“I will never buy those again!”
I turned toward the voice and spotted a tall man, standing next to his wife and pointing at a brightly colored flower on the shelves at Lowe’s. I laughed inwardly at the immense effort it required of me NOT to shout out, “ME EITHER!!!!”
The red and yellow flowers were beautiful, but they do not grow in my garden. I could barely get them to stand up straight, let alone flourish. They will never go into my garden again. Not because I don’t like the idea of them growing there, but because they simply don’t grow.
I was thinking about those flowers again on Saturday as I sat in my front yard waiting for my computer updates to complete. I was thinking about things that don’t grow the way we want them to, at the rate we want them to, or with the amount of fruit we want them to. Those things are rampant in life, and sometimes the struggle to see “our garden grow” can be discouraging. We may even come to the point of saying, “I’m done with that! It’s just never going to flourish. I want a plant I can depend on.”
My thoughts were on this summer’s Growing Together campaign at Forbid Them Not. We set out with hope and enthusiasm. The Forum on Fatherlessness went so well. We felt people were ready to see the ministry grow and to grow with us. We wanted so much to be in a more flourishing place by the time this year’s Green Bean Project rolls around in October. We set out a plan, and followed it faithfully. But the results did not seem to come. We had hoped for growth in the areas of prayer, participation, and partnership. But it didn’t seem to happen. We cancelled a few things we had planned because everything else had been met with the proverbial chirping crickets. We did not have the time or resources to invest in something that only we would attend.
As we came to the scheduled end of our campaign, my heart was discouraged. I considered the massive amount of energy poured into blog posts, events, social media posts, interviews, etc., and then I looked at the apparent lack of fruit. My heart and my flesh and probably Satan said,
“There you go. You’ve failed. Again. You worked your heart out, but it wasn’t enough or it wasn’t right or it just doesn’t matter.”
But as I sat in my front yard Saturday morning, I considered my flowerbed. It doesn’t have those bright red flowers that I will never buy again. It has something else—lavender. Lavender does not yield substantial fruit the first season. In fact, if you want the plant to survive and thrive, you don’t even cut the flowers the first year. The second year, you might get a handful of flowers, maybe even two handfuls. Not until the third season can you expect substantial fruit. Then something happens. It becomes hardy. My lavender has been frozen, scorched by the sun, run over by a drunk (or possibly blind) driver, and yet I have three baskets of lavender drying in my front room.
I thought about my lavender, and I thought about ministry. I realized that just because a plant doesn’t have visible fruit on it, doesn’t mean it isn’t doing what it’s supposed to be doing. It may still be maturing.
I will spare you the four pages of notes that came from these musings, but I do want to share a few precious things that encouraged me and might encourage you.
That Number Isn’t Really Important
One of my greatest struggles over the last few months has been a number. A number that threatens to shrink. A number that comes up once a month and must stretch an enormous distance. A simple number that affects every single aspect of life and ministry. But as I was looking at that flowerbed on Saturday, I was reminded that I am not living on that number. Forbid Them Not is not surviving on that number, but rather on all the “riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” That is the account, the soil, we are drawing upon, and that is where our hope must lie. (Philippians 4:19)
Preparing for a Mountain
God teaches us to profit. He leads us in the way we should go. (Isaiah 48:17) I know these things, but it wasn’t until I studied them out a little that I saw the picture of how He does this. The idea behind the Hebrew words is that He disciplines us, goads us, gets us accustomed to things, chastises us, prepares us as a soldier preparing for war, so that we can ascend a mountain and stand on the summit.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve climbed a few mountains in my life. It was work—and believe me we’re not talking Everest here. I’ve hiked to the tops of mountains in Montana. I’ve hiked on a ledge in Romania that was so narrow you had to hold onto a chain bolted into the mountain to work your way across. I’ve hiked to a height in Kyrgyzstan that made my legs tremble and my lungs burn and that said, “You can’t go any further because you are not strong enough. If you go further things will not go well for you.” And I had to stop.
God doesn’t want us to have to stop. He wants to prepare us to reach the top, to stand on the summit, and to praise Him. And so, HE PERSONALLY TRAINS US. It’s not our own effort. He gets us accustomed to the thinning air, the steep incline, the weight of our packs, and then when the time is right, He leads us.
A Guide for the Trail
He leads us with His own footsteps. That’s what Isaiah 48:17 says. Leadeth means to tread with the feet. No matter how you look at it, this word means to get somewhere by walking. God doesn’t just point up the trail and say, “Go.” He steps onto the trail, and in some cases, He creates the trail with His own feet. He goes with us, trampling down the brush and the grass and the other things that may impede our way. It may not be fast moving, breaking a trail never is, but we have an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful, everywhere present Guide who will never leave us nor forsake us on that trail, be it in the wilderness, on the mountain side, or in the city.
A Rock for Rest
Later this month, I will be helping out with a Rock of Ages Prison Ministry revival at the Montana Women’s Prison. In preparation, I was doing a little study on faithfulness, and came to a verse from the story of Moses, holding up his hands while Joshua fought Amalek. Exodus 17:12 says,
“But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.”
The next verse in the list of cross-references I was studying was Deuteronomy 32:4,
“He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.”
Sometimes, we just need a rock to rest on. What confidence it brings to know that God is that Rock. His work is perfect. He will hold us up.
Hands to Hold Us Up
Even when he was sitting on the rock, Moses needed Aaron and Hur. Can you imagine standing all day with your hands held above your head? It is no wonder he grew weary. Sometimes, maybe more often then we would like to admit, we need someone to hold up our hands. This is our goal with FTN, to share the gospel of Christ while we hold up the weak hands of the fatherless and those who are caring for them. But sometimes we need someone to help hold up our hands, just as you need someone to hold up your hands from time to time.
I’m going to issue one last Growing Together challenge: Let’s hold up each other’s hands. Let’s encourage one another, walk together, talk together, prayer together, and work together. We must always stand (and sometimes sit) on the Rock, why not hold one another up in the process?
We’ve shared many ways over the summer that you can help hold up our hands. I’d ask that you look back over them, and see what the Lord might have you to do. At the same time, I’d like to ask you:
What can we do? How can we help hold up your hands? Let us know! We can’t help, we can’t even pray, if we don’t know there is a need.