Take a look at the pictures above. That’s what my yard looks like right now. My poor sweet next door neighbors have to be a little puzzled by my yard maintenance right now – not that it is ever perfectly manicured – but I am sure they are wishing I would clear away those mostly dead zinnia stalks right now. It’s kind of an eyesore. It’s hard to believe next summer’s glory is all right there because you sure can’t see it now.
Zinnias and butterfly weed are reseeding annuals, which means that the dead flowers and the fluff caught on the stalks are really just bundles of seeds. If I leave that mess in place long enough, it will crumble and scatter that seed into the dirt. The seed will lie dormant all fall, and when the sun heats the ground again late next spring, the seeds will push through the soil, emerging to flower again.
The southern gardener knows that there is more going on in the fall and winter garden than meets the eye. In fact, late fall is the optimal time to plant shrubs, trees, and perennials, even though the plants often look pretty pitiful. The soil in the South usually stays warm enough to foster root growth even in midwinter, so that the plant can focus all its energy to grow beneath the soil. When spring comes, the roots are deep and established, and the plant is primed to thrive immediately. Planting in spring or summer doesn’t allow a plant to get securely established before it is time to fruit and flower.
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead… (Romans 1:20)
Just because something appears dead or lifeless doesn’t mean it is.
We see this principle at work in the life of Moses. What does Moses have in common with zinnia seeds? Moses had a vision (a dream, if you will), to free the people of Israel from Pharoah. He took matters into his own hands and killed an Egyptian slave master for tormenting a Hebrew slave, and for this rash act he was banished into the desert for forty years.
Forty years. That is a really long time to sit and stew in regret. Moses probably thought God had no use for him and his big ideas anymore, that he had squandered his position of influence in Pharoah’s house, and his sin had rendered him useless to God’s purpose. However, as Ruth Chou Simmons says, "We don't have to be blooming to be growing." Moses was so completely humbled by forty years of tending sheep in the desert that when God called him to return and lead Israel to freedom, he no longer believed he was capable of the task. All along God was establishing Moses, causing the roots of his faith to grow down deep into God, rather than in himself. Forty years of invisible work in Moses’ heart suddenly sprang to life and began to bear glorious fruit.
Remember for a minute how those Israelites got to Egypt in the first place. Joseph was a man with a vision, too. God told Joseph he would be a great man, honored by his whole family. Instead, his brothers threw him into a pit and sold him into slavery, and then he went from slavery to jail. Joseph was “buried” like a seed three times over, until the work God had prepared for him was ready. He rose to prominence as Pharoah’s right hand man.
Even more miraculous than the shift in Joseph’s situation was the change in his brothers’ hearts. They went from being men so callous that they would sell their brother and tell their father he was dead, to being men willing to lay down their lives to avoid causing their family any more pain. The work of God in their hearts was long and slow, but real and powerful and lasting. The fruit of all that growing was finally and magnificently evident when Judah offered his life for Benjamin’s, a sign of true and deep repentance.
This pattern is everywhere in the Bible. Abraham and Sarah were way past any reasonable hope for a baby, as were Hannah and Elkanah, Zechariah and Elizabeth. Ruth and Naomi were penniless widows. Samson had been stripped of his strength by his own sin. The widow had no food for her son, much less Elijah. Daniel received a death sentence. To all appearances, hope was dead, circumstances beyond repair.
God is at work always, even in the bleakest of circumstances. He brings new life from death.
All of these stories point to Jesus. When all hope was gone, Jesus dead and buried, the disciples scattered, God overcame death with resurrection life.
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24)
Jesus was that first kernel of wheat to fall to the ground and die, so that we through His death might live. Just like the disciples could not see what was happening between Friday and Sunday, we cannot see clearly what God is doing now. We can trust Him. HE IS AT WORK. This is why Peter says that we have a “living hope”- the One that we hope in is alive. *(1 Peter 1:3) We cannot see Him now, nor can we see all that He is doing in us and through us and around us. But because we know He lives, we hope in what we cannot see: For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. (Romans 8:24-5)
Persevering with trust in God's unseen work is especially important when we are impatient to see change. If I have a longstanding struggle with a difficult person (who probably thinks I am the difficult one!), I vacillate between being disgusted with that person and totally annoyed with myself. Why won’t she/he change? Why can’t I? My prayers grow faint, then scarce. When I look for blooms and fruit and do not see them, I assume that God has moved on to answering someone else’s prayers.
Our faith cannot rest in what we see. We have faith in HIM. He has proven Himself trustworthy; He has proven that He often works in ways we cannot see until His time is right. We do not put our faith in what we think we see or do not see. We do not put our faith in our own goodness or our own strength. We do not put our faith in a bank account or a safe neighborhood or a loving spouse or a president we agree with. We do not hope in a change in circumstance or a change in someone else. These are all good things, but they do not possess the power of resurrection or salvation. Only Jesus does.
In the dying light of autumn, we look through the falling leaves and the rotting zinnia stalks to the seeds of new life, and we give thanks to God.
Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” (Revelation 21: 5)
* Thanks to Jen Wilkin for this insight. 1 Peter Bible Study, published by TGC