Signs of growth

Author: Tony Fowler
Posted: 27 March, 2022

The brighter, and, dare we say, the warmer weather, has brought signs of Spring. Trees are beginning to show buds, blossom and catkins. Flowering currant and gorse has come into abundant bloom. Daffodils are bright yellow in the sunshine. Birds are singing, or in the case of the woodpecker, drumming, to establish their territories. We noticed signs of Spring particularly when we found large areas of frogspawn in the ponds at Dunnikier Park. New life is coming.

Yet things are at different stages in different places. We went looking for primroses in their usual setting in the park. The early leaves of the plant were there, but no flowers. This surprised us, because we’d seen some flowering in the Den at Crail on the last weekend of February, more than three weeks earlier. Obviously different conditions in different locations produce different results. Last week, we searched for, and found, only about a dozen Celandines. Today, I stopped counting at 120; and reckon there were nearly three times that amount!

Do we see something similar as we look for signs of growth in our Christian lives? Are there some conditions that help us flourish more than others? If so, what are they? We might expect that sunny lives, with no pressures and problems, would lead to strong faith and faithful Christian living. After all, if we face suffering, isn’t our first question often, “What have I done to deserve this?” And we begin to doubt God’s love and goodness. Yet, both nature and Scripture should make us think differently.

As far as nature’s concerned, remember the old saying, “All sunshine makes a desert.” An American Christian Country and Western singer, whose record we had when we first married, had a song that encouraged us to learn from the flowers. (Yes, I know, it was very twee!) But it reminded us that the flowers know that “if it never, never rained, then they’d never, ever grow”. And just the other day, while we were watering some of the potted flowers and shrubs, I went to water also some of the shrubs planted into the garden itself. But Linda advised against it. “You’re not supposed to water too much,” she said. “This forces the shrub to send its roots deeper into the ground in search of water, and gives them added strength.”

More important than all this, however, is that the Bible doesn’t teach what we often assume – that comfort, ease and prosperity are signs of God’s blessing. James writes, in 2:5, “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised to those who love him?” In a passage directed towards Christian slaves – people who had no rights whatsoever – the apostle Peter encourages them, with the example of the Lord Jesus Himself, to endure suffering for doing good (1 Peter 2:18-25). The apostle Paul reminds us that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” (2 Timothy 3:12). I vividly remember speaking to a fellow-student at New College who came from a country behind what was still then “the Iron Curtain”. “Do the authorities persecute Christians?” I asked. “No,” he replied; “they discovered that this strengthened the Church. Now they wait for us to become worldly, like Christians in the West!”

As Christians we don’t actively seek persecution and suffering; but neither should we fear it, or see it as punishment from God. Our heavenly Father knows what’s best for us, and will bring into our lives those challenges and pressures (as well as the many, many joys) that can enable us to grow to full maturity in Christ. “He loves us as we are,” as someone once put it; “but He loves us too much to leave us as we are!” The right conditions for a flourishing faith may be different to what we expect. Difficulties and trials may encourage us to dig deeper into God’s Word to find the strength to cope, and indeed flourish. So, let’s cooperate with the Holy Spirit as He seeks to shape us into the image of the Lord Jesus, preparing us for our Father’s nearer presence.