The Garden of God
Beauty For Ashes Part 5 - George H. Warnock
CHAPTER 3 - SPRING...AWAKENING IN NEW LIFE
"He sendeth out his word and melteth them: he causeth his wind to blow, and the waters flow" (Psa. 147:18).
Winter is not a tragedy... it is a promise of the coming hour of spring. The sorrows of His beloved ones are transformed by His love and grace into the joys of triumph. It is the purpose of God and our recognition of it that turns the tragedy into a promise, a dark cloud into a ray of hope. I said "our recognition of it" not our understanding of it. For faith is available in every hour of need to by-pass our understanding, and to impart the joy and assurance which a full and complete knowledge of the situation could not bring. "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28). Notice again, it is "according to His purpose". And the purpose of winter is to prepare the earth for spring. The snow and the ice are piled high on the hills and mountains so that in the hour of spring there may be a mighty flow of water to bless the land. There are "treasures of the snow" (Job 38:22). And the earth will discover it in the time of spring... as the snow melts and the rivers are filled with water, and flow through the land.
But what makes the difference between winter and spring time? What makes the difference between the north wind and the south wind? Just the cycle of God's purpose. The sun is just as brilliant in winter as it is in summer. It is the season that accounts for the different climate. We feel the cold of the north wind; but when it completes the cycle it becomes the south wind. Coming from the north it is blighting, freezing, crippling, devastating. The green fields are frozen to desolation... the rivers and streams are stopped in their courses... nature seems to come to a complete standstill. Give it time, and when the north wind has fulfilled its purpose, God will send the south wind. It will break up the ice which covered the earth and the waters, and melt the snow which it had previously brought. Come spring time, and "He sendeth out his word, and melteth them: he causeth his wind to blow, and the waters flow..." (Psa. 147:18).
We may be inclined to envy those who seem to have a consistent, unhindered, positive walk with the Lord, --those who seem to have experienced little of devastation and frustration. But something is often lacking. You may not sense that outflow of gentleness and mercy and patience and longsuffering. Those who have known struggles and perplexities and barrenness and defeat and wintry seasons are the ones who discover peculiar and abundant joy when the winds begin to blow from the south. These are the ones who find it easy to melt in His presence in the wonderful hour of spring, and to flow together in the mighty river of God. The Church may appear to be very impressive and mighty, but how cold and lifeless! The snow and the ice heaped up on the mountains present a beautiful, scenic picture but each snow-capped mountain peak continues to maintain its own denominational status, and each little snow-flake its own selfish identity. God is going to cause a melting, and a flowing together... until every little snow-flake and every little crystal of ice loses its identity in the mighty River of God. Then it will be "full of water", as the Psalmist said... to bless the land through which it flows. There can be no real unity apart from that vital union with Christ by the Holy Spirit... as God causes His people to melt under the gaze of the Sun of Righteousness, lose their identity as members of this church or that... and flow together in the River of God. We are not talking about "all the churches" flowing together in some kind of ecumenical union, organized and controlled by men who are building something for their own glory. But rather of those members of the body of Christ, who are washed in His blood and born of His Spirit.
The Bursting of Spring
Come into my Garden when spring bursts upon us. No longer is there any lamentation over the cold it suffered. No longer any condemnation upon others for having caused such a hard, cold winter. Nor do we even feel sorry for ourselves any more... but sorry only that we misunderstood God for the hours of winter's blight. Now we can affirm with the apostle, "Tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us" (Rom. 5:3-5). Now we can say with the broken heart of Joseph, "therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life" (Gen. 45:5). Now we can say with Job, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5, 6). Before his trial he had a certain knowledge of God... a theological concept of God, but all this passes away in the manifestation of His presence. It was not easy to see the sun as you lay there under the snow, frozen and cold, unmoved and unresponsive. But it was there all along, shining as brilliantly as ever, and just as hot as ever. The same word of God that brought the winter likewise brought the hour of spring. The same word that came to Joseph in dreams and revelations, likewise brought him into Egypt, and tested him in fetters of brass... and later released him to bring life and blessing to Egypt and Canaan and other nations who had experienced the famine. "Until the time that his word came (came to pass), the word of the LORD tried him" (Psa. 105:19). God does not love us any less when we lie frozen in the ground, nor any more when we begin to sprout and germinate in the warmth of spring. It's just that we feel His love more in spring time. But both conditions are necessary for the outworking of His own special purposes. The test of true love is not how good it feels. It is rather--Are we walking in obedience to the Lord? "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me" (Jn. 14:21). This is the thermometer that proves our love... are we doing what He wants us to do? Are we keeping His words... words that come from the heart of the Father? (Jn. 14:23, 24).
Man's Home is a Garden
The first man Adam was placed in a garden. All that was in it came forth from the Word, the Logos. Everything was "very good", and Adam was required to dress it, and keep it (Gen. 2:15). So in the New Creation, God plants His people in a Garden. The River of Life flows through the midst of it, out from the throne of God. On the banks of the river there grows the Tree of Life, bearing all manner of fruit; "and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations" (Rev. 22:2). It is a heavenly realm we are looking at... but it is a heavenly realm here on earth. Are we not going to live in Heaven? Of course! But the New Heavens and the New Earth are very much together... and the light and glory of Heaven will radiate throughout the earth. We will have free access to both realms. We may scarcely be able to distinguish the one from the other... the one is so immersed in the other. And we will experience "days of heaven upon the earth" far beyond anything Moses contemplated when he spoke of the land of Canaan (Deut. 11:21). "There is no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain" (Rev. 21:4). It is because there is a Tree of Life in the Garden... and men will no longer be barred from eating its fruit. There will be no more sorrow, nor crying, nor pain... because the leaves of the Tree are "for the healing of the nations". In the beginning the first man chose to eat from the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil"... and was barred from the Tree of Life. Now man eats of the Tree of life, for his health and life. And though we see only "through a glass darkly" in these things let us understand that God is working in the heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven now, those qualities of life and grace that will cause them to be very much "at home" in the Garden of God. The riches of grace in Christ Jesus and the blessing of His Spirit are available to us now... as we partake of "the powers of the world to come" (Heb. 6:5). Let us not fear that we are imposing on God's grace when He introduces us into these realms of the Spirit that belong to the next age. Surely it is but the smallest fragment that we will ever know and experience in this life. Let us therefore be thankful for every good and perfect gift that He bestows upon us now... out from those realms of eternal life. And let us continue to pray: "Thy Kingdom come; thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven".
David saw the River and the City in prophetic vision, and sang: "There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High" (Psa. 46:4). Jesus may have been referring to this, or to what Joel said about a "fountain" flowing out of God's House... when He stood on the last day of the Feast "and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink, He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (Jn. 7:37, 38; See Joel 3:18).
Truth is that River of Life. Let us never get the notion that truth is some musty, age-worn system of creed and dogma which theologians have hammered out from the Bible, and argued over through the centuries. Or something to be avoided by spiritual people lest it bring strife and confusion and contention. The truth does just the opposite. O yes, it will cause contention among the contentious and the disobedient. But God's living truth will unite and edify the saints, and strengthen those who embrace it. It will be the Urim and Thummim in our breastplate of righteousness, illuminating our pathway wherever we go, guiding us aright in paths of darkness, and clearly indicating God's will for us in every moment of doubt and every parting of the ways.
"Let not mercy and truth forsake thee:
Bind them about thy neck;
Write them upon the table of thine heart:
So shalt thou find favour and good understanding
In the sight of God and man...
I have taught thee in the way of wisdom;
I have led thee in right paths.
When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened;
And when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble.
Take fast hold of instruction;
Let her not go: keep her;
For she is thy life"
(Prov. 3:3, 4; 4:11-13)
Truth will make you beautiful... with the beauty of the Lord, with the beauty of holiness. Strange is it not, how we like the artificial so much, when God wants to clothe us with reality. I know the artificial can look very beautiful, by man's ingenious hands. But it is totally false... totally dead. (Just a few days ago it was my duty to water our plants, as my wife was away. I even watered a couple of artificial plants that were there with the real ones. I didn't know the difference--till a couple of days later. They looked so real!). There are many of God's people who do not know the difference. They go about the task of making artificial praise, and artificial worship, and carry on with artificial programs and artificial music in the House of God. Generally it looks so beautiful! But may the living Truth be a garland of grace about our neck, and a beautiful ornament upon our head. Let the Truth be our food and drink; for it is sweet as honey from the honeycomb... as water out of the rock. It is bread to him that is hungry, healing to those who are sick... yea, health to those who embrace her. She will impart strength in the place of weakness, replace folly with wisdom, and give understanding and good discretion in the place of bewilderment and confusion. But you must embrace her... you must long for her more than any earthly treasure. You must acknowledge her beyond any concept of right and wrong that you have devised out of your own heart. "Let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life" (Prov. 4:13). You do not become the judge of truth, just because you have come to know the Bible, or have experienced some wonderful blessings from God. Rather you must approach the truth..
Not to judge, but to be judged;
Not to confirm your way of life, but to change it;
Not to exonerate your actions,
but to lay them bare before the Judge of all the earth.
Then the truth will flow, and flow, and flow... and unfold, and unfold, and unfold; and you will hear the voice of truth wherever you go and whatever you are doing. As the truth cleanses you and purifies you, so the glory of the Lord shall become that much more brilliant. Your eyes will become illumined to see and behold wonderful things in the invisible realm. The pure in heart will see God. Your ears will become keen to hear sounds and voices of truth that you never knew were there. You will see Him in every rising of the sun, in the stars of the night, in the rainbow of the clouds. You will hear Him in every song of the bird.
But far beyond any of this--you will see Him in your brother and sister in a way you never thought was possible as you walk together in the fellowship of the Spirit and in the light which He sheds across your pathway.
We know we have all fallen short of this high ideal... but let it be our constant prayer and desire. For it is the desire of our Lord who redeemed us. He will not rest until He has found for Himself an abiding place in His people. He will not be satisfied until He comes into His Garden, and partakes of its precious fruit.
Preparation of the Soil
As we come to know the Lord a little more we look back and stand amazed how He led us and prepared our way, even before we knew Him or sought Him. Looking back later in life we realize there were so many accidental or incidental things that happened that the Lord ordained as a necessary preparation for the grace that He would reveal in the days to come. Many things that just happened often prove to have been providential. When our hearts turn to Him, only God in His grace and mercy knows how to take our mistakes and wanderings of the past and cause these to become stepping stones to glory. Suffering there must be for every act of disobedience and waywardness; but when He turns our hearts wholly unto Him, we discover that He has been preparing and disciplining His sons that He might have a fruitful Garden for His own delight.
Turning over the sod may seem to be a useless and aimless sort of thing. But the Gardener must do it if the soil is to receive the seed and the rain to cause it to germinate. Just why did this have to happen to me? I do not know, but I do know that the soil of the heart must be broken. Only the broken and contrite heart can receive the seed of truth that will germinate and take root and flourish. O yes, I might receive the truth with a fleeting joy when it comes to my unbroken heart. Jesus warns us that the stony soil actually receives the word with joy! But it is only for a season. When the tests of life come that kind of joy soon withers away... oftentimes leaving the heart barren and dry. We have every reason to question just how much real good is accomplished in a lot of our church programs these days. There may be plenty of "blessing", and lots of artificial "joy", but we are not talking about that. Is God penetrating the hearts of His people? Are we satisfied with the pleasure of feeling good, and all the time caring less whether the Lord removes the bitterness, the hard feelings against God and our brother, and all those workings of the carnal mind?
Come, let us break up our fallow ground: "for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you" (Hos. 10:12). Come, let us break the alabaster box at the feet of Jesus. Let us submit ourselves under His mighty hand, for He is the great Gardener who longs to plant a seed within us that will reproduce His very own image and nature and character. We want to be like Jesus. But we are just the earth, just the dirt of the old creation. How could we ever be like Him? Only as we receive the Seed of life within our little earth, and allow Him to reproduce Himself in all His glorious likeness. And then, out from the dirt that we are, new life springs forth from His creative hand. Paul said, "but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16).
Spring Time .. The Sower goes Forth
"Behold, a sower went forth to sow..." (Matt. 13:3)
God's heritage is both Garden and Building, and much is written in the Word concerning both of these aspects of God's work in his people. "Ye are God's husbandry (Garden), ye are God's building" (1 Cor. 3:9). God is building a Temple for His glory; and it seems the ministry has generally emphasized the "building program" of God, rather than the "planting" of the good seed, and the fruit that comes out of it. We need to see both sides of the picture. If what we are doing is not by the anointing and guidance of His Spirit, we labour in vain. "For we are labourers together with God"... not "for God" (vs. 9). We must never lose sight of the fact that only in abiding union with Christ are we going to bring forth the "good fruit" that He is looking for. And any kind of building we construct, if it is not according to the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus... it will go up in smoke on Judgment Day as "wood, hay, stubble" (vs. 13). In all we do, we must know that no man is anything except what God makes him to be by sovereign grace. We are still inclined to prefer one plant in God's Garden over another, one ministry over another; and it is all totally carnal. God sees no man as anything in His sight... except what He makes him to be by His own redemptive grace and mercy:
"I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase" (1 Cor. 3:6, 7).
And so the "sower" goes forth with his basket of seed, weeping as he goes. The ground does not always look that good... but He knows the Seed is good, and he hopes and trusts that most of it will fall into good soil, and spring up unto life eternal. He has this confidence, that if God gave him the seed to sow then the Gardener will make sure that the ground is prepared. Oh yes, He knows that some of it may be lost if the heart is "by the wayside". It's just too close to the road, and. the birds soon find it and devour it. And in the field itself there will be rocky patches... making for quick germination and growth; but having no depth of soil it soon withers away. And other parts of it will have its share of "thorns", which we hope and pray the Gardener will eradicate, as He deals with those who are deceived with riches, and cumbered with the cares of life, But He has promised there will be "good" soil for the "good" seed, and that there will be a "good" harvest: "Some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty" (Matt. 13:23).
With this confidence we are sustained as we go forth with our basket of seed, knowing that "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him" (Psa. 126:6).
The Seed is Scattered
The seed is not all planted together in a heap it is scattered. I know the good seed is the Word of God; but the good seed is also called "the children of the kingdom" (Matt. 13:38). So let us not fear the scattering of "the children of the kingdom". O yes, for a season the grain is stored in the granary. And of course, we like this kind of unity: when multitudes of God's people are all together in one place. But it is only for a season. God's purpose for the seed is to scatter it, that it might reproduce its kind in the earth. Of course our Gardener has a wonderful design and purpose in all this... regardless how much we like this "togetherness". His plants are "the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified" (Isa. 61:3). His Garden is beautiful according to His own design. He is not looking for a jungle, but for a fruitful Garden... every plant and tree and shrub in its place; yet with enough space between them that He will be able to deal with each plant according to the design of His heart.
But this is far from the modern concepts of Church growth. We must try to get all the people together, in one building if possible, in the name of unity. Plant the seed in bunches... and the more you can plant in one spot the better. But even as an amateur gardener I have discovered it is best to space the seed in a way that each plant will have room to grow. Sure, I want unity... but I want to leave room for individual growth. Sometimes I have inadvertently spilled too many carrot seeds in one place. I could leave it this way, and let them grow where they are. And when they burst forth above the ground I might say to myself, O what wonderful unity! But as they try to grow I will have nothing but a mess of twisted, gnarled, deformed, stringy, sickly carrots.
"The unity of the Spirit" has nothing to do with bunching God's people together. Yes, there is a purpose in our gathering together in His Name; and we are not to neglect that. And God does ordain large gatherings on occasion, for special purposes. But God's desire for His people is that they might have fellowship one with another. And what fellowship do you have sitting in a congregation of hundreds of people, looking at the backs of those in front of you?
O, I know, there's a minute or two when you turn around and shake their hands, and wish them the Lord's best. But then... every one is supposed to settle down to the general routine of a well organized meeting.
The early church met very often in the homes of the believers. They would gather with their cares and problems... to be helped, or to help one another. Nowadays the "home church" concept is considered to be radical and new. So what if the home is crowded out? Other homes are made available... and the Church grows united and strong, and multiplied, until the whole city is saturated with the Gospel of Christ, and the Church is edified. I know this sounds very idealistic. And I know, it doesn't work... if it's just a concept we are trying to make happen. People have to be hungry, open, and willing to show much grace and patience and love and God, I believe, wants to bring us to that. And if we are not willing to come to that, then let men continue to build their own kingdoms. This does work real well... from a human standpoint. But God alone will judge in the Day of Harvest how much "good fruit" comes out of it.
Our purpose in gathering is not to conform ourselves one to another. It is rather that we might be "conformed to the image of His Son". So in what God calls "the unity of the Spirit" there is a great degree of variance in God's design for each one of us, as "members in particular" in the body of Christ. Each member of the body, each plant in God's Garden... must find its own roots in Christ, and discover for himself his distinct calling and placement in God.
It was no tragic thing that happened when God "scattered" the saints in the early Church through persecution. God was behind it all. They had been taught the ways of the Lord. They no doubt had a lot of problems connected with community living, thousands of them being crowded together in the homes of the believers. But they loved one another, and they must have had tremendous fellowship as they walked in the fear of God, and gathered together in the little home churches scattered throughout the city. But it was only for a season. They had matured into "good seed", and Jesus said "He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom" (Matt. 13:38). The Sower wanted this precious seed to be reproduced in the earth; so He scattered them far and wide. "Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word" (Acts 8:4).
I recall reading about the Church in China when it was subdued under communism. The people were taken from their homes and forced to live in communes that were organized by the government. But God, in all of man's arrangements, knows how to put everything together for His own glory. By His own design He purposed to have "good seed" in these communes. It wasn't long before there were other "good seeds" born into the Kingdom in these government-controlled communes. But if and when too many people were converted to Christ, the authorities ordered them to be "scattered" far and wide into other communes, so as to extinguish their faith, or at least stop them from propagating it. But this was exactly what the Sower wanted to do. They were "good seed", and God wanted this "good seed" to be sown in other parts of that great country. God wants to fill the whole world with "the good seed" of the Kingdom; and He knows how to use even "the wrath of man" to fulfill His purposes!
God may gather His people together in crowds for a certain time, for a certain purpose. But let us be sure of this. If. "good seed" is forming in His people, in due course God is going to do some scattering.
The Seed begins to Germinate
"The sower soweth the word" (Mk. 4:14)
"He saith not, and to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ" (Gal. 3:16).
The Christian life is not an imitation of Christ, it is rather Christ reproducing Himself in the hearts of men. There must be new birth and an ongoing unfolding of new creation life: "Not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God which liveth and abideth for ever" (1 Pet. 1:23). As humans we are quick to put the stamp of finality on anything God does, failing to realize that God is Life, and whatever proceeds from Him must be unfolding and progressive in its outworking. Certainly there are instantaneous experiences in our walk with the Lord, and in these we rejoice. But God desires a continual unfolding in our lives "from glory unto glory". So that in all subsequent experiences that spring from our new life in Christ, there must be a strengthening and a deepening of our relationship with Him. Any experience that does not bring about this deepening of relationship with Him has fallen short of God's intention. There has been a lot of controversy over doctrines of first blessing, second blessing, and third blessing. But the doctrine of moving on with God into new realms of grace and glory, day by day and year by year, is not generally understood as God's plan for His people. And so we have the "getting" and "losing" type of Christian... always getting and losing the blessing, instead of recognizing they are now "blessed... with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3). On the other hand, many who know this to be their heritage .are content to stop there with the knowledge of it. But God's provisions of grace are intended to bring us into greater and still greater dimensions of the knowledge of the Lord. It is not enough just to become that good seed, that good kernel, that good bulb--no matter how holy we think we are. There must be a rending asunder, a breaking forth into new life, For He made us the kind of seed we are that when planted in His Garden we might come forth in new life, according to His own intention and design. He made us as we are, not so we would remain as we are, but that we might become what He wants us to become. "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (Jn. 12:24). God is looking for the increase and unfolding of the new life that is there. Planted in good ground that good seed will begin to crack and break open. And when this happens we are overwhelmed with a sense of weakness and frustration. You were getting it all together, and now what's happening? God wants us to discover a new center and source of being... even in Him. He wants the old shell to fall away, to give place to the new life into which we were born. We keep insisting that God take away the old nature. "Draw it out of me Lord,--take away that old nature, those old desires." But His desire is to become so great, so big within us, that we simply break apart, and the old life falls away because it can't abide with the new. And then those very difficult commandments of the New Covenant, suddenly become the operation of the Spirit of Life within us. We strive to "put of f the old man" and to "put on the new". But the "old man" was crucified with Jesus on the Cross; and we must take up our cross and follow Him if we are going to experience new life. Christ alone is pure and holy and undefiled. The old life was crucified at Calvary, and God wants the new life to grow and grow until there is no longer any place for the old. The old must simply disintegrate and fall away.
"Did you finally get through?" "O yes," says the little sprout as it pushes its head through the ground. "I prayed through". I believe there is a very great need for prevailing prayer. But let us be assured that every new experience in God is the beginning of a new time of God's dealings with us. And this must continue until we are conformed to the image of His Son. The new life is visible in the sprouting of the seed, but there is still a long way to go. When the Gardener walks into His Garden He is pleased to see new growth. But He is looking for something more... and He will wait for it.
Sunshine and Rain
"In that day sing ye unto her, A vineyard of red wine. I the LORD do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day" (Isa. 27:2, 3).
I am not at all discouraged because I fail to notice any fruit growing on my trees or shrubs in spring time. But I must give them proper care. I will water them because they need it, not because I can discern any fruit on the vine. God is blessing His people abundantly all over the land. God loves to bless His people. But all the time He is blessing He is hoping and longing for "the firstripe fruit" (Mic. 7:1). God wants us to understand this. He doesn't bless us because we are so spiritual; but His hope is that in blessing us He might make us spiritual. His hope is that by showering us with good things, He might bring us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). The Gardener knows just how much those weak plants can stand... so if it gets real hot, He will bless them more than usual. Not because they are so spiritual... but because they are tender and weak, and need it. He is glad to do it because He wants a garden that is strong and healthy. Perhaps at times some of them feel a little superior because they get more rain than others. Perhaps their prayers are answered more readily... they know how to get things from God. They've got a lot of faith. I feel a bit concerned at times when I hear some one boasting how God always hears and answers their prayers. If they really love God, and if God has special love for them, I know the time will come when their prayers may not be answered so readily... at least not right at the time of asking, or in the way they expected. God will not allow any of the plants in His Garden to boast about how strong their prayers are, or how strong is their faith. He knows how to humble them in His sight, lest in blessing them too much they begin to assume they are more spiritual than the other plants growing by their side. Some plants are more deeply rooted than others, and because of this they don't seem to need a blessing every day. Their roots go down far enough to get the moisture far below the surface. Some plants know that they are blessed "with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ." Others don't seem to know this, so they like to feel the rain falling on their head every day. But in either case, both are entirely dependent upon the Lord for their constant source of supply.
The Gardener knows just what we need, and He supplies accordingly. Like Boaz, He will leave "handfuls of purpose" for those who are in need. All these tokens of His love are very precious to us. But God's purpose is that one day Boaz will marry his begging hand-maid, and make her to be joint-heir with him in all that he has. Yes, "He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes" (1 Sam. 2:8). "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:3). I understand the word "poor" in this place, and in many others, means "a beggar, a pauper"... one who is totally dependent on what another might dole out to him. Jesus was that way. For he walked in total dependence upon the Father in His whole way of life and ministry. He took this position when He came to earth to redeem us, and to show us the Way of Life. It was for our sakes "he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich" (2 Cor. 8:9)--"Rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom" (Jas. 2:5). God make us to be spiritual "paupers"... totally at the mercy of our Heavenly Father. For His mercies are great!
The Gardener blesses His Garden with purpose in mind. He gives a "measure" to every man according as He sees fit (Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 12:11). The measure is not according to the desire of the one who receives, but according to the plan and purpose of the One who gives, And that plan is consistent with His election and fore-ordination, that in the ultimate we might come forth "as trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified" (Isa. 61:3). What should it matter to me whether He gives me one gift, or nine: because whatever He gives is not mine to possess, but mine to give away. And if He gives more, then He will require more. We will be judged on that day--not according to the gift He gave... whether it was little or much... but for our faithfulness in ministering the same to others, as "good stewards of the manifold grace of God" (1 Pet. 4:10). In whatever ministry or gift He gives, God's purpose is that we pour it forth unto others, as He may lead and direct by His anointing. It is not mine to waste on myself, but for the beautifying of the whole Garden. So what is the difference? And what is all this striving about getting gifts and blessings? It indicates a complete ignorance of God's purpose in His people. He gives His blessings to whom He chooses, when and how He wills, that these blessings might flow in His Garden, causing it to grow unto maturity, even unto "a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). "That ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 1:8).
"Thou, O God, didst send a plentiful rain, whereby thou didst confirm thine inheritance, when it was weary" (Psa. 68:9). His Garden needs the rain because of the drought, and the heat of the sun. Not merely to protect the plant from the sun, but to enable the plant to receive the life and virtue of the sun. His plants are famishing, and they cry out for rain! But the Gardener has His own motives. He is "looking for the precious fruit" to come forth in due season. And it is in hope of this that He sends the Early and the Latter Rain upon His people: the Early Rain to cause the seed to sprout and grow... and the Latter Rain, just before the Harvest, to bring forth the fruit that the Gardener has been waiting for. God will be faithful to send the Rain... because He must have a fruitful field. He must have "precious fruit" for His own pleasure.
Flourishing in Times of Famine
But there are others, just as needy, who dwell in dry places... and yet seem to be flourishing and fruitful even in times of famine. Why? And why are they not travelling the world in order to find God? Because they have found their roots deep in Him... and they walk with Him, and know Him, and rejoice in His rest and in His love... even in times of drought and famine:
"His delight is in the law of the LORD;
And in his law doth he meditate day and night.
And he shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That bringeth forth his fruit in his season;
His leaf also shall not wither;
And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper"
(Psa. 1:2, 3)
Let us dig deep, beloved! For there is a famine coming on the land! And I think it has already started. "Not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD" (Amos 8:11). But in that day God will have a "fruitful bough" in Egypt (in the world, but not of it) .. and this Joseph people will have bread to share with a world in need, and with the famishing people of God:
"Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall. The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him: but his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hand were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob" (Gen. 49:22-24).
A true disciple of the Lord Jesus is not a survivalist. God's agenda for a disciple is not to survive, but to lay down his life. He wants to bless us simply and only to make us a blessing. And this requires that we become "prisoners of the Lord" that others may go free... that we might be broken as bread, that others might eat... and poured out as wine, that others might drink and be blessed. For this is what the Love of God is all about; and it is this "pouring forth" that nurtures the true "joy of the Lord"... the joy of seeing many sons brought to glory.
The Weeding Process
"For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud... so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth" (Isa. 55:10, 11). God never intended that the rain that He sends upon His Garden should be consumed by weeds and thorns and briers. His desire is that His plants absorb the rain into their innermost being... causing them to grow in grace, produce leaves and flowers, and finally bring forth fruit for His glory.
The fruit of our lives is the ultimate proof of the soundness of our doctrine. We must have good doctrine, But the ultimate of good doctrine is the fruit of the Spirit coming forth in the lives of His people. Good doctrine is not a stagnant pool of rules or theological concepts. Good doctrine is pregnant with life, and brings forth life. There is no place in Christian growth for stagnation, where one feels "Finally I've found it..." First there is the planting of a good seed, then there is a sprout, then a bud, then the blooming of the flower... and finally the fruit. And God alone will decide in harvest time, whether you have borne good fruit. All along the way there is a growing process, and much blessing upon the plant, but if it doesn't come to the full intention of the Gardener, all that blessing has been for nought.
"For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God. But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned" (Heb. 6:7, 8).
The very same rain that strengthens and nourishes the plant and causes it to flourish, will strengthen and nourish the thorns and briers and cause them to flourish. God knows this, and He cautions us about the weeds. If we are drinking God's rain let us be sure we are seeking Him to know how to eradicate the thorns and briers; because these will grow alongside your corn and tomatoes if you will let them. And they will flourish with the same rain that waters the corn. When I built our home it was a part-time project, as I was working full time at my job. So I did not have the time to pull out the thistles that started to flourish in the back yard. Not many seasons went by till my Canada thistles were growing six feet tall; and when I started a garden some years later it took another couple of years to get the weeds under control. What caused all this? Well, those seeds were already there. The soil had been worked over during construction and this added to the problem. But it was the precious rain from heaven that caused them to flourish. Jesus warned us about the danger of "thorns" in our garden, which He describes as "the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, (which) choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful" (Matt. 13:22).
Let us understand what God is showing us. Even His good rain will cause thorns and briers to grow in your heart, if not eradicated. God's blessing upon our lives will nurture pride, bitterness, strife, conceit, high-mindedness, covetousness... and all kinds of hurtful lusts, if we are not watchful. I didn't say God's blessing would cause it--I said His blessing would nurture it. And all the while you may be rejoicing in the great things God is doing in your life and ministry. You and I had better understand that with every blessing He gives, the Gardener is seeking to reveal the "thoughts and intents of the heart". Paul admonishes us to look diligently "lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled" (Heb. 12:15).
"Lord, help us to understand that the further we go on with Thee, the greater is our responsibility..
That the more we receive of Thee, the more dost Thou expect to receive from us,
That the greater our capacity for truth and revelation, the greater likewise will be our capacity for pride and deception.
That when the unclean spirit moves out, and the owner sweeps his house clean and beautifies it--the evil spirit may, come back with seven others more vile than he. If we do not ask the Lord earnestly to come and inhabit our house--the Enemy will attempt a comeback, and the house will become seven-fold more evil than it was before. (See Matt .12:43-45).
That unless Thou dost become our habitation, our center and source of life, the more will we be filled with our own ways, And consequently the greater will be our own delusion.
But may we always find grace to lose our lives, lay down our gifts, our blessings, our all--that we may find true blessing and joy in the Fountain-head of Truth, even in Thee alone."
Rooted and Grounded in Him
Our Gardener desires that our roots be firmly grounded in Him, which means that we are to become totally dependent upon Him. We will only bear good fruit, much fruit, more fruit--as we sink our roots deep in the soil of His love and truth. "And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward" (Isa. 37:31). This relates to what the apostle Paul said, "That ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge" (Eph. 3:17-19). So often I get the feeling that God's people hear and read these tremendous things in God's word--and sort of pass them off with a shrug: "Yes, that's wonderful, isn't it?" But they go on their way pursuing religious programs, and magnifying the blessings in their midst, as if these were the ultimate issues of life. I think it is true in our day, as it was said of Ephraim through the prophet, "I have written to him the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing. They sacrifice flesh for the sacrifices... but the LORD accepteth them not..." Then he adds, "Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples" (Hos. 8:12-14). They were very diligent in the religious ritual, which God didn't even want; and in doing all these things they forgot their Maker, and built temples!
These great and precious truths concerning a people coming into the exhaustless riches of Christ are considered to be far-out strange things. And they go their way offering sacrifices and building temples "for the glory of God". And yet in and through it all God is searching, yearning... for the sacrifices of "a broken and a contrite heart". He is longing for a habitation in the hearts of His people. We must never despise the blessings, but He wants all these to give way to an "abiding" realm in Christ. While we do our part by walking in obedience, all the while He is faithfully doing His part... in weeding, and thinning, and transplanting, and cultivating, and turning over the sod. He is faithfully exposing all our potential enemies to the rays of the Sun of Righteousness, so that they might wither away in His presence. Many a weed, many a thorn and brier has been removed entirely from your life and mine without us even knowing it, because of His faithfulness. But let there be no self-confidence in any of us, for in our flesh there "dwelleth no good thing". Let there be no glorying in spiritual attainment--in gifts, in ministries, in mighty operations of God... for such glorying has nurtured roots of pride and arrogance in many, and smothered them with leaves of self-righteousness.
God's Inheritance in His People
"Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance..." (Ex. 15:17).
It is by no means a comfortable feeling to be torn up from the roots, and planted in a brand new environment. It may seem a little cruel on the part of the Gardener, but He will take great care. When this happens, we can wilt quite easily. But as some one has pointed out, God will leave a bit of the old dirt there on the roots, till the plant is able to take root in the new soil. We may have felt quite comfortable in our little church, in our home fellowship, in our denomination, in our world of religious activity. And I don't think we should despise "the sincere milk of the word" that God fed us with in former days... nor assume that we are more mature than we really are. For the Bible tells us: "Despise not thy mother when she is old" (Prov. 23:22). But neither are we supposed to be tied to our dear mother's apron strings the rest of our lives. God had planned from the beginning to plant us "in the mountain of His inheritance". It was never His intention that we should take firm root, and flourish, and die in Egypt... nor yet in the wilderness not even in Elim, refreshing as it was for a season; "where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees" (Ex. 15:27). It seems strange that God's people who are generally ready to expand their horizons for temporal gain in business or education, so often seem to have no vision for progress and enlargement beyond their circle of religious activity, no yearning to explore "the deep things of God". It is considered to be too far-out... one of those strange things. God never brought us where we are now, to leave us here the rest of our days, going through the routine of religious services. His intention is to plant us in the mountain of His inheritance "in the place, O LORD, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established" (Ex. 15:17). You mean He wants to plant us in His own home, in His own inheritance, in His own Garden? Exactly. A Garden to beautify His own inheritance? A Garden that will provide fruit to satisfy His own hunger? Yes, He longs for that. But He is not hungering for sacrifice and offering, nor for the beasts of the field, as Israel thought. Not for ceremony and ritual. Not for the temples men are building for His glory. Not for our natural resources and wealth. He has no delight in any of these things. What then is He hungering for? He wants to come in and sit at our table, and eat with us.
Standing at the Door of Laodicea
I see our Lord still standing there, outside the door of the Laodicean Church, knocking and hoping that someone would let Him in. There on the inside there is plenty of joy, good music, and lots of action. There are programs for everybody, ministrations for every good cause, but not much for Him. There is good preaching, nice choir singing, wonderful orchestras, and the beat of the drums and cymbals to keep every one in the proper mood. There is beautiful worship with all the frills of banners and ribbons. Lots of color... gold and purple and silver. There is jubilation among the young people... and passive forbearance on the part of the old. There are even prophetic utterances from time to time, generally reminding them how much the Lord loves them and how God is using them for His glory. But generally no one listens too much, because they have heard all that before.
But while all this is going on the Holy One of Israel stands outside the door, knocking, and asking if He might come in. He is outside, because they crowded Him out... with many strange things that grieved His heart. Or He may simply have just walked out when He realized nobody wanted to hear what He had to say. He had no right to dictate the order of worship and ministry, or to lead the people by waters still, or in pastures green... because the order of the meeting had already been arranged. He came to be Lord in their hearts, and Lord in their gatherings... and He will not serve at the altar as long as antichrist sits on the throne of their hearts. He will be Lord in their midst, or He will take His place quietly outside the door.
But He will continue to knock. He will continue to cry out to those who are hungry and thirsty, asking if He might come in. Too long has He been the Great Benefactor, the Santa Claus of every selfish heart crying out for blessings, and healings, and prosperity. Sure, they want everything God has for them. They want healing and blessing and prosperity. They want His enabling wisdom to operate a successful business. They need His help to increase their church attendance, enlarge their Sunday Schools, finance the building of their temples, enlarge their missionary programs, or their TV programs. They want Him to put His stamp of approval upon their wonderful projects.
But He wants to be the Lord in their midst, as surely as He is in Heaven... and not just the silent listener to every conversation. So we see Him outside the door, because He was crowded out; and we hear Him calling:
"Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20).
"I want to have supper with you," He says. We think we are the needy ones, not He. What can I give Him, that He would want to have supper at my house? First of all, we must know what He wants to eat. Jesus said He found something to eat when the disciples went away into the city to buy food. Did some one give Him food while they were away? "Yes," He said, "I have meat to eat that ye know not of... My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work" (Jn. 4:32, 34). But where did He get this food? From a poor devastated woman from Samaria, who came to Jacob's well to draw water. And in giving to her the water of life and the bread of life, He Himself was fed by her. Jesus was not out there in some kind of religious activity to promote His Messianic ministry in the earth. His agenda was very simple: "Lo I come to do thy will O God"... and this became his daily bread. Therefore His hunger was satisfied when others would eat of the bread that He gave them. His thirst was quenched, when He was able to pour into their lives the living waters.
But how can this be? We will only understand this when we learn the truth of what He taught: "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). God is Love. That is His very nature, to love... and therefore to give. He gave His Son at Calvary, because He is love. God was greatly "blessed" in giving His Son, because "Love" is only satisfied when others are helped and blessed. How we rejoice in a God who loved so much, that He gave!
But now He gives Himself again by His Spirit, that He might indwell us through and through... and that we might find our habitation in Him. And we draw back. We spurn His giving, and call it heresy. O yes, we want to receive His great salvation... His healing, His gifts and blessings. We want to see His mighty workings in the earth. But He wants a people who will receive Him into their lives as Lord. He wants to possess us, and fill every area of our being. And we draw back. We think we are being wholehearted and open before the Lord when we pray, "Yes, Lord, I want everything You have for me". But God says, "Child of Mine, I want everything you have for Me. I want to give you Myself... not just things that you may enjoy. And I can only give you all of Me, when you give Me all of you."
"God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" (1 Jn. 4:16). God is greatly dishonoured when we desire everything He has for us, but hesitate to give Him everything we have for Him. He wants us to present ourselves at His altar, as a "living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God" (Rom. 12:1).
Jesus said, "Abide in me, and I in you". I fear I have only waded through the shallows of this. I have never been able to fathom the depths of this beautiful statement. So simple... so plain... so clear. But so measureless... so boundless... so exhaustless. You mean He wants to make His home in me? And He wants me to make my home in God? It is as simple as that. Yet so far beyond our comprehension. Abiding with Him in the place of God's Inheritance. And where is His inheritance? In the hearts of those who love Him, and desire to obey Him and walk with Him. For this is the true measure of our love: "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (Jn. 14:23). He wants to transplant us, out and away from the barren and empty wastes of our wilderness, and into the Garden of His own inheritance.
The Pruning Process
"Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth (pruneth) it, that it may bring forth more fruit" (Jn. 15:2).
When God takes His pruning knife in hand and begins to strip the unnecessary twigs and branches from His chosen ones, the result of it all appears to be total devastation. We are always happy, of course, when He cuts away something we know is harmful to our well being... some carnal habit or worldly desire that we know is hindering the joy of Christian living. Or even some religious enterprise that we thought was for His glory... but which turned out to be empty and void and unsatisfying. But generally our Gardener will cut much deeper than we expected. I am not the judge as to how much of your work for God was carnal to begin with. But God will often dissolve certain religious activities even if it was right for a season. And the reason we are troubled about it is because we do not understand what God considers to be vital for bearing good fruit. We must come to the renewed mind, and love Him more, before we will understand what is well pleasing in His sight. With the carnal mind we are quick to presume that if the church is thriving and the crowds are straining the facilities... God wants us to expand in order to keep up with it. He may allow you to do that, but His desire may be that you separate it into smaller groups... that He might discover more and better fruit in harvest time. The apple tree and the pear, and the peach... are much more beautiful before the pruning, than they are after. But the fruit farmer is looking only for the fruit; and the beautiful tree in his eyes is the tree that has been trimmed down in a way that will cause it to produce more and better fruit in harvest time.
Are we afraid to ask the Lord to prune us down to the shape and size that He has in mind? Or will we continue to go our own way, hoping some how that He might spare the knife because of our achievements, or because of our ambition to be successful in the work of the Master? Once we catch sight of the "more excellent way" we will sincerely ask Him to strip away every little twig and branch, every carnal desire, every bit of highmindedness and selfish ambition... if so be He might come and make His habitation in His inheritance that He has redeemed for His own pleasure. We need much pruning in our lives, to bring us to the place where we sincerely, and out from hearts of love and gratitude, are desirous of one thing, and one thing only... that God alone might be glorified in all that we are doing.
Chapter 4 - Summer...Warm and Beautiful
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