Icebergs and single straws

The idiom the straw that broke the camel’s back is from an Arabic proverb about how a camel is loaded beyond its capacity to move or stand. This is a reference to any process by which a broken back is achieved by a seemingly inconsequential addition, a single straw.

Ever had ‘one of those days’? A single straw day? A day where the smallest thing causes an out of proportion reaction. The day when an unintentional comment by a friend causes inward feelings of rejection and failure. When everything you had planned goes wrong. When the email stops working or the household objects break and you react with anger, frustration or tears. When the person you are discipling makes a really bad choice and you want to shake and shout at them.

These things are not life threatening but they are revealing.

Those single straw moments can be an indicator of the depths of our peace, trust and hope more than the disaster or the crisis.
Many of us actually function well in disaster and crisis. Often in an acute crisis, we are pushed to prayer regularly and fervently. We feel the deep compassion of the moment and it causes us to be very reliant on God. We become aware, in a crisis, of how frail and vulnerable we really are as humans. We are humbled and become dependent afresh on God, but the crisis moves or ends. The prayer diminishes and back to normality we go.

Single straw moments are different. They are incremental moments in every day life. They can reveal how much we have become dependent on our own agenda, how much we trust ourselves to ‘get the kingdom done’, how much we believe outcomes are our responsibility, not God’s.

How much we really believe in me and not Him.

What I have reflected on is this: Single straw moments can reveal the lack of the inner life. The lack of ongoing discipline, prayer, solitude and Word that feeds our spirit to be ready and responsive as Jesus would be. Jesus lived his life from the depths of His inner life with the Father. He displayed that every place of prayer, quiet and solitude was a place of preparation. Preparation for how to handle the demand of the crowd, the misconceptions of his disciples or the adoration of a woman. He didn’t have single straw moments, because he was inwardly prepared.


The thing about an iceberg is that the small seen portion is actually supported by the huge majority of the mass under the water line. As we know, most of an iceberg is completely unseen from above the surface.  Our lives as disciples are supposed to be like this. The hidden inner life supports and stabilises the outer. An inwardly prepared life causes our reactions and responses to be Christ-like, not selfish. In proportion, not extreme.

Jesus said in John 15:5
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Jesus made it clear that without a sustained connection with Him, all our efforts will be fruitless.

Even though we know this, I think we often live like we don’t believe it. We quickly become addicted to doing, not being. Wrongly believing that purely a good strategy, the next idea, or just working a bit harder will bring us breakthrough.

Jesus modelled and taught that breakthrough and fruitfulness in the kingdom are achieved through abiding with the Father, and then by being led by the Father. It was his inner life that enabled the external one.

As leaders, sometimes we need to be reminded that we are disciples first. That means investing in our inner life with Jesus is crucial if we want to see the level of fruitfulness that Jesus has planned for us.

annwen_portraitAnnwen is married to Andy and together they lead The King’s Centre, part of Network Church Shefffield (NCS).

Andy and Annwen have 3 children, Caleb (11), Toby (9) and Elly (6)




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