Last week was a brisk one for Northern Ireland with unseasonably cold temperatures of -2 degrees Celsius (or 28 for our Fahrenheit friends), heavy frosts and dustings of snow. I felt quite at home since we were watching all the Facebook posts from our friends getting beautiful blankets of snow in Western Washington. But it was my last chance to get flower bulbs in the ground before spring so I donned my warm Carhart bibs, oversized barn coat, and some gardening gloves. As I am not yet familiar with the garden at our new house, I had to try a few locations before finding suitable places for the bulbs to go. Fortunately I was at the early side of the frosty temperatures so I didn’t have to dig far to get below the frost. I do not garden a lot, but enough that I often find myself thinking of Biblical parallels or the parables that Jesus taught while I am working the ground. Humanity started in a garden and all throughout scripture we see God use gardens, trees, and plants as imagery for his Kingdom.
I began thinking about several things while I was planting these lovely bulbs of tulips, daffodils, ranunculus, and a few others. The thing about planting bulbs is that they are not very exciting to plant. One of the things I enjoy most about gardening is the instant gratification of seeing beautiful flowering plants tucked into their new homes, cheering up a once vacant and boring place. But bulbs are different, they have to winter over in the cold ground before they bloom. They are not like seeds that germinate in a matter of days. You plant bulbs and then can not even tell where you put them! The soil settles back into its place and there’s nothing to show for your cold, hard digging. But this is the required process for a beautiful spring bounty of flowers. And I began to think about a word that was shared with us prior to our move. A trusted leader told us that we would be coming to Northern Ireland in a (spiritual) winter season and it would be some time before we began to see the fruits of our labor; so we were not to get discouraged but to settle in to do the work because the harvest will come. The process of planting the bulbs so beautifully illustrated this word for me. Here I was digging into cold, hard soil, toiling against rocks and old roots from bigger shrubs for a “harvest” that wouldn’t be seen for months.
I started to reflect on the church that we left in Washington and the amazing ways God is moving and working in and through the leaders of that church. I guess there was a part of me that felt like I was missing out. Since moving here, life has been slower, and had a completely different focus than before moving. But immediately the Lord spoke to me about this. He said, “They [the leaders of the church] have had their winter season. They toiled for years with seemingly little fruit to show. Their winter was cold and hard, this is now their season of growth and harvest. Celebrate their harvest time, yours will come in time” And just like it is winter in the northern hemisphere, it is Summer in the southern hemisphere! We are all in a season, but not everyone is in the same season. For a time, we shared in the growing and harvesting season with our Apostles and friends, but it was time to move to a different hemisphere and enter a new season.
No two seasons can be compared or competed with. A farmer in Australia could not tell a farmer in Northern Ireland what to be doing with his fields right now because the seasons are not aligned. But even winter is critical for the planting and growing process. Winter is when the ground rests, or a cover crop is planted to enrich the soil in the spring. Bulbs winter over to be activated at the right time. In some cases, the cold kills off bacteria and insects in the soil that can wipe out entire crops. Winter is also an important pruning time for fruit trees. Because the trees go into a deep sleep, so to speak, they are not putting forth the energy into growing, so pruning can be done more effectively; and pruning is essential for keeping a fruit-bearing tree healthy and productive.
So what does this have to do with you or me? Every person will go through seasons throughout their life. Some seasons will be these cold hard winters where it feels like every thrust of the shovel is fighting against ice and rocks. It might seem as though you have nothing to show for your hard work. Everything might look dark and barren. You might not even be able to do much work. But don’t waste this time. If you are in the winter season, don’t despair. This is an essential time in your life to allow the Lord to prune you, enrich you, and prepare you for the blossom of spring. When we read about the parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 it’s tempting to think, “Of course I am the good soil!” and we may even find ourselves judging others as the rocky, or shallow soils. But you know what is amazing about soil? Every soil type that is described in this parable can be amended. Rocks can be removed, hard soil can be watered and worked, weeds can be pulled. And do you know when a farmer is going to be preparing this soil for planting? In the winter, before planting season starts. We can be all of those soil types in different areas of our hearts. Some areas we are soft, rich, deep soil ready for whatever God wants to plant in us. But other areas can be rocky, shallow, thorny, and dry. It takes a season with the Lord to allow him to work out those things so that what was once inhospitable soil to seeds can become good soil for His word.
Do not judge others for the season they are in. It might look like there’s nothing happening, but deep under the ground a beautiful flower is waiting to blossom. Celebrate others who are in lush summer pastures, or bountiful fall harvests. Your time will come if you are faithful to sow and allow the Lord to work in your heart.
This winter season has felt slow and not very productive in ministry terms. But this is the season we are in right now. Thank you to everyone who is continuing to sow into us and into this land. We are learning more and more that Northern Ireland has a deep heritage of Christianity. And while religion has thrown its rocks and thorns to the earth, the water runs deep, and the soil is good. We will see this land amended and it will be a mighty harvest that will spill over into the rest of Europe. Thank you for joining us in this sowing. The harvest is coming!
Oh! And Merry Christmas!