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Times and seasons

Of all the WhatsApp groups I’m part of, perhaps my Family Group is my favourite (second only to the RM staff group of course!). It’s a great way for Ruth and I to keep in touch with our two boys and their dear wives. We share chat, images and on occasion the odd video. Last weekend was a classic, as my eldest son sent a video of his wife harvesting their first few new potatoes from a small pot in the back garden of their new house. ‘Oh wow,’ she exclaimed, ‘look at all those!’ Now to be honest, although they looked great I’m not sure those potatoes would win first prize at the local horticultural show, but they had been planted and nurtured for many months, and now they were ready to harvest, the time was right.

On the same day back at the farm we began the barley harvest. I always find the beginning of harvest season exciting; the anticipation, the long summer days, the sights, sounds and smells as all the senses are engaged and the golden barley is chomped up by the combine harvester. Similar to those new potatoes, our barley had been planted and nurtured for many months, and now it was ready to harvest, the time was right. I’m not wishing to take you on a nostalgia trip, but I must briefly mention my recollections as a youngster when my mother served up the first new potatoes of the season, probably layered in far too much butter; they were amazing. Then there were the days out as a family picking blackberries, and memories of my Grandpa’s amazing raspberry bushes. Just like the potatoes and the barley, all these had been planted, nurtured lovingly often over many years, and now they were ready to harvest, the time was right.

Nostalgia trip over, and building on those horticultural and agricultural illustrations, I wonder do we pay enough heed to the seasons and the times we are encountering both personally and in our churches? I don’t just mean fully engaging with the rhythm of the church year and making an even bigger effort to do more at Christmas, Easter and harvest time, but deeply listening for the voice of God and the gentle prompting of His Spirit for ourselves, perhaps our families and our Christian community.

The familiar words of Ecclesiastes 3 come to mind as a reminder that for everything there is indeed a season, a time for every activity under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1), yet I’m often struck that in our well-meaning endeavours to see the Kingdom advance we can, on occasion, all to easily buy into the latest outreach initiative which has seen success in a church elsewhere, or begin to run the latest highly recommended step by step discipleship course. It’s not that I’m against off-the-shelf outreach initiatives and courses, but in the context of today’s reflection I’d have to ask, is this really the right time?

Finally, back to horticulture again, and before I leave you with a few questions to ponder this week, perhaps this whole deal is a bit like buying strawberries. The out of season, packaged and forced fruit can never come near the taste of the in season (and I’d add Scottish) strawberry. When much activity has often been interpreted as a hallmark of success for a local church, might God actually be calling you to a time of rest, a season of refocussing and building up? Might we through our activity be seeking to force the hand of God out of season? Conversely, when we simply consume times of worship and teaching week after week, might God be calling us to a time of action, a season of the new thing, lest the fruit rots on the vine and dies as we read in John chapter 15?

Alistair Birkett

Director: Scotland & Northern England


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