One freezing cold day, this
ailing man is standing at his bench, forlornly plying his
trade. When his hale and hearty friend Vladimir walks past
and invites him to join him in gathering wood for the winter
festival, Martin angrily rejects his advances. Obsessed with
the loss of his cherished young wife and his only child –
just as the boy was reaching the age to have been of real
help and companionship – the cobbler has no time for such
One day a pilgrim calls,
asking him to rebind his Bible. Martin is despondent, but
honest with him, for in truth he blames God for leaving him
with so little. “I am without hope,” he declares. “All I
want of God is that I may die.”
The pilgrim looks at him
kindly but keenly. “You are in despair, Martin, because you
live only for yourself. Read the book; perhaps it may help.”
With that he leaves, promising to pick it up when he returns
from his journey.
That night, Martin dreams
that the Lord speaks to him, telling him that He is going to
visit him, and urges him to look out the window the
following day. Martin works extra hard that day, but often
takes the time to peer expectantly out of the window. He
sees an aged street sweeper freezing in the cold and brings
him indoors to feed and care for him. Later, he sees a young
mother shivering in the cold and struggling to feed her
baby. He brings them into the warmth, and when he discovers
that she has pawned her shawl for food he takes a garment he
has long treasured, his own wife’s shawl, and tenderly
drapes it around her.
Others enter and leave the
cobbler’s shop that day, and he helps them all, but still he
sees no sign of the Lord. The old despair rises again. Why
hasn’t He come? That is when the cobbler’s weary eyes are
drawn to a verse in the pilgrim’s Bible: “Whatever you do to
the least of these brothers and sisters, you are doing unto
In a flash of insight, Martin
recognises that Christ has come – in the form of each person
he has met and helped that day: the street sweeper, the
mother and child, and all the others. When his friend
Vladimir passes by again, the cobbler can’t wait to go out
and join him. Healed of his grumpiness and despair, Martin
has moved beyond his own grief and is ready to play his full
part in the life of his community.25
Reflect and Pray
Tolstoy regarded this short story as perhaps his most important
because it demonstrated how God uses people with love in their heart
to restore hope and life to those who have lost it.
If you find yourself in the grip of
unexpected loss, may I encourage you to remember how many intimate
moments you have shared with Him? He will not fail to send you help,
and to heal every trauma as you call on His name.
You are my servant. I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your
God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my
righteous right hand.
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Lord, You say in
Your word, “Fear not.”
I speak these powerful precious words now
to each area of my life that is gripped by fear.
Anchor of my soul, enable me
to weather the waves of anxiety by trusting You.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.