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Two Buckets

By Mark+ Walz

I have learned over the years from people wiser than myself that when stories shape an organization or even an individual they are repeated and remembered over the years. As I consider this new year for myself and for our church plant, I keep thinking of this story about the two buckets. I shared this story twice last year already, and probably will do it a number of times in the years to come. It goes something like this:

There once was a young man who joined a monastery to learn the ancient ways of Christianity. But he soon became discouraged because it was not making sense to him. One of the older monks said to him, “before you give up, I want you to get two buckets…”

The younger man gets two buckets and everyday at the hour of prayer, he is told to take one bucket, the same bucket, and take it down to the river. There he is to clean it out and pour fresh water in it to make it spotless. So he does this everyday for a number of days until the older monk finds him and asks if he has been doing what he told him.

He said, “Yes.” The older monk then said, “Well, let’s look at the buckets.” The buckets were sitting by his door, and the older man said, “What’s in them?”

He said, “Nothing. They’re both empty.”

Then the old man said, “Why is one of them very clean and the other one is just filled with spiders and cobwebs and dust and dirt?” The young man said, “Well obviously, father, the clean one is the one that I filled up and poured out every day.”

The old man said, “There’s your answer.”

Christianity is just like this. It shapes us over a number of days and years as the Spirit of God through the rhythms of life and our commitment to Christ’s ways makes us more and more like him. And truly, all good and lasting things are built in similar ways. It is not the one off and amazing feat that changes us; certainly not by itself. But more often, it is a trust in the everyday return to our faith in Christ and His teaching that changes us.

Jordan Peterson said recently,

“Margaritas on a beach in Jamaica, that happens now and then. Those are exceptions. Your life is how your wife greets you at the door when you come home every day. Because that’s like 10 minutes a day. Your life, and how you treat each other over the breakfast table. Because that’s an hour and a half an hour every single day. You get those mundane things right. Those things you do every day you concentrate on them and you make them pristine. It’s like you’ve got 80% of your life put together. These little things that are right in front of us. They’re not little. That’s the first thing. They’re not little. They’re not little and they’re hard to set right. And if you set them right, it has a rippling effect and fast too; way faster than people think.”

It may take weeks or even months to mark the change, but mark it we will. And this is what we should pour our efforts into and set our hearts upon. We will see our lives transformed before our eyes more substantially by faithfully praying, reading the Bible, encouraging our kids, blessing our spouses, and even simply going to church. But we have to ask ourselves, especially in this new year as we mark the time rapidly moving on, what do we want? Or as Christ asked those who began to follow him,

“Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking.’”

—John 1:38

For if we truly want more of Christ, and more of that transformed life, it is going to be more like cleaning out our bucket each and every day. We must trust in the transforming power of the gospel and the Holy Spirit. And if we need a reminder, maybe just look at what our lives might be if we didn’t faithfully clean it out.

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