Let The Light Shine

Recently, a young daughter broke her mom’s favorite mug. The little girl knew the mug was special to her mother for sentimental reasons. Anxious to remedy the problem, the daughter broke out the scotch tape and began painstakingly putting the broken pieces back together before her mom found out what had happened. When she was finished, the little girl went to her mom and told her about the accident. 

“But,” she quickly added, “I fixed it for you!” With that, she handed her mother the taped-together mug with a hopeful look in her eyes. Her mom, though disappointed at the loss of her favorite mug, was touched by her daughter’s efforts, and thanked her for telling the truth and attempt at putting it back together. However, her daughter wasn’t finished.

“It’s good as new!”, the little girl insisted. “Go ahead, try it out!” After several attempts at dissuading what she knew would be a failed experiment, Mom finally gave in and went to the sink. Her daughter eagerly followed, climbed onto a kitchen stool, turned on the tap, and waited for her mom to fill the mug with water.

Just as Mom knew would happen, almost as quickly as the water was poured into the cup, it started to seep out from the cracks. The little girl’s face fell and she started to cry, dismayed that her attempt to fix the brokenness had failed. That’s when Mom reached out, lifted her chin, and motioned to her daughter to watch what she was about to do. Slowly, Mom moved the steadily-dripping mug over the houseplant that lived on their kitchen counter. As the water began to drip into the dirt, she told her daughter this important truth:

“When there are no cracks, it keeps whatever’s inside, inside. But sometimes, what’s inside needs to be let out so it can be shared.

You’ve probably heard this famous phrase before: “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” But I want to challenge you to take that idea one step further. It’s true, cracks can let light in. But they can also let light out!

We’re standing at a crossroads in history. We’re not just cracked – we’re broken. Humanity is broken. Our nation is broken. We as individuals, equally convicted before the cross, are each broken without the redemptive power, grace, love, and mercy of Jesus Christ.

The good news for all of us is this: God is neither fazed nor surprised by broken things.

When we choose redemption, and all that comes with it – a pursuit of biblical justice, a love of biblical mercy, and a walk with God that models biblical humility, according to Micah 6:8 – the Lord is gracious and good in piecing us back together. The Author of salvation has declared that He will one day make all things new (Revelation 21:5). There will be no more brokenness. Hallelujah, what a day that will be! But in the meantime, may He leave a few cracks in our “façade”. Because we’re ambassadors of the Gospel message until the day that Christ – the Light of the world – returns. And those cracks are not only how the Light gets in to our lives. Those cracks are how the Light gets out. So let the Light shine!

Be The Church

You don’t have to be a long-time Christian to know what the phrase “be the Church” implies. It’s come to represent ideals of compassion, grace, and mercy. “Be the Church” isn’t simply a saying, but a verb. To be the Church is to take action for the good of others.

The first generation of Christians knew this well. Acts 2:41-47 tells the story of the early Church following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to Heaven: 

41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. 46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”

Those first several verses talk about what the apostles did amongst themselves. But in verse 45, we see the focus of this new Church shift outward. In one sentence, the talk – all they had read and learned – becomes the walk, as they now begin to put the words into practice. The mandate that Jesus had left behind, to love God and to love each other, now becomes the mission of the early Church. See, this first generation of Christ-followers quickly recognized that whatever they did together when they met inside the temple courts was meaningless, unless it was followed by action outside their walls. 

We’re standing at the threshold of a unique moment in our world’s history. I’ve heard a lot of people say that moving forward, we’ll refer to life as “pre-COVID-19” and “post-COVID-19”, and I don’t see that as a bad thing! We’ve been given a brand new opportunity to “be the Church” with skin on, not just to one particular population or group of people, but to an entire globe that’s desperate for the hope only God can provide. Friends, we can’t go back, and praise God for that! The specifics of our mission-field may look different now and in the coming months and years than they did even at the beginning of 2020, but the mandate remains the same. God’s given us an opportunity to be the Church, and to bring love in action to the hurting. 

Who is God prompting you to “be the Church” to in this season? Write down their name(s). Then pray over those who God’s put on your heart, and ask Him to reveal ways that you can demonstrate the love of Christ to them. If you commit to making the mandate of Jesus your personal mission, I can promise that it won’t only change the lives of those you’re seeking to bless – it will change your life, too! 

Plot Twist

As of this writing, due to the CoVid19 pandemic, the whole world’s hunkered down at home, most likely watching more Amazon Video, Hulu, and old movies than ever! And when it comes to watching movies, if you’re anything like me, you probably love a good plot twist. Those of us who are a little more “seasoned” might remember the original 1960s Planet Of The Apes, when the (plot twist!) last astronaut comes across the remnants of the Statue of Liberty, and we realize they’ve been on Earth all along. Or how about one of the most iconic lines in cinematic history, mimicked by every one of us at one time or another by cupping our hands to our mouth, and in our best (plot twist!) Darth Vader impression, boomed, “Luke, I am your father!”?

Easter is the story of the greatest “plot twist” the world has ever seen! Put yourself in Mary Magdalene’s shoes as she goes to visit Jesus’ tomb, three days after watching someone she dearly loved suffer the most excruciating death imaginable on the cross. She’s had three days to grieve the loss of the One who was supposed to save the Jewish people. Three days to process the fact that she really did witness Him take His final breath. Three days to let it sink in that He is truly… dead. And now, it’s time to pay her respects and say her final goodbye.

PLOT TWIST: The tomb was empty. In John 20, we read that when Mary arrived at the tomb that morning, while it was still dark, she saw the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran to tell someone and came upon Peter and one of the other disciples. Picture Mary, breathless, exclaiming to Peter, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” (John 20:2). And Peter, internally processing what he’s just heard, immediately runs to the tomb to find nothing but empty linens, just as Mary had told him. Verse 9 tells us that at this point, neither Mary nor the disciples knew what the Scriptures said: that Jesus would rise from the dead. When they saw that empty tomb, they were thrown into a “plot twist” they never saw coming – and they had no idea how it would turn out. 

We’re living in unprecedented times right now. Much of the world is on lockdown. Scientists are scrambling to care for the sick, develop vaccines, and save lives. “Social distancing” is the emerging phrase of 2020, as across America and the world, people are self-isolating in their homes in an effort to protect those most vulnerable. It comes at a time when Christians everywhere would normally be preparing to observe the events of Holy Week, and to gather in celebration on Easter Sunday. Instead, many churches have gone online in order to comply with public gathering restrictions. To say these last few weeks have been a plot twist that we never saw coming is an understatement! 

Yet here in the Easter story, we’re reminded that the biggest plot twist in human history turned out to be the biggest comeback in human history. We have an advantage the disciples didn’t: we know how the story ends. And here’s a hint… for Christ-followers, it ends in victory.

As we read on through John 20, we ultimately see Jesus reveal Himself to both Mary and His disciples later that same day. He doesn’t leave the ones He loves hanging. My friends: He hasn’t left us hanging. Not before. Not now. Not ever. The Son of God rose from the grave, defeated death, and bridged the gap between us and God, and no earthly power can ever take that away. Don’t use current circumstances as an excuse to minimize the meaning of Easter, but let current circumstances be the reason you celebrate more victoriously than ever before. Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!

Love Is For Losers

I hate love. I’m not talking about the “love” that appears around Valentine’s Day every year in the form of Hallmark cards and flower bouquets and heart-shaped boxes of candy. Or the “love” that puts butterflies in your stomach in those early days of dating and keeps you awake at night thinking about the other person. I’m not even talking about the “love” you feel on your wedding anniversary as you clink glasses in a toast and celebrate another milestone with a fancy dinner or jewelry or an all-inclusive trip to Bermuda (without the kids, no less!). Chocolates, gifts, romantic bliss? Who wouldn’t love those things?!

No…the “love” I’m talking about is real love. The kind that requires sacrifice on my part. The kind that involves me doing things I don’t necessarily feel like doing. If I’m being honest with myself, I hate love because it requires me to lose

When it comes to love, Jesus was the ultimate loser. Hear me out. Jesus — the Savior of the world, the bridge between God and us, the only One to ever live a perfect and sinless life on earth — literally lost His life on our behalf. And just because He didn’t sin, it doesn’t mean that He didn’t feel afraid. In His final hours, He begged God to find another way. In His final minutes, He asked His Father why He had forsaken His Son. And yet, with His final breath, Jesus prayed that the Lord would forgive those who were about to kill Him.

The reality is that often, love is less about the roses and more about the thorns. That was literally true for Jesus as soldiers placed a crown of thorns on His head before they drove nails through His body. Even as He hung dying, Jesus forgave those who hated Him most. If that’s not real love, I don’t know what is.

Before He was arrested and crucified, Jesus taught His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). Jesus was telling them — and us — that to love means losing our own agenda. To love means putting the needs of others above our own. And sometimes, to love even means making the ultimate sacrifice by laying down our own life. 

Who is God calling you to love — and how’s He asking you to do it? Is it your own spouse, who’s closed themselves off to you after so many years of emotional distance? Maybe it’s your child, who’s heading down a bad path in life and needs you to love them in spite of their decisions. It might look like forgiveness for a friend who’s wronged you in the past but doesn’t even know they need forgiving. And what about those who we’ve never even met but who are in desperate need of the good news of the Gospel? The homeless, the addicted, the mentally ill, the diseased… the one whom society deems “unlovable”?

If love is for losers, then I want to be a loser! So my prayer for each of us, is that we’d ask that God open our eyes to loving others by losing ourselves. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:9-11)

Spiritual Pot Roast

There’s a story about a newlywed couple who cooked one of their first meals together as husband and wife. The young woman had chosen to make an old family recipe — pot roast — and she wanted it to be just perfect. When everything was ready, she pulled the pan out of the oven and cut both ends off the meat. Her husband, noticing this, asked, “Why did you cut the ends off? Does it make it taste better?” The young woman replied, “I don’t know. That’s the way my mother always did it.”

The next day, the new wife was visiting her mom and remembered her husband’s question from the night before. She asked her mom, “When you make pot roast, why do you cut the ends off? Does it make it taste better?” Her mother thought for a moment and then replied, “I don’t know. That’s the way my mother always did it. Why don’t you ask your grandma? It’s her recipe.” 

 “Grandma,” she asked during that call, “When you make pot roast, why do you cut the ends off? Does it make it taste better?”

There was a pause on the other end of the line, and then her grandmother answered, “When your mother was a little girl, we only had a small oven, and the pot roast wouldn’t fit unless I cut the ends off.” 

The moral of the story: Sometimes, we get in the habit of doing things a certain way because, well, it’s the way we’ve always done them! Whether it’s cutting the ends off the pot roast or carrying on some other pattern, routine, or family tradition, we’re creatures of habit — we thrive on familiarity. There’s comfort in predictability, because we can anticipate what comes next. Sometimes, though, sticking to the ol’ “tried and true” can hurt us. We might continue our substance abuse rather than seeking help. We may rack up financial debt instead of building our savings. Or the fitness plan we committed to on New Year’s Day is a distant memory as we settle back into work and school (and suddenly Netflix looks a lot more appealing than the treadmill!). Doing things the way we’ve always done them feels a lot easier than starting from scratch. 

It’s the same way in our spiritual lives. When it comes to our relationship with God, it’s easy to find ourselves sticking to familiar habits and miss out on rediscovering Him each day with fresh eyes and a fresh heart. Whether it’s attending church on the weekends just to check it off our to-do list, or our prayer life only consisting of a quick “grace” we say at dinner, we can get caught up in the routine and forget what it means to worship. When did you last make Him not just A priority, but THE priority? When did you last let yourself feel awestruck by His grace? When did you last set aside time just to sit in His presence? If your answer is “today”, then wonderful, keep it up! But if not, what could you do differently to make that happen?

The start of a new year is always a good opportunity to take stock of life – to celebrate our growth in certain areas, and to acknowledge room for improvement in other areas. But the key to our spiritual life is that there’s always room for improvement! We can never “finish” growing in God. What’s your next step? Maybe it’s downloading a Bible reading plan on your phone, setting your alarm ten minutes earlier so you can have morning prayer time, joining a small group, or becoming part of a serve team at church. Let’s commit this year to relationship over ritual, and to trading in our busyness for His holiness.

Throwing Stones

We’ve all heard the saying, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” But recently, I’ve been reflecting more deeply on the origins of that phrase. In John 8, we find Jesus teaching in the temple in Jerusalem. The scribes and the Pharisees have brought before Him a woman who’s been caught in the act of adultery. They remind Him that according to the Law of Moses, this is a fatal sin, for which the punishment is death by stoning. And then they stand back and ask, “But what do You say?” This isn’t the first time the religious leaders have attempted to catch Jesus in a contradiction, a flagrant violation of the Law, an act of outright religious heresy. And when He doesn’t take the bait, they put it to Him again. Like vultures circling their prey, they push relentlessly, until finally Jesus utters those familiar words: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”

Scripture tells us that “those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one.” (John 8:9, NKJV) With only Jesus and the adulterous woman remaining, He looks at her and asks, “Has no one condemned you?” She replies, “No one, Lord.” And with that, Jesus releases her with the parting words, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

It’s easy to look at this exchange as merely a “teachable moment”. We have a tendency to interpret the moral of the story as, “We’re all guilty. None of us can condemn one another because none of us are perfect. We’re all flawed sinners and we’ve all missed the mark.” And that’s absolutely true!  

But the lesson doesn’t end there. You see, we must remember that there WAS someone there that day who could have thrown the stone. In fact, it was the the same someone who uttered that phrase which caused everybody else to walk away. Jesus was without sin. Flawless in every way. He could have cast the stone. But He didn’t.

As much as this story is about suspending judgment, it’s even more about the incredible forgiveness of our God. Like the woman, each of us who have accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior were, at a moment in time, brought before Him for judgment. Like the woman, we had been caught red-handed in our sin, guilty of the ultimate punishment – death. And like the woman, we experienced the freedom He handed us when He chose to forgive us instead of picking up the stone, and told us through His actions on the cross: “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” 

As Thanksgiving and Christmas draw near, we head into a season that’s both joyful and painful, depending on your circumstances. Holidays, homecomings, festivities, fun, love, laughter, are replaced for many by bittersweet memories, by the grief of lost loved ones, by fractures in families, by broken relationships, by job loss or health problems, by anger and heartache. The celebrations can be minimized by the chaos of the season. Tempers flare, and we’re quick to speak without thinking. It’s easy to get snappy with one another (Road rage in the mall parking lot, anyone?!) and to judge each other’s experience.

My prayer is this, not only for the coming holiday season, but for each day: in those moments where we find ourselves tempted to lounge in the seat of judgment toward others, may we remember the mercy and forgiveness that Jesus Christ first showed us. May we realize that He could have “picked up a rock” and condemned mankind for all eternity, but He didn’t. And when faced with the choice to throw stones or to offer forgiveness, may we reflect the greatest act of love the world has ever known.

Do The Math

Someone’s son recently started first grade, and he’s learning simple addition and subtraction. After the first week of school, he came home upset, calling his teacher “mean” and saying he didn’t want to go back to his class. His dad was understandably concerned and asked his son what had happened. The boy informed his dad that his teacher had asked him, “If you have six toys and I take away four toys, how many toys do you have left?” 

Well, dad knew his boy was good at subtraction and could answer the math problem correctly. Confused, he asked, “Why did that upset you? Did you tell her the answer was two?”

His son jutted out his lip and his eyes filled with tears as he exclaimed, “No! I told her I didn’t want her to take ANY of my toys! I like when I get more added, Daddy, but I hate when they get taken away!”

We can all relate to that little guy on some level, can’t we? We like when good things get added to our lives, but it’s a different story when they get taken away. And when it comes to our relationship with God, we find it easy to praise Him in the “addition” – but it’s a different story in the “subtraction”.

In Scripture, Job understood the sharp contrast of gain and loss better than just about anybody. Known as a man who was “fearless and upright, feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1), Job had ten children, as well as thousands of sheep, camels, oxen, and donkeys. He was considered the greatest of people in the region. He had it all.

But one day the devil came to God and challenged Him, telling the Lord that Job was only faithful to Him because God protected him and his family. So God allowed Satan to put Job’s faith to the test by destroying anything and everything that mattered to him. He lost his animals. His servants were murdered. His children were killed by invaders and natural disasters. And he himself was afflicted by excruciatingly painful sores all over his body.

Job’s incredible response? “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)

Don’t get me wrong, Job had his moments of doubt. In fact, we spend the next 40 chapters reading about his cries of desperation to the Lord. But at the end of it all, after his back-and-forth dialogue with God, Job ultimately declares, “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.” (Job 42:2)

Job knew that in the best times of his life, God was worthy of being praised. And Job knew that in the worst times of his life, God was worthy of being praised. God’s goodness isn’t determined by our circumstances — it’s determined by His character. Even when the situation isn’t good, He always is.

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to my spiritual maturity, I don’t want to be a “first grader” who delights in the Lord when I’m experiencing blessing, but has a complete meltdown when it’s taken away. I want to be wise like Job, praising God as I journey through this life both on the mountaintops and in the valleys. At times Job questioned his situation, even wishing he was never born because the pain seemed too much for him to handle. In the end, though, he came back to the place where he started – the realization that the Father is still good.

It’s okay to question our suffering. God’s strong enough to handle our doubt. But when it’s all said and done, if we “do the math” correctly, we see time and time again that even in the seasons where it looks like God’s subtracting things from our life, He’s actually adding more, beyond what we can see or understand in our limited earthly perspective.

That first grader’s father had a heart-to-heart with his son that night, and the next day, the boy returned to school and apologized to his teacher for his outburst. He said to her in his cute little six year old way, “I shouldn’t have gotten so mad. You’re the teacher. You’re trying to teach me something. I’m ready to listen!”

In times of our adversity, when we question our circumstances, may we each have the wisdom and the spiritual maturity to look to our Heavenly Father and say, “You’re the Teacher. You’re trying to teach me something. I’m ready to listen!”

The Fifth Of July

What’s the first thought that pops into your head when you hear the phrase, “Fourth of July”? For me, it’s two words: “sacrifice” and “freedom”. There’s first and foremost a reverence about Independence Day that comes with remembering the men and women who went before us, many of whom paid the ultimate price, to make – and keep – our country what it is: free. But the Fourth of July’s a time for celebration, too – a chance to enjoy the abundant privileges of life in this Land Of The Free. I don’t know that there’s any day of the year that better focuses our hearts on gratitude, respect, and appreciation for both sacrifice and freedom, than July 4th.

But this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the FIFTH of July. We set aside a day (and rightfully so) to intentionally remember and revel in an event of great magnitude. Our whole country stops and collectively basks in the enormity of the occasion. We CELEBRATE! But what about when the day’s over? When the parades are finished, the fireworks have all been lit, and the last refrain of “God Bless America” has been sung? For most of us, we’ll wake up on July 5th, and it’ll be back to business as usual, the festivities of the previous day already no more than a memory on Instagram.

The day we decided to proclaim Jesus as our Lord and Savior, to ask forgiveness for our sins, to accept His free gift of salvation…that day was our spiritual “Fourth of July”. We saw life through a new lens of freedom for the first time – freedom bought at a price, paid for by Someone else’s sacrifice – and it made us want to live differently from that day forward. On that day, we stood on the proverbial mountaintop, and the joy and gratitude we felt could probably be seen and heard by everyone around us because we just couldn’t contain our excitement! Over time, though, those “peak” experiences fade; the trials and tribulations of life in a broken world start to wear and tear at the euphoria we first experienced on that glorious day when we became part of God’s family forever. Temptation draws our eyes away from our Savior and back to our circumstances. And like he always does, the enemy comes barging in to crash the party. Eventually, our spiritual “Fourth of July” fades, and our spiritual “Fifth of July” becomes just another, ordinary day. 

But what would happen if we chose to live the same way on the Fifth as we do on the Fourth? With hearts intentionally full of reverence for the sacrifices made on our behalf, full of gratitude for the blessings and privileges we enjoy on a daily basis, and full of joy that comes from living in freedom not one day of the year, but every day of our lives? 

Let’s challenge ourselves this FIFTH of July to wake up with the same deliberate sense of gratitude we felt the day before – not only for our temporary homeland here on earth, but for our eternal Home in Heaven with our Father. Let’s celebrate the victory that Jesus won on our behalf 2000 years ago, when He paid the price for us to become children of the Most High God. And let’s live on purpose for a purpose, knowing that we’ve been given the gift of true freedom in Christ – a freedom we’ll celebrate not for one day, but for all of eternity!

Four Gardens

Here in America, certain symbols signify the approach of Easter. Marshmallow peeps and chocolate bunnies abound. Parents scour the stores for kids’ matching outfits and toys to fill Easter baskets. We dye eggs and prepare big family dinners. But this season, the symbol I’ve found myself reflecting on is gardens. Not just any gardens, but four particular gardens. From the literal beginning of time, God’s made gardens a critical part of His story – and of ours.

It was in a garden paradise called Eden where God placed Adam and Eve, formed in His image, and He called His creation “good” (Genesis 2). He gave them all they could ever ask for, including a gift called the Tree of Life. Yet they still went searching for more, and in doing so they sent all of humanity spiraling into a life of sin from which we could never break free on our own. So God made a plan that He’d one day send His own Son to sacrifice Himself for us – to pay a debt He never owed, because we owed a debt we could never pay.

Fast forward through history, to one momentous night on the outskirts of Jerusalem. It was in the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed right before He was arrested, and He begged His Father to change the plan (Matthew 26). We spend so much time focusing on Jesus’ perfect life, His sinless nature, His divinity, that we dismiss His humanity. We forget that He felt all the same emotions we feel, and that up to the last moment, He didn’t want to die. He asked God if there was any other way to carry out His plan to save mankind. But in the end, He accepted that He was the Plan – and that it was the will of God for Him to lay down His life.

It’s here that I often feel the urge to rush ahead to the third garden. See, I hate dwelling on the second garden. I hate realizing that I’m the reason Jesus agonized in Gethsemane, weeping with sorrow and begging for His life. I hate knowing that it was my sin that took Him from that garden all the way to the cross. But in order to fully appreciate the resurrection, we first need to grieve the crucifixion. We’ve got to recognize the weight of what He did for us before we can celebrate the burden He’s lifted from us.

Three days later, it was in the garden tomb near Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified, that He rose in triumph over death (John 19). Jesus took our sin to the grave when He died. I can’t imagine what those three days were like for Him. But every day I reap the rewards of His victory. It’s because of His death that my sin’s been buried forever. And it’s because of His resurrection that I’ve been given eternal life.

Which brings us to the fourth garden – my favorite one of all. It’s in the very last chapter in the very last book of the Bible that we read about the same Tree of Life that was in the Garden of Eden, only now it’s in God’s paradise, not the world’s (Revelation 22). That chapter tells us that the curse of death is gone, and that we, His servants, will worship Him forever. The story’s come full circle. The conclusion’s been re-written. The Lord, in all His glory, took what was destroyed in the beginning and redeemed it in the end – the same way He’s redeemed you and me.

This Easter, I’d like to invite you to take a walk in the Four Gardens. And as you do, may you worship the Gardener who planted each one, knowing that because of Him, your story’s been re-written!

“He is not here; He is risen, just as He said.” -Matthew 28:6

Waiting For Spring

Have you ever had a garden with perennials (plants that “come back” each year)? If so, then you know that a perennial plant’s life cycle revolves around the seasons — and that when winter comes, the plant enters a period of dormancy. It sheds its leaves and retreats into a kind of hibernation to protect itself against the cold. This season of inactivity is key to the plant’s later survival (revival) in springtime. Some would even call this dormancy a time of rest. 

But even though the plant’s gone dormant for a season, the gardener doesn’t stop nurturing its growth. Instead, they continue to care for it in preparation of what’s coming. During the cold winter, the gardener will break up the ground surrounding the dormant plant, just so the soil doesn’t “permanently harden”. Then, when the first new buds appear but aren’t yet in full bloom, the gardener feeds and waters it. And sometimes, the gardener has to submit the plant to the painful process of having its branches pruned so that it can produce more healthy fruit later.

As believers, it can often feel like our spiritual life goes through “dormant” seasons because we can’t see new growth taking place. We might retreat into a hibernation of our own in our walk with Christ, feeling distant and isolated from Him. Sometimes all we can see is the long winter that lies ahead of us, and where we were previously blooming with joy and enthusiasm in our relationship with the Lord, our spiritual growth now feels stunted. But God – the Gardener – knows the process that’s taking place under the surface. He understands that faith is a growing process. And so, he continues to pour into His beloved plants – you and me, His children – providing us with the nourishment of His Word and the Holy Spirit and patiently waiting for us to respond again in our coming “spiritual springtime”. And yes, sometimes that means pruning us too, even when it’s painful, because He wants us to bloom and bear more healthy fruit in the end.

See, even as the plant can’t see beyond the dormant season, the Gardener is aware of what lies ahead. While the plant’s busy just trying to survive the winter, the Gardener’s delighting in the knowledge of what’s coming in the spring. And when the growing season begins and the plant bursts forth in full bloom and the Gardener sees the result of all of His patient love and care, He stands back, looks it up and down with great pride and joy, and declares that springtime has arrived once more.