A Little Thorny Subject

This week was the week to tackle a job that has been left undone for way too long!  When our family moved to Deatsville in June 2004, I retrieved my collection of antique rose bushes from a friend who had graciously stored them for me during our year back at school in Kentucky.  I'd been told that there is a three-year cycle for rose growth:  the first year, they sleep; the next year, they creep; the third year, they leap!  Since my rose addiction began just a year prior to our departure, I'd never observed "leap year".  WELL...
These roses have leaped like nothing I'd ever imagined.  "Phyllis Bide", the one who actually poked a cane THROUGH the seal around the window of our Montgomery home and bloomed in our living room the very first year I had it was the biggest rascal of them all.  (I'm pretty sure she won the battle yesterday!)  Since returning to teaching, gardening has had to take a backseat, and the yard has become somewhat of a jungle, at least in the shrub and climbing rose department.  Yes, I enjoy cutting and giving away bouquets, loving the variety and the capacity to make others smile, but there comes a time that you have to deal with the "un-fun" part of gardening and get hurt in order to take care of something you started.  All of the gardening analogies that I used to drink in while tending the lovelies during my 9 years away from the classroom, raising our children, came flooding back.  Here are some old ones that I'd known, but had unfortunately forgotten:
1.  Jesus said in one of His parables that only TWENTY-FIVE percent of seed fell on good soil, having the potential to grow into healthy plants.  That means that SEVENTY-FIVE percent fell on hard soil, got eaten by birds, or grew up temporarily before ultimately being choked by life's cares and surrendering.  I do not like those odds at all, and in the classroom, we are conditioned to "reach every one to an established standard", no matter how unrealistic this plays out in the practicals.  But there, in black, white, and RED are Jesus's stats.  If He, being holy and perfect, reports these results, how can we beat ourselves up when some of the seed into which we pour our lives falls accidentally (or chooses to fall) in the 75% range?  We don't stop trying everything we know to do, and we listen diligently for His voice regarding timing and perseverance, but we must, must, must trust Him with the results and celebrate the 25% !!!
2.  There are seasons in the life of any plant, especially seen in the rose.  There are bloom times, dead wood times, green growth with no sign of budding times, and there are even disease-and-Japanese-beetle-times (like now).  It is so with people!  For church planters especially, because it's always tougher getting something started initially than it is coming after it's long established, it is additionally SO HARD to accept that the people we encounter are in between life seasons!!  We attempt valiantly to catch them during their personal green-growth-and-bloom-times, hoping those times will ignite enough spiritual growth to propel them through the dead-wood-and-disease-times.  Sometimes, yes...sometimes no.  People come and go all the time---not just in church plants but in churches everywhere.  Remember the 25%--it takes a lifetime to mature a Christian!  It never stops hurting when people depart, but there areso many other people He brings our way who need our best effort and energy while they are encountering their "green growth and bloom times".   This is where our focus must be.  I believe this is what Henry Blackaby means by "going where God is at work and joining Him there" in his groundbreaking book, Experiencing God.
3.  God will prune us, with or without our permission, to make us bear fruit if we've never borne any OR to make us bear even more fruit even if we "regularly do".  And pruning HURTS both us and the gardener!  If I'd gotten on those roses earlier, I wouldn't have had so much to cut away.  As it was, I wrestled both dead wood (brought on by drought extremes and cold extremes) AND new growth that was healthy, but busy charting its own course away from the groove of the solid plant...encroaching into my neighbor's space in some instances.  I have thorn pricks and briar tears all over my hands and arms (even with occasional glove use!) and I bear witness to the pain of the pruner!  I thought about how it pains God to prune people...do you think He wishes we would learn more quickly and effectively so that He wouldn't have to?  Or, do you think perhaps it is the same principle as the pain we feel as we discipline our children..."this hurts ME more than it hurts YOU!"  It does hurt to deal lovingly and truthfully with others, but it is a temporary hurt for a long-term gain...theirs, ours, but more importantly, the Kingdom's!  People ARE looking for an authentic church who, in their authentic brokenness, reflect an authentic Savior, broken and bleeding for us.  It just takes much longer to build, and it requires more faith and perseverance than the average Christian can even imagine---or has made the choice to experience.
4.  Growth is genuinely unpredictable.  I NEVER know how tall the canes of a particular rose will grow, nor do I know how many blooms to expect on an individual plant.  I do not know why Japanese beetles seem to munch all over some roses while leaving others alone, nor do I know why some roses produce beautiful buds that never fully open!  I don't know why some blossoms last only two days while others will linger for a week or more!  But I do know this: if I KEEP on watering and KEEP on fertilizing and KEEP on encouraging them and KEEP on pruning them, and KEEP on letting them alone from time to time so that God can do HIS thing, WITH TIME, I am going to see some results.  I don't know when, where, how, and what time...but my faith will become sight! 
Don't you think that it's time (and I'm preaching to myself, too) that we all stop analyzing what God is up to and just celebrate that He is up to something?  Where is our sense of wonder at how mighty and awesome He is?  Why don't yesterday's miracles inspire us to hang close, not because of His latest sleight of hand, but because of His undying love for us in sending Jesus Christ to die for our sins?  Why are we so forgetful, and why are we so "uncelebratory"?  Why do we sit and benignly soak in His grace without giving Him our complete humility, which He so richly deserves?  Altars across America should be packed every Sunday in awe of the blessings He has given and continues to give, even while the world "seems" off-course.  We should be draped in shame at our own lack of measuring up to His perfect example, Jesus, broken and begging Him to make us willing to be like Him!  Shame on us for expecting life to be so easy, when it was anything but for our Lord and Savior.  As Rick Warren puts it, "God is more concerned about our character than our comfort."  We would each do well to remember this each time we are tempted to have a pity party as to why the sun does not rise and set for us!  (THE SON ALREADY HAS.)
Poets and hymn-writers have written of these truths for years: 
"The kiss of the sun for pardon; the song of the birds for mirth; one is closer to God's heart in the garden than in any other place on earth." 
"I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear the Son of God discloses 
And He walks with me and He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there none other has ever known."
Bloodied and aching, but smiling in wonder, I still believe it.