RosesApril 30, 2021 3 Comments
I invested a lot in those roses.
I built them a home. I watered and fed them. I pruned them.
As they slowly grew, I would stop to actually smell the roses and examine their progress as I came home from work each day. To see them grow and blossom was a source of joy for this novice rosarian.
As autumn wound to a close, I researched how to winterize my roses. I knew that I couldn’t simply expose these young flowers to the elements, but they needed some shelter. So that’s what I did. And while my Floribunda and Hybrid Tea sat under their Styrofoam cones, I dreamed of spring and what it would be like for my roses to come back another year stronger.
So you can imagine how crestfallen I was when I removed the winter protection from my roses and discovered that the stems had grown black! After one more surprise frost, both roses looked completely lifeless. It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve uncovered them and I had all but given up hope for these roses. The harsh climate (and my clumsy green thumbs!) had killed these beautiful plants.
Or so I thought! I have kept checking on them (denial is a stage of grief, right?), when this week I was surprised to see a green shoot poking through the soil of one of the roses! Though the once verdant stems had stopped producing any signs of life, there was still life in the root! There is still life in one of my roses because of its root, even if that life was undetectable for a season.
While I admit there are limitations to the image, this struck me as a parable of Christian ministry.
We can see initial responses in a person to the message of salvation. There are bursts of growth and beautiful signs of life; but, then the cold winter of affliction come. Maybe it’s a prolonged illness, a painful loss, a withering relationship, or being caught in some sin. The winter of suffering and sin appears to have produced death.
As fellow Christians, we look on and are dismayed. Every outward appearance suggests life has disappeared. There are no immediate signs of spiritual life or vitality.
Yet, a Christian is someone who has been grafted into Jesus by saving faith in Him. It is by being united to Christ “the living root” that God-glorifying growth is produced in our life. The way that Jesus puts it in John 15 is that we must abide in Christ, the vine, or we cannot bear fruit (John 15:4).
If we are connected to Jesus, though suffering or sin may harden and wither a person for a season, there is still a principle of spiritual life at work that will ultimately disclose itself to the great joy of Christian onlookers.
So what does this mean for us as we minister to one another? Let me suggest three things:
1. Be patient. It would have been terrible if I had simply discarded my rose at the first appearance of lifelessness because I wasn’t sure of the condition of the roots. Similarly, we should be patient in ministering to others knowing that the appearance of spiritual lifelessness does not always mean death. Since we cannot visibly see whether a person is united to Jesus, we need to display a degree of patience to see whether the fruits of that union will eventually become evident.
2. Be diligent. Patience does not mean passivity. Instead, like my roses, we need to come alongside to water, feed, and watch, hopeful that some sign will appear to tell us: contrary to all appearances, this plant is connected to Christ the living root. For us, this means using the normal means God works through to produce growth. We should continue to speak God’s Word. We should pray. It will also mean that discipline—sometimes the informal word of warning and other times the formal process—is called for because this is yet another means that God uses to stimulate growth in His people (Hebrews 12:3-11).
3. Find hope in the living root. Jesus is the Living Root and the “true vine”. Every person who has been truly united to Him will produce growth eventually. Though conditions may be stifling and suffocating from our perspective, yet Christ contains eternal life in himself and He shares that with all who belong to him. As such, His people shall endure the harshest winters—winters that may nearly kill us!—because He shares his life with us. We can sometimes despair because a family member, friend, or member of our group gives no sign of spiritual life. Certainly, this is cause for concern and a reason to pray! But remember: though death may seemingly characterize things for a season, the resurrection power of the “Living Root” will eventually appear in all those who are grafted into Him.
In His Service,
Pastor Wayne Veenstra