Challenging Faith: Lessons From the Parable of the Stove

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By Joel Lund 

If you’ve been in a leadership position for any length of time, you have probably heard the Parable of the Stove. 

It goes like this: 

You are hiking through deep snow in the dead-cold of winter, alone. Even with your snowshoes, it has been hard going for many hours. Really hard going. Night is falling and it is getting steadily colder. You’re not sure where the cabin is that you have been trying to find for over an hour. 

Hungry and exceedingly tired, you continue to tromp through the white powder. Doubt claws at the edge of your confidence. You look up and peer through a narrow clearing in the tall firs. There it is! There’s the cabin! 

With renewed vigor you move faster than you thought possible. Huffing and sweaty, you finally reach the cabin. Dismayed, you realize that before you can enter the unlocked, rustic building, you first need to clear the snow wall blocking its frozen door. By the time you throw your shoulder into the stout wooden door, you are exhausted. But the door gives way and you are inside. 

Quickly, you light and trim the lantern, and set it on the table. A lovely yellow glow illuminates the small structure you’ll call home for this night. 

You go to the stove. On one side is a stack of dried wood and kindling, enough to last more than a week. On the other side is a box full of old newspaper. You drop to your knees and open the door to the stove. 

Then, at the top of your lungs, you bellow into the stove, “Throw me some heat and I’ll build you a fire!” 

And The Lesson Of The Parable Is… 

Things have to go in a specific order to work correctly. Or to work at all. So, yelling at the stove won’t generate heat. At least, not enough…as soon as you stop yelling! 

Now, wishing for things to change in our lives is fine. People do it all the time. But your wishing — no matter how sincere, urgent, intense, focused or heartfelt — won’t light the stove. Only your action will. 

And within that truth, the first lie enters into the picture. 

The Secret Lie About the Secret Path 

You see, I first wrote this article in 2012. And the article was actually an early blog of mine. It was short and ended with just one more paragraph right after the parable. It was comprised of a series of four questions intended to act as “a CTA” (call to action). Because I’d been learning from the best coaching gurus that “the specific order” required a CTA right at the end of whatever you were using as a means to communicate to your intended audience. In my case, blogging was the means. 

My intent was to build a name for myself in the wild and trendy world of blogging (back then, it still was). Given my leadership background, I was quite certain that with some focused effort on my part — in other words, putting things in the right order so they’d work correctly — my post-soul-sucking corporate career would break out of its cocoon. My newly minted life as a business coach and consultant would take off, like a beautiful monarch butterfly. 

The only thing that stood in the way to my success was getting “the specific order to work correctly.” 

Days of research turned into weeks, then months. A lot of investment went into training materials. And it turned out that there was no specific order; there were thousands. Gurus were everywhere. Searching for guidance on Google only left me with more conviction that I needed more and more information to get the specific order correct. But that meant learning from more and more gurus, each one promoting a different “correct” sequence. 

If that wasn’t maddening enough, we saw others succeeding. They were posting it on Facebook, so it had to be true. Which could only mean we were doing something wrong. Or worse, we didn’t know enough yet; we were missing a key element in the specific order. Or worst of all, we were wrong. 

So, I plowed through getting four coaching certifications. Surely, that would help! If 20 years of leadership experience wasn’t enough, then piling up certifications would get the job done. My coaching and consulting career would finally launch, big time. 

In fact, nothing really seemed to make any difference. We’d get some new-client wins, conclude that they came because of the specific order we’d implemented, and go all in on replicating it. And…then that order wouldn’t deliver again. 

What was happening? Where was God in all this? We’d prayed prior to launching each new venture and kept praying all along the confusing pathway. We’d even yell from time to time at the hypothetical stove. Our urgent quest for providential clarity went unanswered. 

The Bald Lie About Leaning In 

Around this time, the phrase “leaning in” became so popular shortly after the book by the same name came out that it showed up in sermon illustrations. The idea behind the phrase is that we should all move into roles of leadership, rather than be a habitual follower. In our culture, that sounds wise, bold and assertive. 

But when you pull away the veneer of both lies, they form the whole of Satan’s promise to Adam and Eve: the correct order to a life filled with purpose, meaning, and happiness is one where we determine our future. Learn the secrets and, boom, it will all come together. Your life will align with what the world defines as successful. 

At its worst, this concept — often commended by believers of all stripes — is summarized in the “Law of Attraction.” Each of us has the capacity to change our mindset…and our future…by visualizing good things coming our way. And when we do that enough, the Universe will respond by sending us good things. 

The Problem & the Truth 

Of course, none of these ideas has any basis in Scripture. Rather, all of it comes straight out of millennia of repackaged heresies. In short, all of it mashes up into a contemporary version of Satan’s lie that we can be like God, “knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:5) 

In contrast, what we know from God’s Word is that this world is not as good as it gets. Not only that, it is always full of hardship. Even more so for believers! The Apostle Paul infuses virtually all of his letters with strong guidance about how we are to expect and endure our inevitable sufferings. (Rom. 8:17-18; 2 Cor. 1: 5-7; etc.) 

More so, the notion that we can, as humans, “discover the secret for success” (or whatever your favorite configuration of a similar promise looks like), also flies in the face of God’s Word. The Psalmist states plainly that “unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” (Ps. 127:1) 

Ultimately, developing a successful business is fraught with challenges, whatever your spiritual situation. And the truth is that 70 percent of small businesses still experience complete failure within 10 years (https://fundera.com). Is it reasonable to expect a different outcome for believers? Nope. 

Knowing this to be true, we pivoted a few years ago to partnering with one or two small business owners. Because they were mature believers and historically successful businesspeople, what could go wrong? Again, much prayer went into these collaborative ventures. But by now you already feel it coming, right? Not only did the partnerships not work out, they cost us a fortune. We’ve been so financially wounded that from a worldly point of view, it could hardly be worse. Painfully, our friendships were sundered. The plight of Job (chapter 3) has a lot of resonance in our home. But we came to realize that the successes you see others enjoying on Facebook are not often real. And comparing your life to theirs is like comparing your bloopers to their showcase reel. 

Going Forward in Faith 

We’re finding ways to make lemonade out of our business lemons. We trust (some days better than others) that God is in control, and the house He is building is not quite what we expected. And we take comfort in the words of C.S. Lewis: 

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world. 

This world is not our home. We’re just passing through. 

Joel is a certified master coach, business strategist, and author. Most importantly, he’s worked with a lot of people just like you. Chat with him. There’s no charge. Schedule here: http://bit.ly/Curious-PFR. 

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