A Christian for Twenty Steps

By Matt McGill.
Matt is an associate high school pastor with Saddleback Church in California.

The whole point of the Mexico Work Weekend for me came during the final moments of our time at the work site. Looking back, I feel like everything that happened for those three days was preparation for those final moments.

Twenty steps away from the house, where the vans were parked, were two of those five-gallon ³igloo² water jugs. One was on top of the other. David, the pastor whose house we were building, asked for the left over water and ice‹he saw that I was about to dump it out. And naturally, I said yes.

As he went back to his house to get a small pitcher, I turned my back to the task of loading the vans. David came back, and poured all of the water from the top jug into his pitcher, and he thanked me for it. Turning back to say ³welcome² I noticed that his pitcher had barely any water in it‹I guess there wasnıt much left in the jugs. Probably enough for two cups of water.

Time passed, not much, maybe 10 minutes. Everything was loaded except for the two jugs. I was thankful that the first one was so light, for I was so tired.

I was so very, very tired. We had worked 13 out of the last 28 hours doing ³hard labor² in high heat of Tijuana, Mexico. The other 15 hours was spent driving, eating tacos, and sleeping uncomfortably on the unforgiving ground. Most of our work was applying stucco‹wet cement‹to a wall. The weariness inflicted by the physical effort was compounded by the demoralizing 70% of the cement that fell off each ³swipe² of the stucco tool‹that is to say, progress was slow. Applying wet cement to a vertical surface is fun for about three minutes.

After the first jug was safe and secure, I went back for the second. I failed in my first attempt to pick it up, as it was heavy when I expected it to be light. Why else would David leave with barely any water, unless he had also emptied the second jug? Instead, this bottom jug was nearly full, which made it very heavy.

My next series of thoughts are thoroughly detestable:

First, I felt disgust, and condescendingly thought, ³Why wasnıt David smart enough to also check the bottom jug?² For a few moments I continued to degrade David in my mind, wondering how he could miss this ample supply of water.

Next, as I looked up to the house, I thought, ³Thereıs not a chance Iım going to carry this over to David. Iım so tired, Iıve worked so hard. I need to have some kind of boundary here, my margin is gone. Weıve done so much to help him so far, do I really need to carry this to him?²

After that, I thought: Iım simply going to pour this out. Iım not going to carry it, besides, David doesnıt deserve this because he couldnıt find it when it was so close to him. Does he really need the cold water? Heıs used to living in this heat.

Then I looked around for a good place to pour out the cold water. If I poured it out where I was, the ice and water would mark a clear spot on the dry dust. Easily visible, David would know I denied his simple request for cold water. I couldnıt have that.

Five steps away, I saw a grassy patch, and I quickly determined that the vegetation would cover all the signs of my getting rid of the water. David would never know.

As I bent over to pick up the jug, I went through these thoughts again, wanting to check them for accuracy. Even though I was tired, I wanted to act with wisdom.

Everything made sense to me. So I picked up the jug, and walked two steps . . . only three to go until my burden was lifted. This was the last thing to pack before we could leave . .

It was then when God decided to enter my depravity and whisper: . . .a cup of cold water in my name . . .

I was so jolted from my selfish stupor, I had to set the jug down. As I looked into the icy jug, I had two simple thoughts: God, Iım sorry. Why canıt I be a Christian for twenty steps?

I was so weak. I am so weak. I couldnıt believe that I was wanted to turn down a request for a cup of cold water.

After selfish ³wisdom² was followed by a divine call to servanthood, I walked my twenty steps. I poured the water into his jug, it overflowed‹the physical illustration was so apparent that my sorrow increased. God has done so much for me. David was so thankful for the water, and so was his wife.

I then asked the students if they wanted anything to drink, the jug was lighter, but still heavy for my tired arms. Truth be told: I welcomed the tiredness in my shoulders, as I wanted that to erase the memory of my previous thoughts. In that moment I was so disgusted and embarrassed with my inner thoughts.

To the outsider, I looked like everything was ³fine² and ³great² . . . even ³nice² for offering water to everyone. This bothered me even more.

One of the students offered to carry the jug for others to drink. I was so lost in my thoughts, that I ignored him. His offer sharply contrasted my attitude only moments before.

(I did experience some joy in that moment. The student who offered his help was one of the two students I invited on the trip because I knew they were servants. It was a joy to see that proved true. Godıs encouragement always comes at the right time.)

I tell you this story not because I did the ³right thing² in the end. Thatıs really not the point. I failed horribly in the beginning. I didnıt seek Godıs wisdom. I didnıt ask for his strength. Never did I say, ³God, what would you have me do?²

I relied on my own ³wisdom,² which is irrevocability impacted by two powerful factors: the situation and my selfishness. The irony (a nice word for hypocrisy in this instance) is that I had encouraged students at the beginning of the trip to offer cups of cold water in Christıs name. On my own, I failed to follow my own instruction. Itıs painful to see Romans 2 describe your life (see verses 1, 21-24).

How hard is it to be a Christian? What separates the mature from the immature? That day, for me, it was twenty steps.

And if I canıt be a Christian for twenty steps, then I really have some problems I need to lay before God.
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