Abiding in winter.

wintertreesI was having a rough day yesterday, so I took a walk. I read somewhere that Smith Wigglesworth did a one-hour prayer walk each day and it seemed to work well for him, so off I went. I was crying out to God – well, whining really – but doesn’t “crying out” sound so much more spiritual? So there I was, crying out to God, when I felt like He asked me a question. Now I don’t often write about hearing from God because it’s a little uncomfortable for me. Not because I don’t believe God still speaks to people today, but because there have been times when I thought it was God and guess what? It wasn’t.

Maybe it’s the lawyer in me, but I’m pretty Old Testament about the whole speaking for God thing. I haven’t come across any “oops” clause in Deuteronomy 18:20-22. It’s a bright line rule and I’m okay with that. Who wants their statements misquoted or taken out of context? As anyone who has played a game of telephone can attest, humans are notoriously sloppy communicators. Just look at the first specimens – God told them not to eat from the tree and they immediately turned around and told the serpent they couldn’t eat or touch the fruit, Thus Sayeth the Lord. And we all know what happened next.

I’m going to go off on a little rabbit trail here {you’re surprised, right?}. Some people say God doesn’t require as much accuracy when it comes to speaking for Him since Jesus came. I’ve never heard them clarify exactly what an acceptable track record would be, which makes me nervous. I mean can you just swing away and get credit for trying, like in T-ball? Or do you actually have to get some hits under your belt if you want to stay in the lineup? What if you’re going strong and then have one bad inning? It happens.

If you have any insight into New Testament prophecy standards, please enlighten me. I’m serious. God knows {I mean, there’s a high probability He knows} that I could stand to chill out…just a bit.

Anyway, as I was walking and crying out and wondering why my life is so not like Smith Wigglesworth’s, I felt like God asked me a question. What I seemed to have heard was “What season is it?”

Is that a sufficient hedge? Swing and miss, or foul ball?

What Season Is It?

Now that’s a question I’ve never thought to ask myself. It’s not like I’ve been out of the job routine so long that entire months have vanished without my being aware of it. A few minutes maybe and possibly half a day here and there, but not weeks on end. Nevertheless, I did actually have to think about it. I’m in Southern California right now, which must have been at the end of the line on the fourth day of creation, because they don’t have seasons here.

Ok. Winter. It’s winter. I know…move on already.

And then it hit me. I have been wanting lush grass to sprout beneath my feet and for all the trees to appear in full bloom. But winter growth happens on the inside and only when there’s been serious pruning beforehand.

I love fall in Washington DC. But it doesn’t last long and though the demise of fall is the same each year, it always takes me by surprise. One day the trees are covered in their brilliant red and orange outer garments. Then a storm rolls in and the next morning they’re completely bare. Nekked. Suddenly you can see all the chipped paint and cracked moldings on the brownstones.

Leaves cover a multitude of flaws. Just ask Adam and Eve.

So it’s winter. And I feel a little exposed. I’m not seeing signs of life and I don’t like it. Any progress that might be happening now will take months to manifest.

I have two choices. I can “cry out” for three months and live dissatisfied until the blossoms reappear. Or I can cooperate with the season I’m in, celebrate the pruning and honor invisible growth.

This is not a small thing. God said {of this I am sure} that seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter would not cease as long as the earth remained. On the fourth day of creation, God put certain boundaries in place, which man has attempted to violate with impunity ever since. I have to wonder whether in our Christian attempts to restore the boundaries of marriage, gender identification, respect for fellow humans and the beginning of life itself, we are missing something. We work right along with the world at a feverish pace trying to force dormant grass to grow and deciduous trees to bloom no matter the season. And when nature doesn’t cooperate, there’s Photoshop.

Maybe we’ve got things turned around. I mean what if we actually lived within the boundaries of God’s seasons? What if we intentionally curtailed our activities at certain times to strengthen the inner man? Wouldn’t the blossoms be so much more abundant in the spring? And wouldn’t the summer fruit be that much sweeter?

These are not rhetorical questions. Even as I write them, I have doubts. I mean, I have big, bold, busy plans for this winter. Plans that will fall by the wayside if I don’t step it up and make something happen. But that just doesn’t feel right. And it doesn’t at all resemble life as a branch on Christ’s vine.

The branch that abides bears much fruit.

I am fascinated with winemaking because it involves so many disciplines: agriculture {more accurately, viniculture}, chemistry, art, marketing, and more. Vintners know that getting good grapes in the fall requires hard pruning the prior winter. It doesn’t seem logical to cut away all that growth so capable of producing fruit. Nevertheless, it has to go.

grapevine in winterWhen I think of being a branch for Jesus, this is not exactly what I have in mind.

This poor thing looks abandoned, awkward, a little despondent…and just what a grape vine is supposed to look like in the dead of winter. If it wasn’t cut back, you’d fault the grower for his negligence.

You can berate those sticks for not bringing forth abundant fruit; you can send them to Joel Osteen; you can surround them with motivational posters. They won’t bear fruit out of season. Period.

But if those branches simply hang out on the vine for a few months, something wonderful will happen.

I can’t tell you how many sermons I’ve listened to on the law of sowing and reaping. We love that principle in part because it involves so much of our own doing. We get to bustle with activity as we plant the seeds and then we wait impatiently {i.e. busy with ourselves with other pursuits} until it’s time to break out the scythes and baskets and pull in the harvest. While it’s definitely satisfying to see the fruit of your labor, I’m wondering if maybe we focus too much on the work of our own hands.

Where’s the sermon on the seed lying in the ground or the dry branch on the vine?

Can you even make a three-point sermon out of abiding in wintertime? 1) Get your limbs hacked off. 2) Stop whining. 3) Stay put. No take-away action steps for productive believers. So not seeker-sensitive.

But what if there is another law at work? The law of boundaries and seasons…of abiding and resting…of hanging out with the Branch while He prunes the vine and husbands it, growing it to maturity so it will bear good and lasting fruit.

Maybe I’ll have to write that sermon myself someday.


One thought on “Abiding in winter.

  1. Chidren require a very close connection between right action and reward. Affirming a two year old for something they did last week is probably not going to make much of a connection for them.

    I absolutely agree with you, Alexandra, that part of adulthood is being able to go through a dry time without losing our connection with God and our perspective of the fact that “dry” times simply mean there is deep work going on inside us.


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