Monthly Archives: May 2012

Be Careful When You Cultivate

I have a parable for you today.  We just finished seeding at the farm I help out at.  My job was to do the cultivating ahead of the seeder, knocking down the weeds and volunteer growth while at the same time preparing the seed bed.  I suppose that may in part be what got my mind going this way.

There was a farmer who loved his land.  A farmer loving the land is nothing exceptional, but this farmer was especially passionate about his land and took great care to make sure it was in pristine condition.  He didn’t have much land, just one field, but he loved to stand at the end of that field and see the perfectly straight furrows stretch into the distance.

But if a weed should appear, that feeling of pride and satisfaction in his land was turned on its head and in frustration he would jump into his tractor and drag his cultivator through the land, back and forth until the soil was clear and even again, and his anger subsided.  But if the next day another weed popped up back to the cultivator he would go.

H e was so obsessed with keeping his field in perfect condition that he didn’t notice that each time he ran the cultivator over it the field dried out a little bit more.  Every pass broke down the natural fibres and proteins in the soil that held it together as the shovels on the cultivator raked across it.  The soil was becoming sandy, and though it was clean and even, it was dying.

Then the heat of summer came and the temperatures soared for two weeks straight, and with it came the scorching winds.  Still a couple of hardy weeds managed to struggle up in the field and the farmers frustration flared again.  But as he ripped into the soil once more the wind began to blow it away.

There simply wasn’t enough left in the soil to hold it together, and as the first grains began to fly it almost seemed like the field finally just gave up.  More and more soil was lifted into the air as the hot wind blew across field.  The small cloud picked up speed and momentum gathering more and more particles with it until the whole field was turned into a dust storm that blew across the prairies.  And when the storm was over the farmer was left with a barren empty wasteland.

Sadly, this is a picture of the way some people relate to those who are closest to them.  And what happened to that farmer’s land is what happens to husbands or wives or children when perceived imperfections are jumped on and they get raked by the one who ought to be, and maybe even intends to be nurturing.

To one degree or another we have all done this.  It seems to happen most easily when other stresses come into our lives.  Whether it be pressures of work, or responsibilities, or bad news, or just lack of sleep, that seems to be when we most quickly jump on our cultivators.

So how do we stop?  The first step is to be honest enough to recognize yourself in this story.   Then be honest and courageous enough to talk with the one or ones you have been slowly breaking down.  Humble yourself and be open and vulnerable with them and tell them you are anxious, or hurting, or scared.

In my experience, that kind of courage only comes when you have received it from Jesus.  When you realize that he loved you when you were at your worst and you allow him to express that love to you, he gives you the strength and will to risk being open and honest with those you love.


Misleading Compassion

Most of us are reasonably compassionate people.  If we see someone, especially someone we care about, in distress or difficulty our natural inclination is to do what we can to fix it.  We don’t like to see our loved ones suffer or struggle and even when the circumstances are beyond our means and ability to alter we can still pray.

But do we really help when our prayers are guided primarily by human compassion?  We ask God to step in and perform a minor miracle and heal physically or emotionally, or provide funds, or resolve conflict or whatever the particular circumstance is that is causing the suffering.  But what if God has something greater in mind?  What if the thing we are asking for would actually impede and impair the greater thing God intends to accomplish.

Let me give you an example.  My Dad, who pastors a church in Abbotsford, recently underwent twin cataract surgeries, one on each eye a couple of weeks apart.  During the healing process he is unable to wear the contacts which are necessary to correct his astigmatism which causes him to see multiple images.  Just having his eyes open creates a great deal of stress and strain which is exhausting and gives him a headache.   Combine all these factors and it’s amazing he can walk let alone study, prepare for, and present a sermon.

My natural compassion immediately leads me to pray that God would quickly heal him.  That would fix the problem.  But I resisted and instead waited on God for something greater that he wanted to accomplish.  I ended up praying for a supernatural recall of scripture in his preparation, and an increased level of sensitivity to God’s voice as he preached that didn’t depend on notes he couldn’t read anyway.  I prayed that during these weeks of difficulty and frustration God would speak to people through Dad in deep and profound ways that would echo through out eternity.  If you ask me, or my dad, that’s far better than just fixing his eyes.

God’s compassion is far greater than yours or mine, but so are his purposes.  If you will take the time and invest the effort of asking and listening for God’s will in the difficult and painful things the people you know are going through, what you will accomplish on their behalf will be far greater than anything you could have imagined or asked for based only on your compassion.

Grace Growers

Have you noticed that the older people get the more interested in history they become?  That certainly is true of me, but I am also interested in trying to see history from God’s perspective; how has he been involved.  With some of the terrible things humanity has done that is not always easy, but I’ve found that by reading Biblical history it can help with perspective.

For example if we were to read the history books description of ancient Assyria, we would see a kingdom of military might, advanced civilization and great accomplishment.  But if viewed from a Biblical perspective we see God’s fingerprints in both their success and ultimate demise.  In fact Isaiah paints the picture of God whistling for them, like you would a dog, and using them to discipline or train the Jewish nations on a spiritual level.

I would caution you against reading God’s judgement or punishment into every disaster, whether on a national or personal level, but there is a personal application we can take from this.  In Hebrews 12 it talks about God disciplining us through the hard times we go through.  We hear discipline and right away think punishment, but that isn’t the primary meaning of the word.  Training and character development are more what is in mind.

As with the Assyrians and Israelites, one of the ways God disciplines us is through difficult people.  These certainly include mean or hurtful people, but also people who are simply annoying and who drive you nuts.  God is using these people in your life to develop your character.  I heard one preacher refer to them as “Grace Growers.”

Who is a grace grower in your life?  For heaven’s sake don’t go tell them, but don’t let them drive you nuts either.  Instead thank God for the nature and character he is developing in you.

The Secret And The Source

We humans tend to be creatures of extremes. It seems we often struggle with either end of the same spectrum. Case in point: discontentment and complacency. Some folks never seem to be content in their lot or place in life. They are restless and dissatisfied, always looking for that next thing, rarely able to really enjoy what they have or have achieved. Others swing way past contentment on the pendulum and are so comfortable and complacent that they can’t see there are more and better things just beyond their reach. (Frankly complacency is nothing more than self-satisfaction.)

These extremes are especially troublesome in our spiritual lives, though usually the rest of our lives reflect where we are at spiritually. In reality discontentment and complacency are two sides of the same coin, sharing the same root cause and resolution. Paul, in the Bible, addresses both of these issues in his letter to the Philippians.

In chapter four he declares that he has discovered the secret of contentment in every situation, whether he is well fed or hungry; regardless of whether he has plenty or is in want. But earlier, in chapter three, he admits that he has not yet reached where he can be or wants to be spiritually, but instead he continues to reach with all his might for more.

How can a man, within the same letter no less, express two seemingly opposite positions? It’s because the secret he discovered and the goal he is pressing on towards is one in the same: Jesus. The oxymoronic truth is that when my desire to know Jesus better drives me into an ever increasingly intimate relationship with him I will find contentment regardless of what circumstance comes my way. He is both my source of satisfaction and what fuels my hunger for more.

Where are you on the spectrum? Are you dissatisfied or frustrated with your life? Or, conversely, have you settled for being comfortable and self-satisfied, especially in religion? You will find both the secret of contentment and the motivation to reach for higher and greater things in the same person if you are willing to put him as your first priority.