Pushing the Rock


I’m not sure of the origins of this story, but it’s a good one.

A man was sleeping at night in his cabin when suddenly his room filled with light and God appeared. The Lord told the man he had work for him to do, and showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The Lord explained that the man was to push against the rock with all his might.

This the man did, day after day. For many years he toiled from sun up to sun down, his shoulders set squarely against the cold, massive surface of the unmoving rock, pushing it with all his might. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore, and worn out, feeling that his whole day had been spent in vain.

Noticing that the man was showing signs of discouragement, the devil decided to enter the picture by placing thoughts into the man’s weary mind. “You have been pushing against this rock for a long time, and it hasn’t budged. Why kill yourself over this? You are never going to move it.” Thus giving the man the impression that the task was impossible and that he was a failure. These troubling thoughts discouraged and disheartened the man. “Why kill myself over this?” Maybe I should just put in my time, giving just the minimum effort and that will be good enough.

He prayed, saying “Lord, I have labored long and hard in your service, putting all my strength to do that which you have asked. Yet, after all this time, I have not even been able to budge that rock. What is wrong? Why am I failing?”

The Lord responded compassionately, “My friend, When I asked you to serve me and you accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength, which you have done. Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. Your task was to push. And now you come to me with your strength spent, thinking that you have failed. But, is that really so?”

“Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled, your back sinewy and brown, your hands are callused from constant pressure, and your legs have become massive and hard. Through opposition you have grown much and your abilities now surpass that which you used to have. Yet you haven’t moved the rock. But your calling was to be obedient and to push and to exercise your faith and trust in my wisdom. This you have done. I, my friend, will now move the rock.”

Sometimes we forget that the most important aspect of our prayer and work is not the object of that prayer and work. What God is most interested in, and truly what produces the most profound fruits of that labor, is our simple obedience and faith in Him. Exercise the faith that moves mountains, but don’t forget that it is still God who moves them.

14 comments Add comment

Joshua Kehn July 6, 2011 at 11:01 am

That is probably the dumbest thing I’ve heard.

“simple obedience and faith in him” does not translate to “profound fruits of labor”. It translates to “mindless zombies.”

Matthew Warner July 6, 2011 at 11:22 am

That’s a non sequitur, Joshua. Nobody said anything about being mindless about it or about being a zombie. Presuming that “obedience” and “faith” are at all “mindless” shows a profound misunderstanding of them.

Joshua Kehn July 6, 2011 at 11:25 am

God asked a man to push a rock. The natural reason for wanting the rock pushed is to have it moved.

After pushing for a very long time god graciously chides the man for expecting a request to follow any kind of logic and then moves the rock.

What isn’t mindless about that?

Matthew Warner July 6, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Joshua – obviously this is a simple metaphor to make a bigger point. But even in the simple story, the man questions and considers the reasons for doing the work he’s been asked to do. That’s not mindless. That he does the work anyway without fully understanding the reasoning does not make him mindless, it makes him obedient and faithful. There’s a huge difference that you seem to be missing.

We are not to be mindless. But it’s healthy to recognize that our minds are, indeed, limited. So just because we can’t understand the reasoning behind something fully, certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t reasonable. It just means it may be beyond our limited capacity to understand it. And that’s, in part, the lesson in the story.

What you call the “natural” reason (for doing something), I would call the simplest or most obvious reason…as there are potentially other “natural” reasons (one of which is highlighted in the story).

And the point of the story is that our limited minds don’t always grasp the real or most important reasons for doing some things. And it is a properly formed faith that allows us to effectively move past the limits of our own mind to not only accomplish more, but to accomplish the right things.

In the end, the man benefitted from the work in many ways that his limited mind had not anticipated when he first set about doing it. I have so many first-hand, personal experiences where this has happened to me, too. It was my faith and obedience to (an entirely reasonable) something, but that which my limited mind does not FULLY understand, which made that possible.

Francis O'Neill February 9, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Seems to me most of our labor is in vain in the narrowest sense. We all — and I mean every last one of us, believing or unbelieving, faithful or cynical — have to trust, using whatever reason, intuition, and/or grace afford us, that there’s something more to it in the big picture.

Margaret July 12, 2011 at 3:13 pm

At first glance I had the same thought as you, Joshua. Then I remembered that my workout this morning lifting dumbbells probably looked equally pointless to an outside to modern fitness.

It does seem reasonable to suggest that, if we are created in order to have a relationship of trust and love with our Creator, he may – in order to form us towards that end – ask us to do seemingly pointless tasks, in which the only “point” is to realize our fallibility and weakness (those facts don’t require any faith – they are pretty self-evident – but we forget them easily).

sandy March 19, 2013 at 10:59 pm

He didn’t tell Him to move it. He told Him to push against it. It was never about moving it. It was a task to build his faith, patience, obedience and strength. We often face opposition and obstacles in life we can’t move but they build our character and relationship with God as we trust Him to help us endure what He doesn’t see fit to move for us. Why did Paul sit in prison? He wondered this as he would be more valuable out and about. He sat there in communion with God alone all that time to hear what God had for Him to tell the church which makes up a few books of the bible. Did Paul know he was written part of the bible. No! He just knew he was obeying God as he sat there and bidded his time and God’s reason for it was his own to know. It wasn’t for him to know the purpose but just to obey. God even had the angels open the door so he could leave since he wished to but he decided to sit still and continue to obey without knowing the reason. That took increased blind faith. Maybe this will help someone else who doesn’t understand. It’s the best way I can think of to explain it.

Matthew Warner March 20, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Beautiful, Sandy!

Jessica July 11, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Great story, thanks for posting.

Paul July 19, 2011 at 1:32 pm

I hate to dumb this conversation up by referencing a movie, but a good example of doing something by faith and obedience that doesnt seem to make sense, is from “The Karate Kid”.

In the story, Mr Miyagi first asked Daniel, as part of his karate training, to paint his fence and wax his cars in a hand and arm motion that didn’t seem to make sense to Daniel, and wasn’t what he was expected to be any part of his training. After days of doing so, Daniel thought it to be a pointless task and wanted to quit. It was only later, after Mr. Miyagi knew Daniel was ready, that he showed him how the natural repetition of his hand motion would benefit his defensive karate skills, and it was only then that Daniel fully understood.

Daniel didn’t have any knowledge or understanding of the seemingly “mindless” obedience to his master, just as we don’t always understand why God asks us to be obedient and faithful in all He requires and asks of us, even to the point of giving our lives.

Many people ask “what is the meaning of life”, or “why does God allow pain and suffering in the world”. That is not an easy answer for us to grasp. But it IS part of Gods plan…and there IS absolute truth in the answer, but we are not all expected to know the reasons until we are ready…and until that time arrives, we are called to trust in our Lord and our God. If you want to call that “mindless obedience”, I can deal with that. What say you?

Matthew Warner July 19, 2011 at 1:40 pm


Jennifer February 9, 2012 at 5:11 pm

I second that *LIKE*

Kris Vetter February 9, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Funny…Mindful persistence and commitment to MY own path led over the years to pain, dissatisfaction and a gnawing sense of futility. I remember telling a friend who envied my (self)purposeful ambition and success not to do so….and that was when I didn’t believe! Because, even in the darkness, I sensed in my core that I was being driven and that my striving achieved no fufillment and held no peace. I love this post. Thanks.

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