A walk in the snowy woods today wound by the frozen stream. This long cold snap has covered most of our creek in thick ice, now overlaid with a fresh blanket of snow. From the bank, it all looked silent and completely still. The only visible activity was to my left. There, a gap in the ice revealed the silent dark water, flowing swiftly underneath the surface.

Further down the creek, more ice, sturdy enough for all of us to walk on. Last weekend the children and I swept it clear. One peered down into the depths. “Look, Mom, a leaf is trapped!” Look more closely, I explained. You’ll see that the leaf is actually moving very slowly. “But it’s frozen all the way down!” No, the current is still there, below the ice. There’s still life in the water … see how it’s flowing downstream? On the surface, ice, cold, frigid stillness. Far underneath, water flows, even in winter.

There are some spiritual parallels that come to mind here. At times there are situations or persons in our life which seem frozen in place. No movement, no change, no thawing. Just cold, unyielding ice. Perhaps the façade may even be beautiful, with a fresh blanket of snow, but brush past the surface and the chill pierces the heart.

I could attempt to the thaw the ice by my own efforts. Pour buckets of hot water over it, haul out the extension cord and my hairdryer or space heater, and wait impatiently for the ice to melt. But of course, my work will result in some light, but little heat, and virtually no permanent effect. To thaw, ice needs the sustained warmth of the sun. It is beyond my power to melt ice in my own strength, no matter how hard I try.

The frozen places in my heart or life need the warmth of God. His love and power can turn the heart of stone/ice into a heart of flesh. At the same time, this power and love is often activated by our prayers. We have little control over the seasons. Winter arrives without prayers from us, and the spring thaw follows every year, in its own time.

Spiritual matters are more complex. God can and does move independently of us, but often, in Scripture and in life, He encourages us to pray for change. “Do not be anxious about anything but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6) “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” (Colossians 4:2) “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 8:26)

In Love Has a Price Tag, Elisabeth Elliot writes: “How can we change things by prayer? How ‘move’ a sovereign and omnipotent God? We do not understand. We simply obey because it is a law of the universe, as we obey other laws of the universe, knowing only that this is how things have been arranged: the book falls to the floor in obedience to the law of gravity if I let go of it. Spiritual power is released through prayer.”

God’s timing is usually not ours. Sometimes prayers are answered quickly. Other times, years pass by – 10, 20, 40. Yet we are told “be faithful in prayer.” Because it is also true that no situation or person on this earth is completely and hopelessly frozen. Under the surface, a current is moving. Springs of water are there and are not out of reach of God’s love. Commit anew to the long haul of prayer to break the ice.