We're experiencing the changing of seasons right now, as the cool winds howl up from the south and the snow begins to fall in the High Country. The more pronounced seasonal change is one of the cool things about living in southern parts of Australia.
There is something special about the way the marching death, decay, cold and dark push autumn into the depths of winter such that it creates a greater longing. Eventually the dark and cold are driven out by the increasing warmth and light of longer, warmer days. Many trees appear to be resurrected as their "dead" branches burst forth with fresh green leaves.
It's no surprise really that the traditional church calendar was connected with the seasons (in the northern hemisphere at least!). They celebrate the Incarnation (Christmas) in the dead of winter, and the Resurrection (Easter) in Spring. The symbolism is poignant: We were lost in the dark depths of sin and death, yet Christ entered into our fallen and dying world to bring about a recreation full of life, light and holiness.
"The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned!" Is 9:2.
The changing season has me thinking about something else: it brings about a shift in our behaviour. The things that were very natural and normal to do in warmer months are no longer considered. Long evenings in the backyard soon become cosy evenings by the fire.
The world changes around us. It is outside our control. And we adapt to suit. And I'm not just talking of the weather.
Look back across history and you will see there are times and seasons across the years. There are golden ages and dark ages, flourishing and destitution.
It can be broadly said that in the past couple centuries Australia (as a colonial identity) was more or less Christian. Not that countries can themselves be Christian, but the "prevailing wind" of religion and morality was one more-or-less based on the True Faith. It was respectable, acceptable and appreciated.
While there was never a true golden age of Christianity in Australia, the past acceptance of Christianity certainly seems like a much brighter time than the one we are now faced with.
It appears that the second half of the 20th century was our "autumn" and now we are heading into a spiritual winter. As a nation we have given up Christ. We are thoroughly secular, or more accurately: pagan. Even much of the visible church itself has given up the true Christ and created an idol who has fewer "harsh" edges.
Now we find ourselves in this winter, what do we do?
Do we wish to go back to the brighter days of autumn?
We thank God for what we had before, but we also look forward, through the depths of our spiritual winter to hope for a glorious spring to come. We pray for the abundance to come, not the dregs of yesterday! We see where God has us, and adapt to stay on mission in this new environment.
We don't know how long this winter will be, but we do know that God has promised an eternal Golden Age that He will bring us into, where there will be a great multitude of those who belong to Him. But, there may be many seasonal changes before that final age dawns. There will be tough seasons and easy seasons.
It may seem hard at this time, as if there is no fruit to be found. Perhaps we are looking for a summer crop while the winter crop is heavy on the branches elsewhere?
Perhaps we have not even been sowing the seed, so there is no harvest to be had!
"Sluggards do not plow in season;
so at harvest time they look but find nothing." Pr 20:4.
I do not know the mind of the Lord, but I do know what He has said. Whether the way is easy or tough, our purpose on earth remains the same. Whether Christ is loved or hated we push on in hope that His Kingdom will grow and be established. Let's face it, the way that Jesus spoke leads us to suspect there will be much more hatred toward Christ than love (e.g. Jn 15:18–25).
So whether the going is tough, or easy,
...whether the days are hot or cold,
...whether we are accepted or maligned,
...we go out into the fields to bring in the harvest of Christ.
As the seasons change, we can adapt to the environment, adjust our tactics. As Christians on mission, our goals and beliefs don't change, but we have a changing world around us. Like Christ seeks out the lost sheep who has wandered far from home, we go out to find people where they are. We meet them in the midst of their spiritual destitution, and share with them the love of Christ.
In the coldness of winter, we expect to find hearts with very little "spiritual heat". The road to faith will likely be longer for many of our neighbours who have no spiritual "scaffolding" on which to prop Christian categories. Patience will be an important asset.
Many people will need to be discipled for years before they finally repent and believe. We like easy wins, like a voice from heaven for Paul, or a once of evangelistic conversation that brings conviction. Yet we probably know from our own lives, or people we've met, that sometimes the Lord is at work in our hearts for years before the critical moment takes place. So play the long game, the Holy Spirit is.
We can ask God to give us heavenly wisdom on how best to engage the world at this time in this place. Change what we need to change in our own hearts, attitudes and actions that are preventing us living in faith and on mission.
Adapt to this season, and be faithful.
"Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction." Paul to Timothy - 2 Ti 4:2.
"I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building." Paul - 1 Co 3:6–9.