Back in my college days, I had to work to pay the bills. I guess that's a pretty normal thing for most of us. I was a little bit older than most of the other students, with a wife to support and tuition to worry about. My wife worked too, but we needed more than just what her income could provide. I had been working as a handyman for a gentleman that owned several rental properties in that central Florida town, but I wasn't making enough.
After searching the bulletin boards at school, I found a job at a grocery store chain's produce warehouse. It required me to get up extra early on the days I worked, including Saturday's, a day I'd prefer to sleep in. It was still a small price to pay, because I could work it into my class schedule and make a little more than I had as a handyman.
This was my second go round at college. I had been working as a youth pastor in Ohio, but needed more training. I had gone for a year and a half to a christian college in Indiana right out of high school, but ran out of money while at the same time not really sure where my life was headed. Why go into more debt when when I didn't know what direction I was going in?
As newlyweds, we decided that it was now or never to make a move like this, so we packed up most of what we had, sold the rest, and headed south. School was the easy part. Trying to make ends meet and truly discovering God's will for my life was a little bit more difficult.
Then I got the job at the produce warehouse, a huge place considering it was the main hub for the chain of grocery stores prevalent in that part of Florida. When I look back on those days, I guess God did teach me a thing or two about his will for my life, although I never did hear that audible voice I sometimes wish he'd use just so a dunderhead like me is crystal clear on what he's saying.
Being a lumper was new to me. That was what we were called. I never did learn where that name came from, but I guess being called a lumper was better than what I could have been called. Anyway, for the first few days I worked with some of the other guys learning the ropes unloading trucks. Stacking boxes on the pallet in a way to keep the produce from falling off, labeling the pallets in the right way so the forklift drivers knew the date the goods came in, and learning to keep from hurting my back were all lessons learned. Staying out of the way of the crazy forklift operators was also important.
I finally got to do my first truck by myself. I wanted to impress my boss, and try to keep up with Jerry, the lumper of all lumpers. I think I did a pretty good job on that container of apples. All 900 boxes. Even Jerry was impressed.
I caught on fairly well, and did a pretty good job over time in that cold warehouse. I even handled the broccoli trucks, although at first I got pretty wet from the ice it was packed in. It made that warehouse even colder, before I learned to keep the boxes away from my body.
The other four or five guys I worked with eventually became impressed with this guy studying to be a pastor. At first, they thought I was soft, that I could never handle the kind of manual labor they had to do. Even my boss, a new believer himself, had doubts about me. He also came around, and we had a lot of great talks over the time I spent working for him.
Then came the onion truck.
The other lumpers weren't sure if I could ever handle that one. This was no ordinary produce truck. This was the onion truck!
While all the other produce that came into that warehouse arrived in refrigerated containers that allowed forklifts all the way in to the front, the onions came on a cattle truck. A long, open container with several gates and obstacles that wouldn't permit that beloved forklift passage. Instead, working in the Florida summer heat, the onion bags, each at least 50 pounds, had to be unloaded one at a time onto the pallet on the loading dock, not inside the truck where a forklift could get to it.
An easy task, at first, until you start getting into the container a little way. Simply stacking a pallet right next to the produce was no longer the norm. I had to carry each bag to the pallet on the dock at the end of the truck, sometimes over an immovable gate or two. One thousand bags. In the heat. While a normal container would take about two hours, the onion truck took four. In the heat. Usually without a break, because the truck's driver had other places to be.
Only one thought kept coming to mind. "Don't give up. Keep at it, you'll eventually get to that last bag."
I don't remember how many more onion trucks I unloaded during my stay at that produce warehouse, but to this day, I remember one of the things God taught me while I was there. Perseverance.
While I never did finish school, I did serve as a youth pastor on several other occasions. I've had my share of struggles and disappointments. Of successes and joys. And, while I'm not perfect in the "stick-to-it" department, that onion truck comes to mind on more than one occasion. It comes when I need to ask myself what will help me accomplish what I have to accomplish? How can I keep going when the going gets tough? What will keep me going when all that is within me says, "Why don't you just quit?"
Perseverance is nothing more than a "stick-to-it-ive-ness, stay the course, I'm not going to give up just because I feel like it" attitude that helps me get through the tough times that come. And the tough times do come.
What is it that helps us keep going, working through the difficulties of a situation or experience, even enduring hardship, when it would be easier to chuck the whole thing? I think the answer is found in James 1:12 (NIV): "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him."
The end result, the crown of life, the "prize" is a great motivator. For me as a christian, one of the greatest gifts I can receive when I meet the Lord face to face is a "Well done thy good and faithful servant."
When you get the opportunity, read 2 Corinthians 11:23-33. The apostle Paul gives a list of some of the things he's gone through since his conversion, a boasting of his sufferings. In this letter to the Corinthians, he was addressing some things that were being said against him, even going as far as calling these men false apostles. In the middle of chapter 11, he begins to list the trials he's gone through, a list of credentials, if you will, that gives him the right to say what he says when he preaches to them.
He's worked harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severly, been exposed to death many times. He received lashes, was beaten with rods, was stoned, shipwrecked, and even spent a night on the open sea. He faced danger from every corner, and often knew sleeplessness, hunger, cold, and nakedness.
And yet, throughout all of those ordeals, he stayed the course, he ran the race, he kept the faith!
What kept a man going through all that? Why hadn't he just quit already? I think some of that answer can be found in Romans 5:1-5(NIV): "...we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us..."
What are you going through right now? What is God allowing you to go through? Persevere. What character qualities is he building in your life? Persevere. What hardship have you wanted to run away from? Persevere. What relationships do you find to be difficult ones in your life? Persevere.
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:2-4 NIV)
It's sometimes easy to persevere when we see the light at the end of the tunnel, or we see the end of a challenge approaching. We get our second wind and can push through to the end. That's the way it was for me on the onion truck. Four hours isn't that long, and I wanted to impress the guys I worked with that I could handle it. The hard part is when we don't see the end - when we really don't know where in the process we are and feel like the situation or experience will never end or change. But, that's when we need to persevere. Don't give up.
Don't give up on that relationship with your teen-ager---parent---spouse---friend---work situation---even GOD! I've seen enough healed relationships and plenty of young people that as teens had a lot of issues, only to become quite wonderful men and women of God. Relationships are what it's all about. We can make it through those difficult times.
In Hebrews chapter 11 we find a list that could be called the Old Testament "Hall of Fame." These saints lived by faith, because they knew without faith it is impossible to please God. Abel had his sacrifice accepted by God. Enoch didn't experience death. Noah saved his family because of his faith and obedience. Abraham obeyed and went to an unknown place, became a father in his very old age, and was willing to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. He passed the test.
Isaac blessed his sons, Jacob blessed Joseph's sons, and Joseph spoke of and foresaw the exodus. Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets were all commended for their faith. The thing that kept them going, with their eyes on "the prize" at the end, was their perseverance. Even when the end result didn't come to them in their lifetime (see Hebrews 11:13)!
My encouragement to you can be found in Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV), which is the summation of what we learn from the list of those Old Testament saints in Hebrews 11: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
All that from an onion truck many years ago. Thank God he can use the simple things in life to get through to a dunderhead like me!