God Is Continuing to Do His Fruitful Work Today
It is natural for us to take pleasure in the obvious and pleasant blessings of the Lord and to dread and do all we can to avoid his more dark and painful providences. It is natural for us to expect and even to demand only the pleasant blessings while holding the trying times in contempt, but it is not in accord with our new natures or the resources we have in Christ. The truth is that our Lord does some of his best and most fruitful work in the dark and painful dungeons, fiery furnaces, and hostile deserts of our lives.
Rightly do we read and find comfort in the passages of God’s Word that tell us how the Lord will make the desert blossom fruitfully (Isa. 35:1; 51:3). Yet, we can fail adequately to understand that the deserts of our lives are brought about by our Lord’s ordaining and doing. They are brought about precisely to achieve the conditions that will be most conducive to the production of the fruitfulness that only he can cause in such adverse environments.
In these days of widespread economic woes, our nation and others that have been historically Christian are economically sinking while non-Christian lands such as China and India are rising. We also are going through political upheavals in our land while the culture of our nation continues to disintegrate. The church in our land is in upheaval, and many places where gospel light had in days past shined brightly are growing dark. A common temptation for believers in such situations is to dread the days of diminishment and long for the sunny days of yore. Yet, we need not fear the formation of a moral, spiritual, social, economic, political, and cultural desert in our land. We may grieve over the diminishment, and we must pray about it, but times like ours especially call for us to remember and rely on the fact that our God causes some of his most fragrant flowers and fruitful trees to flourish in the desert.
Think of the glorious prophecies of that great and faithful servant of the Lord, Isaiah. Nowhere in the Bible do we find more profound, clear, and glorious visions of our God and his redeeming work than we do in the writings of that prophet (e.g., Isa. 53). Yet, Isaiah laboured in a day of rapid national and ecclesiastical decline, rot, and rebellion. Similarly, the prophet Jeremiah lived to see the death of Judah as a nation and the captivity of her remnants in Babylon and yet he perceived and wrote of the new covenant and new humanity with vibrancy that is unsurpassed in Scripture (Jer. 24:7; 31:31-34). The exilic prophet Ezekiel also did the same (Ezek. 36:25-27).
These great servants of the Lord may have constituted a miniscule minority in their day, and they and their contemporaries may have regarded their work as futile and fruitless, but it was precisely because their times were so dark and the hearers and heeders of their messages were so few that they recorded their visions for the blessing of the church in all future ages. These men and others like them were vibrant and life-giving fruit trees blossoming in the deserts of their times but bearing fruit in the ages thereafter.
In more personal terms, the Apostle Paul tells us of the fruitful connection between affliction and the production of glory. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, he writes of our momentary, light afflictions producing for us an incomparable weight of glory. It is when we lose sight of this connection that we dread abasing times; it is to the extent that we perceive and trust in that vital connection that we know and are comforted by the truth that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. For when we read of what great use our God makes of the deserts he ordains, and look for and believe that he is preparing for us greater blessing through our tribulations than we could ever have without such trials, then we can bless the Lord who makes marvellous his lovingkindness to us in a besieged city (Psa. 31:21).
The Word of God makes clear to us that the gospel is to be ministered and lived out during times when it is in season and out of season (2 Tim. 4:1-5). While we may not delight in the times of winter cold and desert dryness, we may find comfort in the sure hope that the Lord is doing his fruitful work in such times. What great and fruitful servants of the Lord are being fashioned by God in the places of spiritual wilderness in our day? What graces are being deepened and nurtured through the pruning times of trial in our lives in these days? We shall one day see the beauty of spiritual fruit blossoming even in our deserts, and have cause to marvel at and rejoice in the Lord’s doings in conditions we never would have chosen.
William Harrell is Pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia
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