How do you eat an elephant?

Years ago, I worked at a thrift shop. My job was to process all the donated items that were electrical in nature. I was to plug the thing in, see if it worked, repair it if I could and then clean it up to be put out on the floor. Anything that didn’t work went into the dumpster. My first task was to deal with The Pile. The Pile had come into being when my predecessor left. It had had several weeks to grow and had taken on a life of its own. So, The Pile wasn’t just what it was, it had become its name.

It sat Jabba-the-Hut-like against a wall. The wall was maybe ten feet across. The Pile covered about eight of that. The height of the wall was about ten feet and The Pile stood about four feet tall against it and jutted out from the wall by about the same distance. When I first encountered it, my pride said two things: “They don’t pay me enough to do this,” and “There’s no way I’ll get through all of this.”

The Holy Spirit in my heart said one thing:

And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; (Colossians 3:23)

Funny how the Lord can take just one verse and knock you down to size. Scripture tells us (Psalm 91:4) that like a mother hen protects its chicks under its wings, so the Lord will protect us. Sometimes He only needs to take one of His feathers to knock us over. So, with that verse in mind, I commenced to take on The Pile. As I worked on it, I was reminded of something an old pastor of mine had once said in a message: “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer: “One bite at a time.”

The Pile did not go down without a fight. As I worked through the items that gave it its form, other donations kept coming in and adding to it. Rather than let that discourage me, I remembered that verse and pastor’s comment, and kept plugging away. What’s funny is that I never noticed that the pile was gone until one day a former thrift shop employee came in to drop off a donation. She looked at where it had been and asked in shock: “Where’s the pile?” I was about as surprised as she was. What had once been The Pile was now an organized and manageable number of items-in-waiting sitting on a set of steel shelves. I shrugged and said to the lady: “It’s gone.” I couldn’t help but feel a little proud of that fact.

As daunting as The Pile had been, it proved to be a pivotal moment in my spiritual growth. God often uses physical illustrations to teach is spiritual truths because even though we are spiritual beings, we are trapped inside physical bodies and so God uses our physical world to teach us His truths from time to time. One of the many lessons I learned from The Pile is that God rewards faithfulness and to every challenge in life, there is end.

Maybe you’re facing a challenge today that looks insurmountable. Don’t try to take in the whole challenge in one huge bite. Like I did with The Pile just take up one thing out of it and work on that. Then go onto the next, and just keep going trusting the Lord for day-by-day grace, moment-by-moment grace, if necessary.

I know for some of you the challenge you face is a lifelong struggle and it’s easy for me to say, “Go with God and take it one day at a time,” but that doesn’t change the truth any. Don’t let challenge, whatever it is, get you down. Your struggle might be lifelong, but the God we serve is eternal. There is no pile to conquer or elephant to eat or challenge to face that can defeat us as long as we go with God.


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