Who among us has not made a New Year’s resolution at some time in their life? If we are serious Christ-imitators, there are many things we want to change or improve about ourselves. And, most of our churches have plenty of room for improvement as well, if we are to truly be Christ’s incarnational body on earth.
But change is hard, whether individual or institutional. One website suggests that 80% of all New Year’s resolutions die by January 31. And, if the resolution involves physical fitness (exercise, losing weight, etc.), 90% fail by January 15.[i]
This year, let me suggest that rather than resolving to change something old, work at seeing something old… new. Rather than change what you’re doing, see what you’re doing in a new way.
Isadore Sharp, founder of the highly successful Four Seasons hotel chain, was recently asked about the reason behind his success. His response? “Learn how to see things that other people don’t see.”[ii]
Scripture speaks frequently about having eyes, but not seeing what is near to us; ears but not hearing what is next to us.[iii] I suggest that the reason most students are enrolled at Wesley Seminary is to learn how to see things that others do not see. And, it is happening! Students are learning how to see new possibilities for effective ministry in the churches they will serve or start. Students are learning how to see better ways to meet people’s needs in Christ’s name. They are learning how to see the Great Commission fulfilled in their community. And these student-travelers are learning how to help others see what God wants those others to see.
As we begin a new year together, I would like to share with you a story. It’s a true story set high in the Colorado mountains. It reminds me of the importance of keeping our eyes open to seeing new opportunities in old situations—seeing what others do not see…
“GOLD! GOLD!” were the shouts echoing through the hills near the town of Leadville, Colorado during the 1860’s. The country was in the midst of the gold rush, and men by the thousands searched for their fortunes in the bottom of their panning tins. But sixteen years later the ruins of Leadville told of a boomtown gone bust. In the nearby “California Gulch” (named after the gold dreams of the 49ers out west), only remnants of abandoned cabins and sluice boxes remained. A few die-hard prospectors could still be found rewashing the gulch gravel for pocket money.
The California Gulch had a nasty reputation among the veteran prospectors. “It’s that black sand!” they complained. “It gums up the riffles in sluice boxes. It fills panning holes we dug the day before. It stains and ruins clothes.” The black sand seemed to cover every gold nugget with grime and grit, and make mockery of any attempt to find one’s fortune. While prospectors came to Leadville in great numbers, they soon left discouraged, cursing the black sand, and moving on in search of easier streams to riches.
Into the remnants of the abandoned mines and sluice boxes of the California Gulch came two mining men, William H. Stevens and Alvinus B. Wood. Convinced there was still gold beneath the surface, they began buying up old claims. Initial gold finds heightened their efforts and expectations. But soon they, too, encountered the problems of the earlier prospectors. The black sand forced delays and hampered progress until it appeared the entire project would fall victim to the wretched grit.
One day Stevens decided to send a sample of “that black stuff” to the East Coast for analysis. To their surprise, the men found the black sand was lead carbonate … loaded with silver!
Stevens and Wood staked lode claims throughout the California Gulch and opened the Rock Mine, the first producing silver mine in the district. They became fabulously rich in a matter of years!
The black sand … which miners and prospectors had cursed as an abominable intrusion in the pursuit of their golden dreams, contained wealth that would have made them rich beyond their wildest imaginations! The sandy California Gulch yielded a pittance in gold… but a fortune in silver.
All around you are opportunities hidden in the “black sand.” They are opportunities others have not seen. Some of those opportunities are people in your church. Some are people in your community. Some are ideas. As you think about this coming year, remember this true story of the possibilities around you… if you have eyes to see. Jesus told us to see the fields that are white unto harvest! To see what Christ sees…what Christ wants us to see… and what Christ wants us to help others to see.
[iii] See: Deut. 29:2-4, Isa. 6:9, Isa. 43:8, Jer. 5:21, Ezek. 12:2, Matt. 13:13-15, Mark 4:12, Mark 8:17, Luke 8:10, John 12:37-41, Acts 9:7, Acts 28:25-27, Rom. 11:8-19, Rev. 3:18.