“Go to the ant…observe her ways and be wise…” –Proverbs 6:6
“Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who carries out wicked schemes. Cease from anger and forsake wrath; do not fret; it leads only to evildoing. For evildoers will be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land.” –Psalm 37:7-9
*This post concerns being observant as you listen for God’s voice and expect Him to speak through whatever means He chooses.
Songs in My Head
A few weeks ago, I went out for a morning walk, prompted by the light of dawn and a soft nudging by the Spirit to walk with Him. It’s been so long since I wanted to do something like this, and I was happy to embark on our first adventure of the day. Those who’ve kept up with my posts know that waiting has become a close friend of mine, and now, I find my excitement building as I anticipate what God has been preparing in me and around me.
Getting up so early brought a song to mind, “As surely as the sun will rise He’ll come to us. As certain as the dawn appears…” With dawn’s light slowly permeating my curtains, I thought it appropriate. You will indeed come, Lord. And it will be as clear as the bright sunlight. What a wonderful reminder sunrise can be to a soul who’s experienced her share of dark nights! As I prepared to go out, another song lyric came to mind… “Out of the tree of life I’ve just picked me a plum…” I smiled to myself as the melody played in my head, and I thought of the rest of the lyrics. “You think you’ve seen the sun, but you ain’t seen it shiiiine…” Hmmm. Today, what might You have in store? I was excited to go out with Jesus and find out.
So out I went, walking through the streets of my little neighborhood. It was a cloudy day with the morning sun attempting to pierce the clouds without much success. It reminded me of those wonderfully muted, overcast days I’d learned to enjoy during my time living near the coast. It was a delightful surprise that spoke so much to my heart. I was listening for God’s voice, and He already seemed to be speaking so much at the start of this morning walk. And my heart was eager for more.
Anticipating “The Best”
I finally arrived at my destination: the local outdoor mall long before the hustle and bustle of commerce would begin. I found myself walking the relatively quiet streets as I listened to Jamie Cullum play through my earbuds just loudly enough to muffle the mall’s outdoor music. Along my route, I spent time saying “Good morning” to the occasional fellow walker, observing those waiting for appointments, and passing those busily working to ready the “gardens” for hopefully a busier purchasing day than the one before.
As I rounded another corner, a familiar lyric caught my attention, so I paused my music player. The soft be-bopping beats of a swing songstress crooned sweetly from the surrounding speakers on the property which played an old favorite, “You think you’ve seen the sun but you ain’t seen it shiiiine… The best is yet to come and babe won’t it be fiiiine…”
“The Best is Yet to Come.” The very song I had in my head earlier this morning. I smiled and directed my thoughts to my Traveling Companion. Lord, that’s so like You.
As I maintained my pace, I reflected upon the lyrics of the song. Like a sun that I’ll see like I’ve never seen before. Like a Spring that would come and bring such new sights to see. I couldn’t help but consider the words in light of my own season of life and my quiet but strong hope that was building inside of me. It’s a good God I’m waiting on and at the right time, He’ll reveal all He’s been working out for me as I remain still per His instructions and simply trust Him.
The Bare Branches of Winter
I continued my walk and observed the bare trees, a sight to behold in southern California where although we have winter, it looks a bit different than most of the country thanks to a prevalence of sun, warmer weather, and a mix of palm, evergreen, flowering, and deciduous trees. The bare trees reminded me of winter, especially the winters of the North and the Midwest, the long, dreary gray that would seem to stretch into eternity, when, finally, the first thaw would come to break the wintery spell and reveal the start of green sprouts. Then, after more long dreary days, the signs of Spring’s appearing would transform the cold long Winter into a full-fledged glorious song.
Not long after, I encountered many sections of the mall with green hedges bordering rose bushes… Or at least what you’d remember were rose bushes. Not one bloom was to be found on these painfully cut stumps, hacked low to the ground by a staff groundskeeper. All that remained were green sticks poking every which way out of the ground covered by thorns. The surrounding blooming vegetation seemed so boastful in their bearing leaves in comparison to their humiliated counterparts. I felt sorry for the poor little things except I knew this their state was necessary if these rose bushes would be ready to bloom at the proper time.
Immediately, I recalled my own season, and I found in those rose bushes a vivid illustration for my life.
Like a Rose…Bush?
Have you ever experienced a time when you felt like one of these rose bushes?
When it seemed like God took away everything you knew? Familiar? Everything you used to enjoy? When the people you once got along with so well no longer seemed to fit you? The places you once frequented no longer hold the same excitement? And the things you used to love no longer had the same appeal?
When you received a series of heart-breaking blows? Maybe you lost your job or a loved one or you encountered an unexpected breakup or betrayal? And you felt isolated and alone in your grief and loss?
And when it seems like maybe God isn’t even around anymore? Or if He is, He’s ignoring you? A time when you’ve searched and analyzed every part of yourself that you could see and then went over it again, but still couldn’t figure out why you were in this place? When you can’t hear anything even though you keep praying despite feeling an increasing lack of hope? And you are so desperate for a word in the midst of this total heart-crushing silence?
Were you left wondering, “God, what are You doing?!”
I know that’s how I felt.
As I stood looking down at these rose bushes, I saw the picture plainly. A gardener had come and took his blade to these once beautifully blooming rose bushes and cut them down to size. How painful! How miserable! How humiliating!
But how necessary.
A Wise Gardener
Interestingly enough, in John 15, Jesus calls Himself a Vine and us the branches. And the Father God, as a Gardener of this Vine… the Husbandman, well, He prunes those wonderful fruit-bearing branches so that they’ll bear more fruit.
Cut the fruit off the branches and hack away at the branch itself?
So it grows?!
Doesn’t that seem counterintuitive?
I stopped and stared at this pathetic series of rose bushes, remembering their former glory and gorgeous full blooms they proudly displayed not long ago. Seeing them now, I wondered if they could talk, would they know what was happening? How could they bear the disgrace? Or did they know they were being prepared for a better glory? That they would be transformed into something completely different?
But what if these rose bushes hurt someone and were cut down to size as punishment?
Maybe they were ugly or attracted rare, disease-bearing bugs, and it was the quickest way of getting rid of them.
Maybe the mall’s gardener was just tired of them, didn’t want to take care of them anymore, and certainly didn’t want to be bothered with digging up the root system, so he just cut them and thought, “Good riddance.”
Seems like perspective is key because you can’t see your circumstances rightly unless you have wise help in interpreting them. And well-meaning speculation, my friends, is not Wisdom. Aside from the 101 “what if” scenarios we could conjure up, maybe, just maybe, the gardener is doing what’s best for the plant by pruning it back, watering it, surrounding it with compost, and nurturing it so that it will continue to be healthy and produce MORE blooms in due time.
Reckoning with Our Limits
Gardening type or not, you may be thinking, “Well, obviously, right?”
And that’s part of my point. Why is it easier to “get it” when it comes to the scenario of the rose bush and the gardener, to trust the gardener must know best, but often not see God’s hand as clearly in our own lives? It’s because if we’re honest, if we’re humble about it, we kinda need help making sense of life. Shoot. We kind of need help knowing what we’re thinking half the time or where that other sock got to. It’s a little embarrassing, but we’re kind of… um… limited and can’t do as much for ourselves as we think.
But that just feels so needy doesn’t it?
If it makes you feel better, I’ll put myself in that sentence: I’m limited, and I’m not as self-sufficient as I like to think I am. I confess: I’m impatient. I’m not immune to materialism and a desire for more stuff. I can’t stay healthy on only 6 hours of sleep a night for a week. I have a hard time releasing relationships and past seasons when it’s definitely time to let go. I still need spell check to make sure I don’t spell “curiosity” wrong. Though I can’t do things perfectly, and I’m hardly able to let go of pride long enough to not berate myself for not doing things perfectly (that craziness certainly can give the enemy a field day with me). I have a hard time not wanting to come up with 1-2-3 rules for my life rather than walking by the Spirit’s moment-by-moment leading. Heck, I can’t even sit still when God’s telling me I don’t have to do anything but be still.
Ahhhh. That felt good. =)
The good news is we’re human. God doesn’t expect us to do all these things on our own, let alone perfectly.
Even better news. He’s God. And in our weakness, He is strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
You may feel like a badly hacked up rose bush about now, pitifully sitting at the mercy of a two-bit gardener, but that is not the case. Our God is purposefully pruning us with His ever-wise, ever-loving care, allowing the specific circumstances in our lives not to punish us (though He does correct us because He loves us…but that’s another topic for another day), not to abandon us as if we’re a lost cause or because He’s tired of our mistakes. No! He’s not gone anywhere because He promises to never leave us! He’s right here, right now, working in us all that is needed to grow us, lead us in His good plan for our lives, and to bring forth His glory through us in amazing ways we can’t even begin to imagine.
But it takes time. It takes pruning. It takes letting go. It takes patience. It takes humility. After all, there’s nothing we can do to help the process any more than those rose bushes can tape leaves and rose blooms back on themselves. No, they must wait, wait for the sun’s warmth and light, wait for the water and soil for further nourishment, wait for the growing occurring unseen inside of them until – finally! We see the first leaves appear and Spring break their Winter. The branches begin to grow again. Buds form and turn into blooms.
And so we must wait, wait humbly on our powerful, loving, amazingly kind God to work what we cannot work, to lift what we cannot move an inch with all our effort, to embolden when we do not have the courage to say “boo,” to bring us back when we find ourselves like Peter ashamed of ourselves for thinking we would always be there for God and yet letting Him down again. God knows our weaknesses, and He wants to cover them. Isn’t it about time we own up to our insufficiency and let Him be God?
If you’re in a season of silence, of waiting, of stillness, you’re not alone. Let’s keep waiting! No matter what your circumstances may say, God is working. God is leading you. God is answering your prayers. God is preparing you for what you need now and what is to come. And God – oh, what a good God He is – is right there with you! He’s in the midst of what you’re going through. He is there to befriend you, to comfort you, to guide you, to listen, to speak, to be everything you need. But He is God, so it’s going to be His way and His time, which is nothing like what we dream up. Oh, but it’s so much better!
Now is the time to lean in, and let Him teach you how to delight in Him, not when things change. Now is the time to thank Him for who He is and meditate on His beauty! Now is the time to thank Him for what He’s working out that you can’t see, fathom, or imagine. Then, when things do change – and they will change for the better because He is so faithful – when you start to see signs of spring, you’ll not only taste what your heart has truly longed for, but you and those around you will see more of God’s glory in such startling clarity that you’ll realize that you have in Him all you’ll ever need.