbarrows.
It is humbling–and perhaps even a bit depressing–to think of how many times, and how much time, I have spent searching through bags of sawdust while ignoring the wheelbarrow. In this life there are things of eternal significance, long-lasting temporal significance, short-lived temporal significance, and utter insignificance. How much different would my life be if I focused my energies and attentions accordingly! I would have precious little time to search through the sawdust if I devoted most of my time and attention to those things of eternal significance…things like growing in my relationship with the Lord through prayer, Bible study and church involvement; things like witnessing to unbelievers and encouraging believers through my words and actions; things like cultivating and strengthening my relationships with my wife, children, family members and close friends.
The things of temporal significance–whether long lasting or short-lived–are likely not exactly the same for each of us, and that’s okay. It is also okay that we do spend time and effort on those things. After all, we are not instructed to ignore this temporal world, or refuse to enjoy it. A professor of mine in college used to joke that a Puritan was someone who lived in constant fear that someone, somewhere was having fun. You’ve probably been around some people like that, and I have too. Being a stick-in-the-mud is no sign of spirituality or righteousness. Spending time with family and friends, pursuing recreation and hobbies, going on vacation, just doing nothing or simply goofing off are all perfectly fine, when done at the right time and in appropriate quantities.
It’s the last area that really gets us into trouble–the things are are utterly insignificant. Things like whether or not it is okay for women to wear pants or men to have facial hair; things like whether it’s okay to watch a movie or listen to music that is not explicitly Christian; things like whether a praise band with electric guitars and drums should be used in church or only an upright piano. I could go on (and on and on). Please note that I am not saying no one should have convictions or opinions on these matters; I think that’s fine. But I am saying no one should draw a line in the sand on such matters and say anyone who disagrees with them is a reprobate, a heathen, or an enemy of God. The truth is, we’re all sinners…we just sin in different ways. Focusing on whether someone else has bigger or more serious sins than we do is, to paraphrase Jesus Himself, like looking for the splinter in my neighbor’s eye while ignoring the plank in my own.
I’m also not saying that institutions, organizations, groups or ministries should not have their own established standards or expectations that may address some of these areas that are, ultimately, utterly insignificant. There may be legitimate reasons for the parameters that are in place, and if I voluntarily choose to associate with the group in question or place myself under its authority, then I have a God-given responsibility to also subject myself to its parameters.
At the end of the day, though, what it comes down to is this…I’ve been letting Petrovich get away with far too many wheelbarrows while I try to figure out why he wants so much sawdust.