It’s gardening season– many with gardens are reaping an early harvest of tomatoes, peas, beans, and other vegetables. I live in town, and have no space for a garden, but I have memories of working in my mom’s and grandma’s gardens. Gardening takes a lot of work, and involves a lot of elements. A life of prayer also requires a lot of discipline and certain elements:
Plowed ground– we need hearts that are softened and humble, ready to listen and respond.
Seeds of faith– even those as small as a mustard seed!
“Son”-shine–we can follow the examples of the prayers of Jesus, as well as His teachings on prayer.
Living Water–Jesus gives us living water in His words and His life. The more we spend time with Him (through prayer and in His Word), the more we will experience the nourishment He provides!
Cultivation– it is not enough just to plant a seed and leave it. We need to spend time in devotion, worship, prayer, scripture reading, and fellowship daily if we want growth. We also need to “weed out” sinful habits and thoughts that keep us from trusting God’s will and timing.
Workers for the harvest–Our lives should be producing fruit. But fruit that isn’t harvested and shared will go to waste! And we should also be ready to harvest the fruit of others– encouraging and building one another to better growth and adding to the Kingdom.
As I look out the window today, I see an array of autumn colors–yellow, red, orange, green, brown, and even purple leaves against a vibrant blue sky. Autumn is full of changes; changing leaves, changing temperatures, changing wardrobes. I love living in an area where the seasons change dramatically. I don’t always like the drama, however. We’ve had warm days, wet days, cold days– sometimes all three in the same day! But I do like the variety– snow in the winter, colorful leaves in the fall, new life in spring, and summer trips to the beach or the shady woods.
It isn’t only the weather or the trees that change. The times are changing– literally–we will be turning our clocks back this weekend, “falling back” to conventional time after several months of “daylight savings time. Our neighborhood is changing–the bank down the street just changed its name, and a couple of new businesses are opening, as a couple others close. We are experiencing life changes. My husband and I are in the “autumn” of life– feeling the slow creep of age, in good ways and bad. We enjoy spending time with our kids and grandkids, nieces and nephews, as they embark on new adventures and challenges of “becoming.” We don’t enjoy the aches and pains and slower pace we now find ourselves adopting, but we appreciate the wisdom of life lived and learned. We have aging parents who are facing their own decisions, many of which will involve us in one way or another.
God watches over all these changes. He sees them, orders them, anticipates them. God is the master of renewal, redemption, and restoration. God can move mountains, heal diseases, restore relationships, and raise the dead! And, unless we allow God to change our very nature and give us new birth through His Son, we will miss the greatest change of all.
But God never changes. The same God who formed me in my mother’s womb is the God who will be with me as I take my last earthly breath. The same God who formed the oceans and spoke galaxies into being is the God who whispered frost onto the grass this morning. This God is faithful through every season of the year and every season of life. I will not wake up tomorrow to find that there will be no more winter or spring seasons, or that the grass has all turned purple, or that God’s word is no longer true and powerful. And there will never be a time when I cannot trust God’s Sovereignty, His Mercy, or His Love. God’s promises are eternally sure; His Faithfulness is everlasting; and His power is limitless. God will never quit; He will never grow tired; He will never be “confused” about the road ahead; He will never resort to “plan B.”
Very soon, the colorful leaves will fall, the morning frost will be replaced with snow and ice, and my fall jacket will have to give way to my winter coat and gloves. In time, my gray hair will turn white, and my wrinkles will multiply. Someday, my great-grandchildren may find my name carved on a stone and wonder what I sounded like or what kind of person I was. But God will still be the same as He was in the days of Noah, and King Solomon; the same God who watched the fall of the Roman Empire, the horrors of the Holocaust, and the first Moon landing. That’s the God who hears my prayers– and yours. He can be trusted. He is faithful.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
We’ve been experiencing a heat wave. The temperatures are high, but the humidity makes it feel even hotter. People are doing whatever they can to avoid the heat– everything from driving around to stay in the air-conditioned car, wearing loose fitting clothes, wearing wide-brimmed hats for extra shade, drinking lots of cold water, or staying indoors with fans. Others have no alternative– they must walk in the heat, work in the heat, or try to find whatever shelter or shade is available, even if it offers only relief from the harshest rays of the sun.
Today, we are getting rain– blessed relief– cool drops of water and lower temperatures, along with clouds to hide the sun’s piercing rays. Even so, the rain has come with wind and even some flooding and storm damage. So even our “relief” poses some danger. So there is limited relief from the heat, but once the rain front passes, the temperature may rise, and the humidity will once again make the air steamy and oppressive.
Watching how people work and plan and worry about avoiding the heat of summer reminds me of how we work and plan and worry about avoiding another kind of “heat”– accountability and judgment. Hell is described as a “place of eternal torment”, a “lake of fire,” and a “blazing furnace.” People will do almost anything to avoid such a place. They try to pretend it doesn’t exist; they create “air-conditioned” philosophies and religions that block the reality of judgment and punishment; they worry and work and plot ways to escape their fate.
Jesus clearly taught that Hell is real, and that it is a place of darkness, suffering, gnashing of teeth, and despair. Someday there will be a “heat wave,” as all those who have rejected God’s offer of forgiveness and His Sovereignty face His judgment and righteous wrath. There will be no rain to bring relief or refreshment; no shade or cooling breeze of grace– only the unbearable oppression of guilt, shame, and self-torment that comes from being outside of God’s loving care.
There is a way to “avoid the heat” of God’s wrath– He offers complete restoration and eternal life for those who turn from sin and follow Him. Jesus, through His life, ministry, death, and resurrection, made it possible for us to live in God’s presence– His Light, His Glory, and His Love– in joyful eternity. We do not have to worry and work and plot how to “avoid the heat.” We need only put our trust in the one who sends the heat and wind and rain in their seasons, and whose Grace shades us from His wrath.
Part of this trust is being able to call out to God in our times of “heat”– whether from guilt or oppression–and ask for His blessed relief. Sometimes, we need to call on His Grace and forgiveness. Sometimes, we need to call on His promises– not to remind Him, but to remind ourselves that our “heat” is temporary, and His relief is eternally effective. This week, our “relief” from the heat came in the form of rain storms. We might be tempted to complain about the manner of God’s response to our cries for help in the moment. But we must remember that the storms and the heat waves of this life are temporary– the fires of Hell, and the blessings of Heaven are eternal.
It is supposed to be springtime in my neck of the woods. We’ve had two days of snow this week, chilly winds, and frost/freeze warnings. Fruit farmers are worried about losing the fragile blossoms that we need for apples, peaches, and cherries later this year. Many of the spring flowers are also in jeopardy. People are joking that we need to “unplug” springtime and “reboot” it, because it seems not to be working! The seasons seem “out of time.”
Sometimes our lives seem the same. We expect a season of growth or warmth, only to feel the cold winds, or we experience drought when we expected rain. Our prayers will change as the seasons come and go– young parents pray for patience as their days are hectic; aging parents pray for visits from their busy children and grandchildren. We go through seasons of success, seasons of stress, seasons of forced immobility, seasons of grief, and seasons of distracted activity.
Throughout the Psalms, David and the other psalm writers sang of woes and wonders, praises and problems– sometimes within a single Psalm! We have seasons of questioning, and seasons of confidence. Sometimes, we feel close to God; other times, we wonder why He seems so far away. Our “songs” and prayers will change over the course of our lives and according to our moods and circumstances– desperate, worshipful, even indignant. Yet God hears them all– He wants us to pour out our hearts in all seasons!
Our seasons may change, but God is Eternally Loving and Sovereign. Our moods and changing circumstances cannot remove us from His watchful eye or His tender care. Our momentary anger and doubt are not beyond His willingness–even eagerness– to forgive and redeem! God is Lord of all the Seasons– seasons of snow and sunshine; seasons of joy and sorrow. Even when our seasons seem “out of time,” we can lift our voices to a God who never changes.
We’ve been enjoying (or not) several days of Summer for the last week or so. It was really HOT for the Great Lakes region, where the lakes and northern latitudes generally have a tempering effect, especially this early in the season. Finally, the rains came to break the spell, bring much-needed moisture, and lower the temperatures a bit.
God has created a world of seasons– some areas of the world see two seasons– rainy and dry; others have four–winter, spring, summer, and fall; some have a dozen–deep winter, early thaw, false spring, winter’s last surprise, mud and flood, bug season, summer, autumn, scorching return to summer, “fall,” mud and flood (round 2), and endless snow. But God is faithful through all the seasons in every region. The sun rises and sets; the seasons come and go (mostly) in orderly fashion. We may joke or complain about summer in Michigan coming on a Tuesday this year, or grouse about the hot days or “endless snow,” but God doesn’t give us three years of winter followed by 20 years of drought. We don’t have six weeks of unrelieved darkness in the middle of summer, or a day when the sun “rises” in the west.
We tend to take the days, months, and seasons for granted. God has set them in place for our benefit and His glory. Let’s enjoy them.
In some ways, all days are the same. They are 24 hours long; they include a morning and an evening (though in some parts of the world one always seems to be shorter than the other as we go through a typical year); and they fall into predictable patterns of weeks, months, season, and years. So we can identify a particular day as Tuesday, the 4th of September, or the 73rd day of the year 2019, or even the first day of summer, but Wednesday will follow Tuesday, October will follow September, and the 73rd day of the year will follow the 72nd.
Lately, days seem to blend together and get lost, as predictable routines have been put “on hold” due to a global pandemic. People complain about having “too much time” on their hands, or getting confused about what day it is, because it seems more than ever just like the day before. But that is only perception. Each day still contains 24 hours, and still follows the patterns set up by God when He set the universe in motion. God’s incredible design means that we can find comfort and stability in knowing that there won’t suddenly be a day with 77 hours, or six Mondays in a row, or a year without a summer (though sometimes it may feel like it)! Seemingly endless winters or dry seasons may be discouraging and even deadly, and we need to be prepared and willing to adapt to the challenges they bring, but we don’t need to give in to panic or despair.
According to the prophet Jeremiah, in the book of Lamentations, God’s mercies are new every morning. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Lamentations+3%3A22-23&version=CSB God never gives us yesterday’s blessings, or tomorrow’s mercy. God gives us just what we need, when we need it (when we ask, and often even when we don’t)! God never loses track of what day it is, what season we are in, or what will come tomorrow. So if you’re stuck wondering if this is Sathursday, the 41st of Marprilmay, or if you missed summer because it was on Wednesday this year, know that God’s provision, His Mercy, and His timing are sufficient, perfect, and brand new for Today. You didn’t miss it; you won’t be locked out of tomorrow’s portion, and yesterday’s disappointments don’t have to follow you into next week.
God is ready to meet each of us in a new, pure, fresh way EVERY day. No expiration date; no appointment necessary. We don’t need to sign in, fill out paperwork, follow seventeen safety codes, show ID, or wait in line.
So whatever day it is–and whatever kind of day it has been so far–prayer brings us to a God of order and design, a God of renewal and refreshment, and a God of Mercy and Grace beyond all time and space.
I love the autumn harvest season, and I believe it has many lessons for us about prayer:
There is a time and season for harvest. We cannot harvest at our convenience; neither should we expect God’s answers and our circumstances to arrange themselves around our wishes. Instead, as we pray, we should watch and wait, ready to do what is necessary in the meantime, and ready when the time is right for harvest. Too soon or too late, and we will miss the best of the crop, or lose it altogether. If we pray for a harvest, we must be willing to wait on God’s timing.
Harvest is a season among other seasons– not a single event. If I pick apples this fall, that is not the end of apples. There will be more apples to harvest next autumn, and the following year. Sometimes, we must wait through several seasons to see the harvest; seasons of rain, sun, even snow and cold dark days. We must be faithful to keep praying for the next harvest, and the next…
The harvest bears little resemblance to what we planted. If I plant an ugly bulb in the ground this fall, I may see a beautiful tulip next spring–unless I plant an onion bulb! If I plant some tiny black seeds in the spring, I may harvest a large orange carrot later in the summer. If I plant kernels of corn, I will get new kernels, but they will be on an ear on a tall stalk. If we are praying for a harvest, it may come in ways and shapes and circumstances that will surprise, or even mystify us. Often, we pray for what we imagine we could do– instead, we need to learn to ask for what only God can do!
We cannot control the harvest– we can plant the seeds, fertilize them, tend them, weed them, water them, prune them–but we cannot predict or guarantee the results. But if we do nothing, we will not see any harvest at all. Similarly, we do not control God’s answers to our prayers, but we will see no growth, no harvest, if we do not pray at all, or if we give up.
Harvest is gathering the crop (and the seeds for a new crop). We need to gather prayer requests, thanksgiving lists, areas of conviction, songs of praise; we need to present a bountiful harvest of prayer–an offering and a fragrant sacrifice to the giver of all good things!
Last Friday, I attended a high school football game in my home town. It was homecoming, complete with floats and balloons, face paint, and screaming fans (myself included).
My hometown team is having a fantastic season so far– their record is 6 and 0, and they are winning by wide margins each week. I’m a little biased, not only since this is my home town, but because I have a nephew and a cousin on the team! They have already qualified for a spot in the playoffs for their division, and they have dreams of becoming state champions.
I hope they make it. I pray that they will play their best; that they will stay safe and healthy, too. I want them to win, and I think they have a good chance. But the season’s not over yet. They still have to play a couple of tough teams in the regular season, and they will face stiff competition in the playoffs.
As good as they have been so far, the teammates and coaches will still drill, train, and learn how to adjust the way they play based on whatever the next game throw at them. Next week’s team may be better at passing, or rushing. Their players may be bigger, or more agile, or more experienced than others. The weather conditions may play a bigger role next week.
All that to say that we all go through seasons– sometimes even “winning” seasons– and each one requires that we prepare, work, train, and persevere until the season is over. Some of us are facing a season of trials and losses–we’re waiting and hoping for the season to end. And it will. But the season’s not over yet. Stay in the game– keep praying, keep training, and keep believing that there will be a new season of hope. Some of us are in a season of victory! That’s great, but the season’s not over yet. Stay focused– keep training and preparing, and learning, knowing that there will come a season of trial. Some of us are watching others in their success–but the season’s not over yet. Stop comparing– reach out and connect. Show respect; show compassion.
This is true in all areas of life– there are seasons in our education, seasons in parenting and relationships, seasons in our careers and service, seasons in politics, economics, and even in our faith walk. And in every season, God is there. Like a proud parent or an ardent fan, He is cheering you on; like a great coach, He gives guidance and instruction; like a cherished teammate, He has your back. In all of this, God roots for all His children– not that some will “win” and others will “lose”, but that all will learn to play their very best and become “victors”.
No matter what kind of season we are in, or where we are in our season, we should remember a few things:
Life is both an individual and a team activity. None of us can “win” on our own, nor can we expect the team to “carry” us to victory without any effort on our part.
We can’t see the end from the beginning (or even the middle). But God can. And we can trust His guidance and His timing, even if we don’t see the whole picture.
God goes not see “winning” and “losing” in the same way the world judges it. What looks like “winning” to us may be superficial and false. What feels like losing may be building a Godly character that will overshadow the temporary struggles of this season.
Seasons come and go, but not everyone experiences them the same way or at the same time. In other words, don’t compare your winning swim season to someone else’s losing soccer season, or your dry summer to someone else’s monsoon season. Instead, focus on your own season and your own growth. Don’t close yourself off to others– you may have an opportunity to give or accept help, advice, training, and encouragement along the way–but don’t let others become more powerful (or less worthy of respect) than they really are.
At the end of the “season”, if we know Jesus Christ, we will share in the ultimate victory. The celebration that occurs over each person who comes to Christ makes any celebration here on earth seem dull and timid–no amount of parade floats, lights, fireworks, screaming fans, balloons, or other excitement can compare to the joy of welcoming a lost soul into the Kingdom of Heaven.
The air is different.
Scented with readiness…
The birds are restless of wing;
Apples hang heavy
As people and days
Move a little faster.
Anticipating the season;
Bringing in the harvest
Preparing to face
The cold gray of winter.
This short burst of color–
This cacophony of bird chatter
And swinging scythes–
Will give way to moaning winds
And skeletal branches reaching out
To empty skies.
Autumn is coming– you can feel it in the air and start to see it on the trees here. It’s coming on to “sweater” weather. Football, the smell of vineyards heavy with grapes and orchards filled with apples and pears. Gardeners and farmers are tripping over pumpkins and squash, and preparing to bring in the corn, wheat, and beans. Squirrels are starting to zip about and look for nuts and seeds to store.
There is a sense of urgency about this time of year– the harvest is ready to bring in; it will not wait for a more convenient moment. Preparations for the coming winter must be completed while the good weather holds.
There is also a sense of completion and evaluation. We look back at the summer with longing–did we make the most of sunny days and delayed sunsets? Did we bring in a bumper crop? And we look forward with a little anxiety– are we ready to weather the biting winds and bleak days ahead?
God has given us seasons– where I live, there are dramatic changes from summer to autumn– in other regions, there are changes from rainy season to dry season. Each change gives us time to pause and notice where we have been and where we are headed.
The same is true in our personal lives– we go through seasons of change. Children grow to adulthood; young parents become empty-nesters (eventually); hectic days at the office give way to days at the doctor’s office; bank accounts and circles of friends grow or shrink.
In every season, we should give thanks– for health, youth, and wisdom, as well as trials that refine us, and discipline that shapes us.
Back in the 1960s, Pete Seeger “wrote” a new folk song, later recorded by a group called The Byrds. All but the title and the last six words of the song were taken directly (though the word order was changed) from the book of Ecclesiastes. Essentially, Pete Seeger wrote seven words and some music; the rest was written by King Solomon almost three thousand years ago! Learn more about the song here…
When God created the world, he instituted times and seasons– day and night; winter and summer; weeks and months. We are bound by time while we live here. Sunlight and darkness help determine when we are active or sleeping (less so since the advent of electric lighting); summer and winter (or rainy/dry seasons) determine when we plant or harvest, what we wear, how we travel, and what activities we plan.
But Solomon reminds us that there are also “seasons” that don’t depend on the weather or the amount of light filling the horizon. There is a time to be born and a time to die; a time for laughter and a time for weeping; a time for war and a time for peace. Our world is not static– it is filled with changes, and times for turning away from one thing and facing another.
Our prayers will change with these seasons– prayers of wonder and prayers of wondering why; prayers of great boldness and reluctant, halting prayers; prayers that come from joy, and those that come with wracking grief. There will be seasons of chaotic busyness, and seasons of loneliness and long hours; seasons when we help lift the burdens of others before our own, and seasons where others help us lift burdens we cannot bear alone. There will be seasons of fierce, pounding spiritual warfare, and seasons of relative peace and rest.
Solomon lays out the concept, but I like Pete Seeger’s addition of the phrase, “turn, turn, turn.” It reminds me that the seasons of my life will change, but I need to change as well. I need to turn, first of all, to see where God is working in my life and the lives of others– that’s where I need to be and where I need to be focused. God will never leave me nor forsake me, but He loves me too much to “leave” me in a rut– He needs me to move on and finish the race He has set out for me. Change can be difficult, but without it, there is no growth!
Second, I need to turn from habits and activities that are “out of season”–young parents will have a completely different way of mapping out their time, including time for prayer and Bible study, than empty-nesters. People in mourning will have a different approach to prayer and worship than those who are in a season of celebration. There is a season to break down–to end bad relationships and turn from bad habits–and a time to build up healthy relationships and habits. There is a time to speak– to share prayer requests and spend time in corporate prayer; to ask questions and persist in our requests. But there is also a time to stay silent– to meditate and listen more than we talk; to be still and know, instead of pace and ponder. I don’t wear a heavy coat in the middle of summer or run barefoot in the snow– I need to turn in alignment with the season I am passing through.
Finally, I need to turn away from temptation and sin. God gives me the power, through His Spirit, to turn and walk away from the quicksand of complaisance, the tidal waves of desire, the live wire of unchecked rage, or the bottomless pit of envy, but I must turn away from them.
This life is full of seasons and change– some good, some dangerous. But God is outside of time and seasons. He provides endless variety, but He never changes His essential nature. No matter where we turn, He can be found!