By Pastor Graham Cooke
The month of May always astounds me. The sheer prodigality of its burgeoning fecundity; that vibrant lush green; the aromas that ambush our noses: wherever we look there’s life bursting through. For my wife, Cate, it is wisteria month. She loves those cascading blossoms, sprawling down walls or draped over fences.
It must have been twelve years ago or more that she excitedly came back from a shopping trip brandishing a small wisteria plant that we subsequently planted outside our front door. We understood that wisteria plants take a long time to establish and blossom, but in all honesty, we very soon thought we had bought a dud. At the end of the summer it had barely grown and through the winter it looked no more than a dead stick. However, it did survive, and has grown slowly, year by year, claiming more and more of the wall, threatening even to invade an upstairs window. When we think of how it started out, it is amazing that we should ever have had to start cutting it back. Every May Cate has waited with anticipation- could this be the year it flowers? But every May, though the greenery thickened, the anticipation was unfulfilled. No flowers.
Until this year! That’s right- twelve years or so after planting it, this year it produced its first beautiful flowers; two sprays of them! Not exactly to the point where our suburban semi could be mistaken for a wisteria-clad, flint-walled, Chiltern-style cottage. But still – two flowers! Just as well we hadn’t impatiently uprooted it after the first year, then.
We’re all having to learn patience during this period of extended lockdown. Our usual propensity to plan is frozen, our schedules on hold. And absolutely nothing we can do, as individuals, to speed this process up. I am the least-equipped person to talk about patience, but these are actually good lessons to learn. This too shall pass.
“God is playing the long game.”
It makes me think of God’s patience. His patience is the reason why he hasn’t just ripped up this world of selfishness, greed and evil and thrown us all in the bin. His patience is holding back the return of his Son, Jesus, as he holds out the offer of eternal life to all who have not yet turned and accepted it. It makes me think of his patience with me, personally. Despite all the advantages that he’s given me, despite all that has been invested in me by godly people over many years, he must still look on at my lack of fruitfulness and shake his head. Yet he remains patient.
God is playing the long game. That’s true with my life. Romans 8:29 asserts that those he foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son. That’s what he’s working on in my life, with such gentleness, mercy and patience. It is also true, with regard to history. “A thousand years are like a day to him, not slow in keeping his promise, but patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8,9). Kingdoms rise, kingdoms fall, but the Lord is working out his purposes.
Churches and their influence ebb and flow at different times in various parts of the world. Our patient Father, the master gardener, the vinedresser, is at work, pruning here and there, working towards fruitfulness.
What about our wisteria flowers? Well, the Bard was right. “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May”. The stiff breezes of last week have effectively dispersed our wisteria blossoms. That’s a reminder too, of how easily the things we measure fruitfulness by can disappear. However, we now have real hope that the flowers will return next year.
I wonder what fruit will be seen as a result of lockdown, both in the church and in our individual lives? What is God working at with patience and wisdom? I don’t know, but let’s continue to look to him with hope and trust. He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6).
“Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” (James 5:7,8).
Graham Cooke May 2020