Growing in the Harshest Conditions

Cheyenne Zubler of Cheye Girl Photography

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a lover of God’s creation, especially plants that bloom! My family moved into our current home sixteen years ago. It sets on approximately ¼ of an acre. At the time we moved in, there were lilac bushes bordering two sides of the property, spirea bushes along the front and back of the house, a 16’ length of fence with blackberries, and six fifty year old trees (three pine, three maple). To most people that would be more than enough, but not for me! I have transformed our property to include fourteen flower beds, a 48’ x 24’ fruit and vegetable garden with an arbor wall, a pergola, and a 7’ x 20’ pond (4’ deep). My husband says that’s enough every time I add something new, but he is always amazed by the beauty and enjoyment it brings.

All of the beauty in our yard is always dependent on the weather. As I’m sure you know, the amount of precipitation, sunlight, and nutrients determine the growth of the plant. The environment that the plants are exposed to directly affects the end result. Each plant has its own needs in order to thrive. Some need dry soil, some need swampy, and yet some need a perfect blend. It can be a delicate balancing act that you ultimately have no control over. It is hard (sometimes impossible) to recover the growing season once the plant has been exposed to the harsh elements. A succulent that gets flooded and sits in soggy soil for extended time will just rot. A delicate impatient that is baked in the hot sun with no water for days on end will most likely shrivel and dry up to a crisp twig. Both will be lost forever.

If all the conditions are right in early spring, the Bearded Iris will begin to sprout from the rhizome sitting on top of the soil. The straight, blade-like leaves will grow up to 18″ tall. In a couple of weeks, you’ll start to see a stalk rise above the leaves, and buds will poke through and swell with glorious anticipation. Then one by one, as the air warms each bud’s petals, they will show their glory with a sweet scent. Weeks of growth comes to a beautiful climax that lasts just one day. That’s right, each iris bloom lasts just one day. Then, it begins to shrink and curl up. Thankfully, there are multiple blooms on each stalk giving you many days of beauty. But, sooner than later all of the blooms are gone and the greens wither away.

I watch my favorite flower go through this process year after year, and I am always amazed at God’s intricate attention to beauty. The hard, brown, ginger-like root produces one of the most delicate flowing petals bringing beauty to the garden. I would be remiss if I didn’t bring this back to the beginning when I spoke of the conditions needed for blooming and how this is so different from our ability to bloom in God’s glory.

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall.”
∼1 Peter 1:23-24

In God’s garden, we are preserved for eternity. Adverse conditions won’t inhibit us from blooming, and we don’t shrivel up after one bloom. In fact, God often uses those adverse circumstances to bring the most beautiful blooms of His eternal glory. In order to bloom in God’s garden of glory, the first mandatory requirement is that we are born again believers. Once God has sealed us with the Holy Spirit, then he can bring beauty to any of our circumstances in His will. He gives us nourishment and everything we need to flourish.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”
∼John 15:16

Second, we must listen and obey. The lasting and meaningful fruit in our lives are not of our own accord. Have you ever tried so hard to make a situation thrive or recover it from despair only to find yourself busted and frustrated? Or, when we start to see it work just the way we want it, we see it wither away to nothing. In order to grow in God’s grace, we actually have to take in His living word and live by it.

God is the only one that can work blessings from hardships—blessings that will grow for eternity. Let me share how God tilled his grace into the garden of my life during some of the harshest conditions. My husband and I have been married for more than twenty years, and it has been a journey of love, joy, and adventures. But, like most marriages, it has had its fair share of trials, sickness, death, and despair. I became a born again Christian five years into our marriage. My husband grew up in the church but chose not to have a relationship with Christ. Our marriage was not created on the foundation of God and, until I became a Christian, neither of us cared.

I must have believed on some level: how could God fix something that he’s not fully a part of? My belief was full of unbelief. My fears continually won over my faith. A couple of years ago, we almost ended our commitment to each other. We had worked so hard through the years to save it by attending seminars and counseling and participating in exercise after exercise. None of our efforts made any lasting changes, until God stepped in when I finally stepped aside.

In my unbelief, I used to secretly ask God to give me an out. “Please, Lord, just make this long suffering end!” I longed for it to be over. I was so weary of trying everything known to man to save a relationship that seemed doomed from the beginning. Then, in the beginning of 2017, I had a complete breakthrough with God. I finally believed without a doubt, leaving no room for fear, that God loved me. This broken, bruised, tarnished, and tattered soul was actually whole, beautiful, blessed, without blemish, and strong. The circumstances in my life could not change it. No matter the outcome of whatever it is I face, I know that God has my best interest at hand. My Heavenly Father would not leave me.

So with this said, the night that my husband forced me to leave our home I had first thought, “Well, this is my out.” But was it? I was not even completely out of the driveway when I felt this sinking feeling in my gut that said this was wrong. I knew I was not to be leaving. I felt it at the core of my being. I knew that I could not just turn around and walk back in, but I also knew that it wasn’t going to be forever. The very thing that I had been begging for to end my marriage was going to be the one thing that healed it.

Within the next few months, God brought women into my life who were going through similar struggles. We started meeting weekly as a group to encourage each other, pray for each other, and support each other. We cried a river of tears and laughed so hard we cried again. We began seeing blooms through the ice as pictured in Isaiah 35.

Photography by Trisha L. KnaulThe desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.”
∼Isaiah 35:1-2a

Joy and gladness returned where there was only sorrow and strife. But what changed? Our circumstances were still the same. Our lives were full of the same struggles. Then what made the difference? It was our obedience to God. God used a group of five broken women to bring blossoms of beauty in the most arid of desserts.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
∼Galatians 6:2

I encourage you to join me in God’s garden. If you allow him to give you living water by his word and feed you with his Holy Spirit, I can promise you that you will be blessed. The blessings may not be exactly what we want, but if we look between the thorns, we’ll see the beautiful rose blooming for all to see.

Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.
∼Psalm 31:24

 

 

 

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International version®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

In Weakness and Fear

Photo by Talen de St. Croix on Unsplash

I can’t do that! I don’t have what it takes! My knees are shaking, my hands are sweating, and the butterflies in my stomach feel the size of elephants. I can’t do it! 

That’s how I feel every time I step out and do something new for God, especially when I teach a group of women for the first time. When I stand up in front of those lovely women, suddenly my knees begin to shake, I feel totally inadequate, and I can no longer remember what I wanted to say.

Does that happen to you when you try to share Jesus with others (even with only one other)?

When I [Paul] came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (bold mine)

Paul’s first trip to Corinth was immediately after his trip to Athens (Acts 17:16-34). The Athenians loved to reason (aka debate) so Paul had reasoned with them about Jesus. Paul was good at what he did, and he probably knew it. His education had included a healthy dose of public reasoning. Despite his best efforts, only “a few men became followers of Paul and believed.” It is interesting first of all that only a few believed and second that they followed Paul.

A Few Believed

Despite Paul’s well-reasoned, educated, and probably confident teaching, he had little impact. Such a poor response to his message probably shook his confidence and would have surely depressed him. At the very least, it would have made him evaluate what he was doing and why he was doing it.

Followed Paul

As Paul opened his letter to the Corinthians he chastised them for the way they were following the teachers and causing division. He wanted them to follow Jesus, not men. He must have wondered if the people at Athens were following his reasoning or following Jesus. He wanted to make sure the Corinthians were following Jesus.

Shaken Confidence

Paul took an emotional and spiritual hit in Athens. His confidence was shaken. His walk to Corinth that first time gave him plenty of time to think about whose wisdom and power were needed and who he wanted the people to follow. By the time he arrived in Corinth, Paul had wrestled with the realization that he wasn’t as wise as he thought. He had received a lesson in humility and been reminded of who he wanted people to follow.

The Wisdom and Power of God

When Paul arrive in Corinth, his confidence was shaken, and he was leaning more heavily upon the wisdom of God and the power of the Spirit; consequently, the wisdom of God and the power of the Spirit is what the people in Corinth saw.

That is my prayer every time I teach (or write). I always feel weak, afraid, and ill-equipped. I tremble inside when I think of what I’m doing. But that forces me to rely on the wisdom of God and the power of the Spirit. The result is that (hopefully) people see God, not me!

As you talk to others about Jesus, may you each be weak enough and afraid enough to lean on God’s wisdom and Spirit power! As a result, may others see “a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” and place their faith in God’s power.

 

 

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International version®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Go and Show

Christians are instructed to go and show themselves to the world in such a way as to make disciples for Christ. Regardless of who God is asking us to go to, in order to accomplish the task, we must take that first step. As believers in Jesus Christ, we are called to go and show ourselves to the world—to cause people to sit up and take notice of the amazing change in our lives. To cause them to wonder about Jesus.

(ELIJAH: Lessons on God and Godly Living from One Flawed Human to Another by Trisha L. Knaul)

Because of What You Say

“He told me everything I ever did.” That was it. Her testimony of Jesus. 7 words and yet that was all it took. (John 4:39)

An outcast so disgraced she didn’t even go to the well to get water till all the other woman were gone. Everyone knew her. She had sinned horribly, and no one wanted to hang around her. She probably tried to make as little a splash as possible wherever she went. Suddenly she started going through town telling about this man who knew everything  she had ever done. Wouldn’t you be amazed and perhaps curious about this man? (You can find the Samaritan Woman’s story in John 4:1-42.)

“So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his words.” (John 4:40) These people were amazed by her story. They wanted to see Jesus to try and find out for themselves if what she said was true. Because of this many believed.

Even if what you say isn’t making people believe, just making them curious can be enough to start them down the path to belief.

“They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the savior of the world.’” (John 4:42) The people believed at first because of her unbelievable actions and words. They had to go see this guy; then, they believed for themselves.

When I was younger I trusted my parents so I believed them when they told me about God. As I grew up and realized my parents were fallible, I not only started to doubt them but also God. You see, I believed through my parents’ faith, not my own faith. It took a lot to make me realize this. It took even longer to find my own faith in God. In other words I now believe because I have seen for myself and found that he is indeed the Savior of the world.

It is important that we tell our story but in a way that makes people want to believe for themselves not through us.

(As we explore how to Tell Your Story, each contributor will share a part of their God story with us. Leah’s Story is here.)

What do you think:

How can you interest people and point them toward God?

What is it about your story that would make people curious about Jesus?

Is there anyone in your life who is believing through you?

What can you do to encourage them to believe for themselves?

 

First post in series: Tell Your Story
Previous post in series: Go Home. Tell Your Story.
Next post in series: “I’m not going anywhere” -jesus

 

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International version®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™