Saturday, October 13, 2018

Watering


I recently dreamed that I was getting caught up on some much needed housework when I discovered a forgotten collection of house plants hidden behind a pile of clutter on a coffee table. I was amazed that they were still alive, and even seemed to be thriving, as I had completely neglected them and could not even remember where they came from!

Two plants in particular caught my eye. One was a bright green spearmint plant, and the other a desert succulent, its spiny leaves resembling Aloe vera, but with a beautiful, exotic, lavender bloom that resembled a lotus blossom in shape.

I checked the soil in all the pots and found that it was bone dry to my touch. Somewhat gingerly, as I realized the plants had done so well without my attention, I decided to water them. As the streams of water from my watering can hit the dirt, the soil fragmented into large clumps, exposing the roots, which appeared to be healthy despite the small plastic pots that contained them.

It was not until the evening after I had the dream that I even recalled it, my memory awakened by reaching for the Bible I like to read aloud to my husband as we travel in our car. Shortly after I began to read, I realized that my skirt was damp where the open Bible was resting on it, and that the cover must have gotten wet from an umbrella my husband had placed near it after last night’s storm.

That evening in church, I was surprised to see a young Muslim woman whom I first met about two years ago, when she had visited the Bible study class I teach. Although she then had many questions about Jesus, the Bible, and salvation, which members of my class and I attempted to answer thoroughly, we never saw her again until the evening after I had this dream. She has since returned several times, spoken with the pastor and missionaries, and appears to be soaking up God’s Word.

Several evenings after the dream, my husband and I attended a dance concert at a college where we had been blessed to perform one of our dance ministry pieces a few years ago. A young woman who looked familiar, although I could not immediately remember why, crossed the crowded reception area to greet me with a big hug.

“You don’t know me,” she said, “but I performed in the same concert with you and your husband a few years ago, and you guys are awesome!”

Then I remembered that she had told me at our first meeting that she was encouraged by how we used our dancing to glorify God, and that we had spoken briefly about how she could best discover and follow God’s plan for her life, in accordance with some Bible verses I gave her. As these memories were resurfacing in my mind, she excitedly introduced me to her fiancé and explained that she was now a first grade teacher, using her love of dance and of God to engage the children under her care.

The symbolism of the dream, the moist Bible, and these two meetings suddenly came together for me. We are to faithfully sow the seed of God’s Word (Matthew 13:140) and to foster its growth in others, even if we see no fruit from our efforts immediately or even further down the road. As the apostle Paul said, some plant the seed, some water the developing shoot, and some tend the mature plant, but it is God Who brings the increase (1 Corinthians 3:5-8).

The plants in my dream were thriving despite my lack of ongoing care for them, the absence of recent watering, and their being planted in cramped containers. Once we plant the seed of God’s Word in someone’s heart, His Spirit will facilitate its growth through His direct work (John 3:5-8; 16:13; Luke 11:13) and indirectly through the ministry and witness of others (Romans 10:14-17).

The watering of developing faith also occurs through His Word (Ephesians 5:26), as God reminded me with the rain-dampened Bible that moistened me as I read from it. It was as if the Living Water (John 4:10; 7:38) poured from Heaven to God’s Word, thereby cleansing me!

We may hand a stranger a tract, pray for them, or witness to them in a brief, passing conversation, never in this lifetime to see them again or to know what, if any, impact we had. But I believe God gave me an encouraging glimpse, through this dream and through second meetings with these two women, that our work for Him is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58), and that His Word will not return to Him void, but will accomplish His purpose (Isaiah 55:11).

The spearmint plant reminded me of the school teacher, as mint is a spreading herb with many offshoots, and this woman is now in a position to nurture many budding young minds. I had also recently read an article about the potential of spearmint to enhance memory and cognition, and I believe that God will use this teacher to grow her students in the knowledge, wisdom and love of God (Proverbs 9:10; Ephesians 1:17).

The succulent plant reminded me of the Muslim woman, and of Hagar calling out to God in the desert to save Ishmael, who would grow up to be the father of the Muslim nations (Genesis 17:20), from dying of thirst (Genesis 20:13-20) . At our first meeting, her manner and disruptions were somewhat abrasive, like the spines on an aloe plant, but over time, a precious flower appears to have blossomed, reflecting the opening of her heart to God’s truth that I had not perceived before.

The healing and soothing qualities of aloe (Psalm 45:8; Song of Solomon 4:14; John 19:39) may represent the peace (Philippians 4:7) and joy (Psalm 35:9; Isaiah 61:10; Habakkuk 3:18) that I pray she may someday be able to share with her family and community through a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Succulents and mint are both hearty plants, able to survive and propagate even in conditions of drought and poor soil. Similarly, I believe that God created us with the resilience to continue in our quest for Him even with little nurturing from our environment. That being said, as good gardeners, Christians should continue to feed, water and protect whatever souls God plants along our wayside.

On those rare occasions when we do have a second encounter with those whom God has previously brought across our path, we should not hesitate, as God opens the door, to check on their spiritual state and to continue to water their developing faith and provide the light of His Word (2 Timothy 4:2; 1 Peter 3:15). Their reaction to that Word may reflect what will grow in their heart, and whether the Word is falling on shallow, stony, choked or good soil (Matthew 13:1-23).

Praise God that He rewards our obedience, and not our “success.” It is the work of the Holy Spirit to lead a soul to be born again (John 3:3-8), and our work to share the good news of the Gospel (Matthew 28:19). Our message must be that Jesus, Son of God, came to earth in human form (John 1:14) to pay for our sins in full through His agonizing death on the cross; that He was buried; and that He rose again on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), proving His divinity, so that all who trust Him will have everlasting life (John 3:16).  

Praise the Lord that He need not rely solely on any one of us to bring a soul to Him, but that He can work through many of us, all of whom will share in the soulwinner’s crown (1 Thessalonians 2:19) when we face Him at the judgment seat! May we therefore not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season, we shall reap, if we do not faint at the task! (Galatians 6:9)


© 2018 Laurie Collett


 




Saturday, October 6, 2018

Restoration May First Mean Removal

Photo by Kanko 2007

I dreamed that I was attending a church retreat at a rural location in which there were several small, primitive outbuildings scattered in the woods. After the long drive to get there, I wanted to change my clothes and freshen up before the services began, so I went into a shed, locked the door and sat at a small dressing table. There was no electricity, but enough light penetrated the small grimy window for me to barely see my reflection in the mirror.

As I began applying my makeup, I was horrified to see that the blush and foundation were disintegrating in their containers, and that clumps of bristles were falling out of the brushes. I realized too late that the shed where I had chosen to change was actually used for antique furniture refinishing, and that the fumes from paint stripper and other solvents were eating away at the cosmetics, not to mention my skin and lungs!

I ran out of the shed in a panic and was relieved to breathe the fresh air outside, to experience the light breeze and warm sun on my skin, and to rinse my face and hands in a bubbling fountain. As I discarded the cosmetics and applicators, I was surprised to experience a sense of freedom, rather than anxiety or embarrassment, at not being able to conceal my imperfections.

When I awoke the next morning, I was reminded of a sermon I had heard the day before on God’s power of restoration. Before God can restore a believer to spiritual wholeness, sometimes He allows His child to experience a great financial, physical, or emotional loss.

The symbolism of the dream reminded me that before a fine antique can be restored to its original beauty and design, it must first be stripped of layers of paint, varnish, and grime. Thoughtfully applied makeup may enhance our physical appearance, but we must remove it and thoroughly wash our face at the end of the day, or our skin will break out in blemishes. Cleansing is essential not only to take off the makeup, but also dead skin cells and dirt that accumulate during the day.

As we go through life, we become adept at quick fixes: a dab of concealer to hide dark circles after a sleepless night; a forced smile when our heart is breaking; or a white lie about our friend’s new dress complimenting her figure, to distract us from addressing her shopping addiction resulting from emotional neediness.

But these quick fixes cannot fool God. There is no sense in trying to hide our weaknesses from Him, for He knows all about them and us, even better than we know ourselves (Job 42:3; Psalm 139:1-6). He knows not only our sins of omission or commission, but even the dark thoughts that seep from our wicked heart (Psalm 139:23-24). He knows our physical, financial and emotional problems and is working on the solution before we even ask Him (Matthew 6:8,32).

Yet sometimes the solution to our crisis, or even to our chronic challenges, is radical removal of what we think we need to solve the problem on our own. In the dream, the makeup fell apart and became useless before I could even apply it, and the paint stripper fumes forced me outdoors into the light, where cleansing and healing could begin.

The breeze and fresh air symbolized the renewing power of the Holy Spirit (Genesis 1:2; Acts 2:1-4), and the sunlight and fountain represented Jesus, the Light of the world (John 8:12) and the Living Water (John 4:10-14; Revelation 7:17) from Whom all blessings flow (James 1:17).

Jesus taught that on our own, we can do nothing (John 15:5), but that with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, The apostle Paul realized that God’s grace is sufficient, and that His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Yet so often we turn to our own feeble, manmade strategies that give us a false sense of control, rather than taking our burden to the foot of His cross and leaving it there for Him to handle in His perfect way, with His perfect timing (1 Peter 5:7).

But sometimes when we feel we are being stripped of our own illusory powers, we panic and fail to realize that His greater plan is at work. Sometimes He must bring us to our knees and remove all that we hold dear before we accept that He alone holds our future; that He will allow no trial into our life unless it is for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28); and that His infinite love (1 John 4:8), power (2 Samuel 22:33; Psalm 62:11) and wisdom (Job 36:5; Daniel 2:20) will restore to us many times over what we have lost.

This is clear in the story of Job, who through no fault of his own suffered the loss of all that he had, except for his life and that of his spouse. God allowed Satan to strip Job of his children, wealth, and health, to settle a dispute between Himself and Satan, and to allow Job the opportunity to prove himself faithful to God even in extreme adversity (Job 1).

But when Job was faithful not only to accept God’s will, but also to pray for his “friends” despite their lack of encouragement and support, God restored to him his health, his wealth many times over, and even blessed him with more children  (Job 42).

The ultimate example of removal before restoration is when God brings a nonbeliever to his knees by whatever means necessary – danger, disease, financial crisis, loss of a loved one. As the saying goes, there are no atheists in foxholes. These extreme trials may result in devastating loss, yet if they bring someone to abandon their reliance on self and trust in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way (John 14:6) to Heaven, the eternal restoration infinitely outweighs the removal of temporal assets.

When we experience loss in our lives, may we prove faithful as Job to trust God for the ultimate, manifold restoration of priceless blessings!


© 2018 Laurie Collett