The family had an interesting learning experience last spring. We purchased and planted a variety of bulbs: blue hyacinth, paper whites, and a red amaryllis. Our children thought the pictures on the boxes looked so pretty and could hardly wait to get home to open them. “But where are the flowers” they cried in dismay when they saw a plastic pot, soil and some brown lumps that resembled onions with roots on them. They were intrigued with the explanation of the requirements of soil, water, light and air and happily joined in the planting. There was more disappointment when flowers did not appear a few days later. One child in an attempt to hurry things along had over watered, flooding both pot and floor. Discovering the process would take time and that patience was needed, the children moved their attention to something that would provide instant gratification.
Once little shoots broke through the surface of the soil, however, interest was renewed. As a family we watched the growth on a daily basis and were all thrilled when the plants blossomed, producing beautiful flowers. The exercise had provided an opportunity not only to teach the children one of the wonders of God’s creation, but also that things happen in His good time.
The Lord Jesus taught his disciples in a similar way, using everyday events to open up areas of profound import. Matthew 13 provides an excellent example of this. Seven parables use natural occurrences to develop spiritual awareness: the sower, tares, mustard seed, leaven, hidden treasure, pearl and a drag net, all teach aspects of the kingdom.
Of the many scriptures that refer to the kingdom, the following are especially beloved: “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing…Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert…And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots…The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them…” (Is. 35:1-2, 5-6, 11:1, 6).
These lovely passages, like the pictures on the bulb box covers, give a graphic illustration of glories to come. Our challenge as brethren and sisters is to keep the picture of the kingdom focused sharply in our minds. We can become impatient and weary of waiting for the Lord and shift our attention to the seemingly fascinating and interesting things the world has to offer.
Taking our cue from Jeremiah, let us imagine that we are containers made from the dust of the earth and fashioned by the master potter. Inside each earthen vessel is planted the seed of the gospel message. Under the right conditions, this tiny seed has the potential to grow, blossom and produce fruit. Nevertheless, the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 clearly shows that the ground must be receptive to the seed:
When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not…this is he which received seed by the wayside.” The ground was so hard the seed could not penetrate the soil.
“He that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.” There were so many obstacles in the soil the seed could not take root.
“He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.” The seed started to grow, but there were too many other things growing in competition with it.
“But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit…” In God’s grace, each of us are in the final category; we responded positively and eagerly to the implanted word, joining those who throughout the ages have longed for the promised kingdom. Nevertheless, disappointment at the Lord’s delay may cause us to forget that, during the waiting time, ongoing growth and development of character must occur.
Growth is a process
From nature we learn that growth to maturity requires time. The giant Sequoia trees, the tallest and perhaps the oldest living things in the world, grow exceptionally slowly. They started from a small seed and with the right conditions, grew hundreds of feet towards the sky.
Society today wants results immediately, whether it is a healthy fit body, a successful career, or the newest possession. They want it all now in the fastest, easiest way possible, doing things their own way and on their own terms. Few are willing to trust in the Lord and wait for events to unfold according to His plan and purpose.
God’s word demonstrates the same principle. Adam and Eve were ideally situated in the garden. Yet, wanting to take a short cut to becoming wise, they disobeyed God and ate of the fruit. Faithfully, Noah obediently set out to build the ark, but it took him 120 years of hard labor. Joseph endured physical and emotional distress for many years while God was preparing him to become an authoritative figure in Egypt and savior of his brethren. Moses thought that he could deliver the Israelites when he was a younger man, but needed to be taught humility and patience as a shepherd for another 40 years.
Salvation on God’s terms
On our walk toward the kingdom, we must not be impatient or too proud to do little tasks and take the small but necessary steps for our eternal welfare. Consider the example of Naaman, captain of the host of Syria. Although a mighty man of valor, he was also a leper. He received Elisha’s instructions to wash seven times in the River Jordan with the utmost disdain. Naaman expected Elisha to visit him personally and perform a spectacular miracle as befitting his status. Only when he obeyed and washed in the manner prescribed by the word of God through the prophet was he cleansed of his disease.
All who would attain to the kingdom of God must likewise be washed clean in the waters of baptism from the disease of sin; then patiently strive to develop characters pleasing to God. There are no short cuts. Day by day, little by little, the seed inside us will continue to grow and develop as long as it is exposed to the nutrients found in God’s word.
An essential diet
As we have seen, four things: water, sunshine, fresh air and nutrients are requirements for healthy plants. Interestingly the early Christians needed four essential components to facilitate their growth and development: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). Neglect of any of these ingredients will lead to stunted growth, eventual withering and spiritual death. A steady diet of these things on a regular basis is essential to ensure that the fruits of the spirit bud and blossom. At first, the growth may seem to be very slow leading to despondency. In recognition of this, the Lord Jesus encourages us: “He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matt. 24:13). Sometimes it is after our most difficult trials and setbacks that, later in life, we come to realize how much they helped in the development of patience and character. Usually it is the little things we do faithfully, day in and day out over the years, which will bring satisfaction and a sense of peace that enables us to look forward in hope.
The Lord Jesus Christ spent 30 years preparing for a three-and-a-half year ministry and he was the Son of God! Bearing this context in mind, our allotted span of 70 years preparing for eternity is put into perspective.
Now is the time to partake of the bread and wine, simple symbols that represent the Lord’s death and resurrection. It is imperative that the weekly repetition of this ceremony remains a central vital part of our lives and is not allowed to become a thoughtless routine. Remembering the selfless sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ enables the roots of faith to be fed and watered. May we continue to grow in grace until the time that we shall be given bodies whose blossoms shall never fade.
Brian Carrick, Toronto East