“Let’s get to work.” I stared at the square hole already about a foot deep. Then I looked over at the ten-foot-deep trench on the other side of the site. I looked back at the shallow hole where our work was to begin. I looked at the small spade in my hand. You’ve got to be kidding me! It’ll take about ten years to dig that deep with this tool! It was the summer of 2005, and I was on an archaeological dig in Ancient Corinth, Greece as a part of Mercer’s Study Abroad program. I was ready to work, but I was not prepared for the pace. The tools we had were small spades and brushes for gently removing handful-sizes of dirt from the site, the goal being to find a corner of a wall that had been uncovered about 25 yards away. I spent an entire day moving small handfuls of dirt, and when it was time to leave for the night, you couldn’t even tell we had been there. I wanted more. I wanted big results, and I wanted them fast. The next day I looked around and found a proper-size shovel, and I moved some dirt! Let me tell you, I had lowered the level of that whole an entire foot in about 30 minutes. Then I heard it. In my haste the shovel had scraped against something hard, and there was a distinct cracking sound as I followed through with my swing. My heart sank as we started clearing the dirt around the object. I just knew I had broken some priceless work of art, a beautiful piece of pottery preserved for thousands of years in the dirt, surviving wind and rain and earthquakes only to be smashed to pieces by the impatience of an over-eager college student. I turned away. I couldn’t look. I couldn’t watch as the rest of the team unearthed whatever it was I had broken. I suddenly realized why they had given us the spades instead of the shovels.
I got lucky that day. It was just a thin rock. But I learned a valuable lesson that day: sometimes you have to take it slow before everything falls apart. Sometimes the shortcut isn’t the best way. Sometimes you have to dig with a brush instead of a shovel. We have proverbs like this: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Or my favorite from my days teaching the research paper to middle schoolers: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!”
I think it’s the same with faith, but like everything else we get in a hurry. We want to dig with a shovel. We want God to show up and fix everything right away whenever we ask. But the faith that can move mountains doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye. When I first read that in my King James Bible at an early age, I had visions of snapping my fingers and watching one of North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains float up in the air and replant itself a hundred miles away. But that’s not how it works. That’s not even how you move mountains. Years later I would tell my students that if you have a mountain to move, don’t stare at it and get lost on how difficult it’s going to be. Instead, if you want to move a mountain, pick up a grain of sand. And if you do that enough times, before you know it, you’ve succeeded in a greater task than you ever thought possible. The problem is staying focused and believing in what you’re doing. It’s all too easy to look at your lack of progress and give up entirely. But if you stay faithful, doing a little each day, you can do something great by the end.
So what mountains are in your way? Don’t sit back and wait on God to move it. Get to work. Pick up a handful of dirt, and with God’s help, I think you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.