Tag Archives: trials

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.

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In everything give thanks

Here in Canada this is Thanksgiving weekend.  Early settlers and explorers gave thanks for a safe journey across the Atlantic; later settlers gave thanks for a good harvest; Loyalists coming to Canada from the United States after the American Revolution brought their customs with them.  What many Canadians don’t realize is that our current Thanksgiving celebration is mandated by Canada’s Parliament which in 1957 proclaimed “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed  … to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October.”

Although the celebration has Christian roots, at this time of year even pagans and those who profess no faith recognize the value of gratitude.  But what are we thankful for?  How deep does our Thanksgiving go?  In spite of the current economic turmoil, all Canadians – pagan, agnostic, atheist and believer – can agree that we in Canada have been richly blessed with prosperity, abundant food, peace, safety, freedom, and stable government.  As a believer in Jesus Christ, I freely and gladly confess that these blessings come to us from the hand of a good God.  But as a believer in Jesus, I also need to take my Thanksgiving celebration a little bit deeper.

What if I lived in the Philippines today, in the wake of the two recent typhoons?  What if I were a Vietnamese believer, knowing that my pastor was suffering in prison at the hands of the Communist regime?  What if I were a Christ-follower in one of the many African nations where AIDS is rampant, or in Orissa State in India, where Christians are currently undergoing severe persecution at the hands of Hindu radicals?  Could I still give thanks?

Recently I was struck by the words of the Apostle Paul when writing to his infant congregation in Thessalonica.  These were people who had come to faith in Christ only a few years previously, and had undergone many trials since.   From the time they had first heard the message of Christ, they had faced severe opposition.   Paul himself had only stayed in the community for a few weeks after first preaching the gospel, soon moving on to other parts, but he sent Timothy to find out how they were doing.  Later he wrote a letter to encourage and instruct the young church.  Listen to his words in 1 Thessalonians 3:1-4 :

We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow-worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no-one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them.  In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know.

He didn’t lament over the fact that they were suffering persecution, he told them it was part of their destiny.  He didn’t tell them he felt sorry for them, he told them this was what they should have expected.  He didn’t pray for the persecution to end, he prayed for them to stand firm.  He said this because he knew that for those who stood the test, beyond the pain lay a glorious, eternal destiny in a renewed creation where Jesus would reign openly as Lord.  And so later on in the same letter, he spoke these memorable words – which are far more powerful when we realize they were spoken to a suffering church undergoing persecution :  Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

We in the comfortable Western church complain so easily.  We are so easily discontent.  We so easily think we have it hard.  We need to examine ourselves to see if we are really in the faith.  There is nothing wrong with enjoying material blessings, peace and freedom, but when we think that these are the most important reasons for thanksgiving, we show that we do not really understand the good news.  Our preoccupation with physical comfort has blinded our eyes to our own poverty and our desperate need for the mercy and power of God.   We need to ask the Spirit of God to open our eyes so that we can see again how blessed we are, and change our hearts so that true gratitude overflows into willing service, using whatever gifts God has entrusted to us to advance His Kingdom.  Lord, have mercy upon us.

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