Seeds of life

Today Marion’s parents celebrated sixty-five years of marriage. A simple family celebration marked the occasion. Later, as we said our good-byes, I thanked my parents-in-law for getting married, pointing out that had they not done so, I could not have met and married my wife, nor would Marion and I have had our own four wonderful children or our two beautiful granddaughters. I looked at my father-in-law, gestured at the family members around the room, and said “See what you started?”

Towards the end of the day I went for a bike ride by the river. I needed to clear my head and get some perspective. It was a beautiful October day, and the water sparkled in the sun’s rays. The pathway was full of people enjoying the final hour before sunset. I thought about seeds. Each of the trees that line the river began with a seed. Each human life begins with a seed. At the beginning of all things, when God made man and woman, he told them to multiply and fill the earth. When Marion’s father and mother pledged their vows sixty-five years ago, they made a covenant to be seed-planters.

When a couple conceives a child, they don’t know the details of what that child will become. There is an element of mystery involved. But in hope, they look for their creative act of love to bear fruit and give rise to a child who will be a bearer of their hopes and dreams.

In a less literal but no less real sense, we plant seeds every day with our words and our actions. We impart to others what has been worked into the soil of our own lives, for good or for ill. We do this whether we know it or not, but as we co-operate actively with God’s purposes, uprooting the plantings of the evil one in our lives and cultivating the plantings of the Lord, we can become more effective and fruitful sowers of good seed in the lives of others.

As I have been waiting on the Lord for an answer about work these past six months, I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of reflecting. At the beginning of this waiting period, I kept myself occupied with several small projects. But as time went on, both Marion and I became increasingly convinced that the Lord was telling us both to use this time to rest in Him and seek His face – to meditate on the Word, to pray, to worship, to listen to teachings, and to allow Him to work some new seed into the soil of our hearts.

Along the way, of course, we have wrestled with God about the issue of work and provision. We have been in no real financial distress, but we’ve had to make several adjustments. I had no idea that I would be out of work for this long, yet all along the way Marion and I have received clear and repeated assurances from the Lord that His provision would come at just the right time and that it would prove to be just the right thing. Although we have been walking the road of faith for many years, we are not immune from temptation, and we’ve had plenty of opportunities to embrace worry, fear and anxiety. But thanks be to God, every time we have recognized those ugly tentacles seeking to drag us down, we have found grace to resist the tempter and place our hope in the Lord.

As our time of waiting has been extended well beyond what I had expected, I have found it humbling to recognize how little control I have – humbling to have an explicit, specific promise from God but no explanation as to why it is not yet fulfilled – humbling to explain to people why I turned down two contracts three months ago (“I sensed the Lord telling me not to take them because he had something better for me”), even though the ‘something better’ has not yet become visible – humbling to have no explanation for my circumstances and choices other than “God told me” – humbling to have to sell the camping trailer that Marion and I had bought less than two years ago. But, praise the Lord, it’s only a trailer – it doesn’t own us – and as always with these things, it was liberating to let it go. We got to enjoy it for two summers, and then we got a good price for it, so we are able to ride this wave a while longer without having to make more major adjustments. And it is truly wonderful to sense the Lord stretching me, working faith in me, increasing my capacity to endure a test that seems to go on and on, with no clear exit in sight. God is faithful, and He has given us a promise, but He hasn’t given us a schedule. When I ask him for dates, he says “soon” and “trust me”. He’s been saying “soon” and “trust me” for the past three months. But, praise God, His provision has not run dry during that time.

The past few days I have thought about what it must be like for those who are in prison because of their faith. Like me, they have no control over when their waiting period will come to an end. Unlike me, they face verbal and physical abuse, separation from their families, and possible death. Although my test is light compared to theirs, I have been able to pray for them with increased understanding of what it must be like to face each new day with no idea how long they will be in prison. From a human perspective their situation may seem hopeless, yet every day they choose to cultivate hope and faith because they know that the One who has called them, and holds them in his hands, is faithful.

The Apostle wrote that none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. Periods of testing are never appointed for our benefit alone. They are appointed for the benefit of those whom God has called us to serve. And so, as well as increasing my capacity to endure tests, I also see that He is deepening and strengthening my capacity to impart hope, faith and courage to others. I have fewer answers, but I sense that the answers I have are becoming more deeply anchored in my life, so that I can speak them with greater integrity, from the core of my being, as it were.

All of us are seed-sowers. I want to plant good seed in the lives of others. And so, though periods of testing by definition are never truly welcome – at least, not to our flesh – I can now say that I am truly grateful to God that he has appointed this season of testing in my life. I am also grateful that he has chosen at several junctures to ignore my advice as to when it would be best for him to bring this test to an end. I will be glad when this particular test has come to an end – in His timing, not mine – but I am deeply grateful for what it is producing in Marion and in me. Because of this period of testing, fallow ground is being broken up, our hearts are becoming softer and more pliable, new seed is being planted, we are seeing new possibilities for the future. And so on this Thanksgiving weekend, my bride and I have many reasons to praise and thank the Father of lights from whom comes every good and perfect gift.

Thanks be to God.


5 thoughts on “Seeds of life”

  1. “When we sow the seeds of life, with God’s help our harvest will be plentiful.” Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones!

  2. Question: I try to listen to God speaking to me but don’t hear so well. How do you hear God saying “no” to two jobs and “yes” when the right one comes?

  3. Hi Keith, that’s a very good question and I’m sure you’re not the only one who struggles in this area. In my blog, so as not to detract from the flow of the text, I didn’t elaborate on the process that Marion and I engage in when we need to hear from God about a decision.

    There are several things I could say.

    When I was first baptized in the Holy Spirit, Marion and I received some teaching on guidance as part of a Basic Christian Maturity course. It was quite helpful, but at the same time I learned that it was not always easy in practice to recognize the difference between my thoughts and God’s thoughts. My first breakthrough into learning to recognize God’s voice more consistently came when Marion and I were involved in intensive prayer ministry training, when I was a new trainee during ministry sessions, and my only role was to intercede, praying in tongues quietly and unobtrusively while a trained ministry team conducted the prayer ministry session. One aspect of the prayer ministry was deliverance, and to my surprise, I began to notice that just before one of the members of the team named a particular spirit that needed binding, I would get the same discernment. “I’m getting it!” I realized. Since then I have learned that one of the ingredients that makes it easier to hear from God is to be praying in the Spirit (as we were doing during the ministry session).

    Another key is to explicitly surrender or turn away from our personal concerns and focus on the Lord. Again, we were doing this during the ministry session : as we focussed intentionally on what God was saying for someone else’s life, our own concerns faded into the background. It’s harder to achieve this when praying for guidance about a personal concern, but it makes a huge difference to intentionally surrender the concern to the Lord. This includes surrendering our wills and our preconceived ideas about what the answer should be, and being willing to accept whatever answer he gives. Praying in the Spirit helps with this because it activates our spirit while quieting our mind.

    Another helpful key is praying with someone else. When Marion and I need to get an answer about a decision, we find that if we pray together it is much easier to achieve clarity, and when we both agree on what we sense the Lord saying to us, it’s much more likely that we have a reliable answer.

    Finally, I should add that there is no guarantee of never being wrong (at least, I haven’t found one). I would say that the times we have made mistakes in seeking guidance were times when our own personal feelings (fears, anxieties, strong desires) got in the way and created interference, as it were, making it harder for us to hear the voice of the Spirit. Conversely, one of the key indicators that we are hearing from the Spirit is peace. “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). When you have heard from God – even if you don’t see the answer manifested yet – there is a sense of order and rightness, as if things are falling into place.

    I should also add that for us, guidance about more complex decisions (like decisions about a work contract) does not usually come as a sudden “bolt from the blue”. There are usually several factors to consider, and the decision-making process takes place over time, even when we are praying and seeking to hear God. Some contracts pay more than others. Some are longer term than others. Some may be more satisfying than others. Then there is the question of where God wants to place me – which is about more than just my benefit. Where does he want me to have influence?

    In this case, both the contracts that I turned down came up for consideration after I’d been out of work for a couple of months but before I was feeling any significant financial pressure. One of the two contracts that I turned down was at a substantially lower rate than I had been making in recent years. Contracts are becoming harder to get (at least in my field), and rates tend to be dropping, so I might have taken it anyway, but we had received a prophetic word the previous year that we both sensed was significant, about being a financial storehouse like Joseph so that we could have extra to provide for various ministries, and this seemed consistent with trusting God for a more financially lucrative contract. The other one that I turned down was at a somewhat better rate, but the location would have required us to get a second vehicle and the work would have required me to work quite hard to brush up on some skills that I hadn’t used in recent years. I could have done both these things, and was thinking that maybe I should say yes, but as Marion and I prayed, we weren’t really settled about it, and we eventually became convinced that the Holy Spirit was saying I should wait for a better contract. It helped that prior to getting either of these offers, we had sensed God saying that in His time He would provide “just the right contract” at “just the right time”. We did recognize the importance of surrendering our wills to God, and told the Lord that if He wanted me to accept either of these contracts, we would do it. However, neither of these felt like “just the right contract”, which we sensed that God had promised us, and at the time there were a couple of other potential contracts for which I was eligible that would have been more attractive to me, so this made it easier to believe that the ones I turned down weren’t God’s best. As it happened, neither of the more attractive ones that were available at the time (mid-June through early July) ended up panning out, which caused me to question whether we had heard from God after all. However, each time we went back to the Lord in prayer to ask him “are you sure that we didn’t miss it?”, we sensed Him confirming our decision, and assuring us that He had “just the right contract” which would come into line at “just the right time”. And a few weeks after all this, after four months without work, when we were beginning to feel for the first time in the process that we might have to make some financial decisions that we would rather avoid (at “just the right time” from our point of view), I heard about a potential contract that sounded like it would be a wonderful fit for me from several perspectives. That was a little over two months ago, and this is is the prospect on which I am still waiting for a final answer. So we have had several more dialogues back and forth with God (“Are you sure, God?”, and “God, you promised”, and “Did we get off track somewhere?”), but in the end, each time we wrestle with God, we keep hearing the same answers : “No, you weren’t wrong to turn down those other two”, and “yes, I will release just the right thing at just the right time”. I should add that I sense we are being trained in a level of faith and precision in hearing from God reliably that is new for us, and will be important as we move into some new things that God is calling us into.

    I hope this helps. To summarize, we have found that if we can quiet ourselves by praying in the Spirit, surrendering our wills to God and laying our concerns before Him, hearing God’s guidance is not difficult. Jesus did say that His sheep would hear His voice, and we have found this to be consistently true. However, there can be complicating factors, so an important part of the process is self-knowledge – learning to recognize soulish thoughts (anxieties, worries, desires) that could get in the way of hearing the voice of God accurately, so we can lay those before Him as well. Praying in tongues and praying together as a couple are safeguards that make it easier to avoid self-deception. But having said all that, sometimes God puts us through a process where he intentionally withholds a complete answer for a season. I have concluded that this is from God, and that he does it to stretch our faith. It is a real challenge to our flesh when we have to hold on to what we sense He has told us in the absence of immediate confirmation (i.e. the answer has not yet become “visible”). I guess this is one aspect of becoming prepared to walk in the Spirit with greater confidence so we can handle the increased levels of testing that are surely coming in the season of intense spiritual warfare (the rage of Satan) and the global harvest of souls as the Last Days approach.

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