What does springtime of the heart feel like?
It pulses with joy. The opening verses of Isaiah 35 are a refrain of celebration: “glad, ” “joy, ” “rejoice greatly, ” “shout for joy.” Spring is a raucous fanfare of jubilation. And it’s the creation itself that rejoices — the once parched land, the once barren wilderness, begins the parade. Trees and rivers and mountains and billy goats and ducklings — yes, and elephants — frolic. Creation itself delights in the newness that breaks forth from the deadness.
When God moves, creation responds. This is a Biblical theme, and especially in Isaiah. It’s Isaiah who envisions, as the people of God respond in obedience to the commands of God, that creation strikes up the band –whole mountains sing, whole forests dance. And Psalms, too, are suffused with the same theme — Psalm 29, for instance, where cedars and oak trees bend and shatter beneath the voice of God.
But the theme moves from metaphor into reality in the New Testament. The winds and the waves obey Christ’s voice. The creation itself mourns when Christ is crucified — midday becomes night, the earth shakes in anguish. And earth, too, exults at Christ’s presence. If we are silent, the rocks themselves will sing. Given Christ’s track record, it’s possible He didn’t mean it as a mere figure of speech.
But implied in the joy of creation is joy among God’s people. Isaiah 35 hints at Romans 8: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:18-21 TNIV).
Here, the creation follows our lead, not the other way around. It waits for our cue. The people of God experience liberation from bondage first, then the whole world takes up the chorus, joins the dance. Isaiah himself says as much in his famous passage where “the mountains and hills . . . burst into song before You, and all the trees of the field . . . clap their hands.” But what happens first? Watch:
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and they do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed to the sower and bread for the eater,
so is My word that goes out from My mouth: it will not return to Me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy and led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills will burst into song before You,
the trees of the field will clap their hands. (Isaiah 55:10-12)
God speaks first. Then you — you — “will go out with joy and be led forth in peace.” Then creation joins the song.
Here’s one way I have seen that happen. A number of times in our church, the congregation’s gone through a tangible renewal (an experience I’ll describe in personal terms in the next section). Always, a reawakening to God’s voice sparks this. We hear with clarity and respond with swiftness to God’s Word and presence. These seasons are always marked by repentance, but they are also characterized by joy and peace. We have a fresh hunger for prayer, preaching, worship, service, evangelism, friendship. We work hard and celebrate often. Our joy is obvious and infectious, our peace deep and inviting.
When these seasons are upon us, creation blooms. We tend gardens, walk the woods, play in the parks. We pick up litter we didn’t leave. We notice birds, trees, clouds, frogs. The natural overflow of our reignited love for God and humanity is our awakened love for creation, our enlarged capacity to see it, enjoy it, and care for it.
When we go out in joy and led forth in peace, trees clap, mountains sing.
And the opposite is true. I can tell you at a glance when a church, my own included, is joyless and without peace. The grounds and the building tell the story before anyone else does. Neglect. Withering. Rank ness. Debris. Trees dying, weeds run amok. When there’s no song from the hills or applause from the trees, it’s a given that there’s not much singing and clapping, joy and peace, anywhere close by.
Tune–In 5 “Green Thumb”
Every spring I need to plant at least one thing — a wisteria, a plum tree, an azalea, an English rose, a wandering Jew (well, there are so many to choose from, I usually need to plant more than one). The need is fed by a miracle, year after year, of what the ground does with its foundling: nurtures it into a great handling thing, many climbed as a Hindu goddess, or shaggy as a bison, or bejeweled with flowers. I think if I live to be 103, the magic act of seed and soil will never cease to astonish me.
It’s also true spiritually: every spring I need to plant one thing, usually many. I try a new preaching style. I revise or revive or renovate a ministry. I roll out some newfangled, never-heard-of-before thing — an outreach to Elvis impersonators, or a worship service with dancing bears, and suchlike. When the ground is right, and the air is right, what God does with our small efforts is breathtaking.
If you’re in spring, why not do both: plant something in the ground, and plant something in the world? Let each betoken the other.
Here’s something you might try: gather a group of friends, and clean a local park or street. You might even want to talk to city hall and ask if there’s any creation care they’d like done. I know of a church in New Brunswick that started doing this. They got a list of nearly a hundred small tasks the city wished done, and they did them all. They’ve gone out into their community to serve it so often, gone out with joy and been led forth in peace, that now their community’s starting to come to them.
Spring has a way of growing small things big.
~ Darren’s Comments ~
There I was. Almost three weeks in the Northeast Rehabilitation Hospital after I said that prayer the evening before for God to get me out of this dream/nightmare that I was in. Mistakenly, I gave God a time limit. I said by morning for I truly thought that I was in a dream going back to my experience the night of May 19, 1989. However, I made a promise to God if He didn’t get me out of it then I would serve Him no matter what. Yes, I was hoping that the outcome would have me say it was all a nightmare; yet it didn’t. At the same time, that Scripture from Ecclesiastes 5:4 that says, “When you make a vow to God, don’t delay in fulfilling it, because He does not delight in fools. Fulfill what you vow” (CSB). That was weighing heavily on me, until I decided not to go any other route but the Lord’s. Please go on.
I remember I went to bed early that night in that hospital room. What was supposed to happen, I thought in my own mind, was I was going to wake up from this nightmare that God had let me experience and continue on in the preparation to be a youth pastor. After all, the Christian college was waiting for me in the fall of that year. But it didn’t happen like that. Instead, I found out later just exactly how I was in the situation I was in: a devastating car accident on the highway, spent three days tittering on the edge of life or death, thirty days in a coma which my right side was completely paralyzed, and my team of doctors said that they had little hope for me except my mother who I told of my goal of being a youth pastor. All looked down for me. Just like winter when things look dead.
But I was to go through a miracle of all miracles, like winter turning into spring, like complete deadness into a bud of life. That bud, given proper nourishment turns into several buds, and that several buds turns into opening of a rose or lily or a marigold. And once you see active life you start to become more and more interested to partake in the process of its growth. All I had to do was say a little prayer (seed) to get my miracle to start going.
But nevertheless, I was disappointed, looking on my current state rather than the finished product. See, I had plans to become a youth pastor, plans in which I dedicated whole teen life preparing for. There’s this little side of me that says I could have done it better, even till this day. A side that wouldn’t involve pain for myself, especially not that car accident, the traumatic brain injury, the limp I now have, or the expressive aphasia that I constantly struggle with. But that is not the reality of my physical life. That is staying in wintertime where everything seems dead.
Rather, I count and recount the blessings, trying to focus in on God chose me to do surrounding an astounding miracle at the age when I should have gained my freedom. Instead, God used what was going to transpire shortly after I became an adult to use that to spread the salvation message of Jesus Christ to an almost forgotten part of our worldwide society: the disabled, their families, their friends, their team of caregivers if they need it, etc. . . (Usually it involves pain or heartache to see the need to rely on God; remember in the Gospel of Mark 1:9-13, Jesus was immediately driven by the Holy Spirit to go out to be tempted by Satan but didn’t sin in that whole 40 days and nights leaving us an example – 1 Peter 2:21). We, therefore, have to keep reminding ourselves to focus on the positive (blessings that come from God, blessings in tasting spring) rather than focus on the negative parts of life (the dullness, drabness and coldness of wintertime).
“How Do You Measure Spiritual Growth?” ~ Mark Buchanan
~ Darren L. Beattie, The Soul Blogger ~