It was a crisp winter day, and snow blanketed the quaint landscape surrounding me. Bright rays of light sparkled off the fresh snow that had fallen the previous night. Tall evergreens could be seen just about wherever one looked, and the rich smell of these majestic trees filled the air with an invigorating scent. The melodious, irregular song of tweeting birds could be heard above the gentle sound of wind rushing through the nearby woods.
But this is not going to be a story about tall trees, rich smells, or tweeting birds, so I shall not say more than is necessary about the setting. But what I should tell you is that this story took place in the mountains of California during a prayer retreat. People, young and old, were gathered here from all across the northern and central California area. Why did they come? They came to learn about the power of prayer. Some heard about it. Others experienced it.
I shall start by introducing a term that many of you are probably familiar with: “The Snowball Effect.” It is a figurative term for a process that starts from an initial state of small significance and builds on itself, becoming larger with each passing moment. The term comes from the practice of making a small snowball at the top of a large hill and rolling it down the snow-covered hillside. The original small snowball grows with tremendous rapidity. The more surface area it covers, the more mass it obtains, and vice versa. That is to say, it gets very big, very fast. Such is the phenomenon of The Snowball Effect.
Well, on this particular winter day, a group of my friends and myself decided that it would be an excellent idea to put this snowball theory into practice. And if you’re anything like me, then, perhaps, you have participated in things which at the time seemed like a great idea but in retrospect appeared to be nothing but foolishness. Such was this idea.
“Help! I’m pinned, and I can’t breathe!” These are precisely the words that you don’t want to hear.
The setting was perfect for the execution of our plan, and we immediately began to set it into action. A small ball was selected and then set in motion down the gently sloping hill. The slope was so gradual that the snowball needed a fair bit of assistance in order to keep it from coming to a stop. But this was no problem since we were a fairly large group. Three people were placed on both sides of the snowball to make sure that it did not tip to either side. And a couple of people were situated behind the snowball—their chief responsibility was to push. This was my position. And thus the operation was set in motion. The snowball was rolled in a straight line down the hill, and you must realize that as the “snowball” began to grow, it no longer retained the shape of a “ball,” but rather took on the shape of a very large tire.
At this point, the air was filled with shouts of expectancy, as the mass of snow lumbered down the hill, and began to grow larger. Its size truly exceeded our original expectations. I’m 6’3″ (190.5 cm), and it already stood well above my head. If you were to stand on one side of it, you would be unable to see anyone standing directly on the other side. It was easily the size of a middle-sized car.
Up until this point, everything seemed to be going fine, until the giant mass of snow began to become a bit out of control, and proceeded to tip to the left side, I was on the other side, and I imagined that anyone on that side, would move out of its way. One person didn’t. The huge mass hit the cold field with a thud. And immediately I heard a voice scream “Help! I’m pinned, and I can’t breathe!” These are precisely the words that you don’t want to hear when you are in the middle of nowhere with seemingly no help around. It was our friend David, and he was trapped with the mass on top of him. Without wasting a moment, we all rushed to his side. As you can imagine, the snow had become quite hard packed throughout the whole process, and the weight was incredibly heavy.
Guys! I’m literally dying, and you need to get me out!
I quickly cleared the snow away from his face so he could breathe.His arms, his legs—his entire body—lay motionless under the incredible burden. At once we began looking to see how we could free him from this life threatening situation. Time was not on our side, and he was already breathing in short breaths. The snow block was too hard packed to be broken apart, and so, we began to try the only remaining option-lifting up the fallen mass of snow high enough to quickly pull our friend out from underneath it.
By this time about three minutes had already passed, and David was not in good shape. He cried out desperately, “Guys! I’m literally dying, and you need to get me out!” I’m not sure if you have ever been in a situation where someone was hurt really bad, or where someone was dying, but if you have, than you can imagine exactly how you would feel in this situation. We were standing face-to-face with the reality that if we didn’t get David free, that he wouldn’t be able to breathe, and you can imagine what might happen next…
As we strained against the snow block, prayers rose incessantly to heaven. “God help us!” was our cry.
We were absolutely exhausted from struggling with the several hundred pound heap, and were on the brink of despair, when, all of a sudden, it raised a bit. Not very high, but high enough to give us hope. A shout of hope shot through our group. There was no way humanly possible that this burden could be moved by a handful of young guys. But yet, it was moving. God was moving. It rose a bit higher, and I shoved my shoulder under the side of it in order to obtain a bit more leverage. By now, David could actually gasp full breaths of air. We pushed and strained, but it was evident that a power greater than our own was at work. With one last heave, the burden was lifted high enough and someone grabbed David by the shoulders and quickly pulled him out. The next moment, the snowball crashed to the ground with an ominous sound. He was free. And he was alive.
David looked up from the ground, and said with a tone of indescribable thanksgiving,
“You guys saved my life.”
“No,” was the reply,
“God saved your life.”
David then went on to say, with a clarity that only an encounter with death could vouchsafe him, that he, at that moment when stuck helpless beneath the mound of snow immediately saw everything in his life in its proper perspective. He had a brush with death, and it granted him a view of reality that allowed him to see what was really important, and what wasn’t. He said, “When the chips are all down, living for God is all that really matters. When you’re about to die, you all of a sudden wish that you would have invested your life in the things that really matter.” I agree with him. In fact, it sounds a lot like what the world’s wisest man once said,
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
Much could be said of the subsequent trip to the hospital that David and his family had. But I will simply say, he was examined by a doctor before he left the mountain retreat, and it was strongly suspected that he had a broken leg. This was minimal in light of the fact that he was actually alive. But God cares even about the details. The entire congregation at the prayer retreat prayed. The X-rays came back, and the leg was healed. I guess that’s just the way that God rolls.
Now if you’re anything like I used to be when I was young, then you realize that this is the part of the story where the analogy comes in, and quite frankly, you’ve heard the story and you’re ready to go on your way, but hang with me for a second. This analogy affected the way I thought about salvation. You see, I realized that our spiritual condition is a lot like David’s physical condition. We are all trapped under a burden, and it’s crushing the life out of us. We’re having a hard time breathing, and thinking straight, and if we don’t get out from underneath it, it’ll kill us. This burden is called sin. Sin is that which separates us from God, and thus by extension, our only source of life (Isaiah 59:1, 2; John 1:4).
If you choose to trust in Jesus’ righteousness, you’ve already been rescued from your snow mass of sin.
Just like there was nothing David could have done to save himself, in the same way, we can do nothing to save ourselves (yeah, that’s right, you can’t save yourself by being nice to the old lady next door). But the good news is that, just like Jesus made it possible to save David, He’s made it possible to save you. You see, you are saved not by what you have done, but by trusting in what Jesus has done (Ephesians 2:8-9). Jesus would say it like this, “He who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24). Notice the present tense of the phrase “has everlasting life.” That means, if you choose to trust in Jesus’ righteousness, you’ve already been rescued from your snow mass of sin. Clemency is granted, not based off of your goodness, but it’s rather based off of Jesus’ goodness. That’s called substitution. (1 Peter 3:18)
And guess what? Once you’ve experienced the amazing joy of salvation and the relief and peace of forgiveness, you’ll actually want to be nice to that old lady next door. Our works are the efflorescence of our salvation. I guess it’s kind of like The Snowball Effect. Once it starts rolling, it’s hard to control. Perhaps that’s why the gospel is called good news.
Andy Hausted is a graduate of the 2012 Cornerstone Program, and is presently volunteering as an Associate Director of Evangelism for a church in Austria. He is a lover of God, people, reading, running, and learning.