Sunday, 1 August 2010

Though the fig-tree does not bud

The following is from 22nd August 2009. I include it not because I am feeling anything like I was last year but because it is good to keep a balance in one's outlook.

"Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord." Habakkuk 3:17-18

Over the next few days I will have taken seven funerals, one burial of ashes, two weddings, two baptisms, three Holy Communions and one Churchlite (informal service) having preached or spoken at all but one. All this is ten days! As I write I am not quite half way through the list and wondering - as I do now and again - just how much of what I do really makes any observable or real impact on the lives of those at the receiving end? It's not that I don't enjoy - not perhaps the right word in some circumstances - what I am doing. I do. It is just that I do wonder, sometimes, how worthwhile all the effort is.

Take the recent four funerals I have taken over the past two days. I worked hard gathering the information about the lives of the deceased, trying to highlight the positive and individualistic aspects of their lives that would provide their family and friends with a picture of their loved ones which they could all recognise and relate too. Into those pictures I tried to carefully weave the Christian message of hope, comfort and faith. I individualised each of the prayers, expressing gratitude for the lives lived and the positive influences those lives had on those whose paths they crossed, and remembering too those left behind who had to deal with grief, guilt, loss and regret.

However no matter how well prepared my services and sermons were, the words seemed to drop into an ocean of silence with hardly a response other than a hint of a ripple on the surface of the congregation gathered. Sure people shook hands, one or two expressing gratitude for a 'nice service', but apart from that, nothing.

The Church growth gurus will invoke management speak and claim that if the Church were a business it would have gone under by now. "How many companies do you know who would get so little back from such huge investments of time and energy and still be trading?" is a typical line. And if we were talking about a business or a shop or an investment company they would be 100% right. Trouble is that we are not eiether of these things. Which brings me to my reflection. It's interesting how often the Scriptures talk about faithfulness in the face of apparent fruitlessness. Take Habakkuk above. The passage assumes there will be times of want - no buds on the fig trees, no grapes on the vine, the failure of the olive crop, fields with no corn, empty pens and stalls. In other words there will be times when nothing happens. The question is how should we respond? Moan? Complain? Give up? Try something else? No. Rejoice in the Lord! In other words give Him your complete attention. Spend time praying instead of complaining, worshipping instead of worrying and getting to know Him better instead of letting the circumstances dictate your faith.

It's interesting to note other similar references to how barren things can sometimes be. Jesus in the Parable of the Sower talks about how much seed falls on hard, shallow and weed ridden ground (Matthew 13) and exhorts his listeners that to be saved they must "endure to the end" (Matthew 24:13). Paul counsels Timothy to preach in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2) and many of the psalms are written out of times of loss and failure yet express a faithfulness that is in no way dependent on whether they are experiencing success or fruitfulness at the time.
Isaiah sums it all up, perhaps with a shrug of the shoulders, as he expresses God's take on all of this: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord." Isaiah 55:8

So I guess I will just have to knuckle down and get on with it until the next time I feel a little peeved. Maybe by then I will be a little quicker to get to my feet and get going again.

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