By Flora Reigada
When African-American scientist and man of faith George Washington Carver asked God to tell him the mysteries of the universe, he believed God replied by saying that such knowledge is for him alone. Carver then asked God to tell him the mysteries of the peanut.
The hundreds of products Carver went on to derive from the peanut bear witness that God granted his petition, unlocking infinite possibilities packed into the little legume hidden in the earth.
Thankfully, God has packed his mysteries into all of creation so we can learn of his ways. This is borne out in Scripture: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen” (Romans 1:20).
Waiting in Prayer
The ordinary tulip bulb provides a sermon without words. It teaches us about waiting in prayer. This came to mind one spring day as I admired crimson tulips waving in the balmy breeze. Not long before, their beauty was locked in plain bulbs, sleeping beneath the frozen ground. For all I knew the bulbs were dead. I could have given up hope I would ever see them bloom. But in a society where answers come with a click, I am also tempted to give up hope when God is long in responding to my prayers.
For years, sometimes decades, we pray about a matter seeing no results. When answers tarry it is easy to forget that beneath the surface God’s Spirit is stirring life according to his greater plan. Praying in concert with his will and Word, I can trust him to bring seeds he has planted to fruition.
As we read in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”
The awakening of a soul cannot be rushed. This became clear to me as I prayed more than 30 years for a loved one’s salvation. Throughout that time, if I tried to force the subject my efforts were met with a cold, hardened heart. However, one day my loved one began asking questions and God answered my prayer in his season.
When Dreams Die
The tulip bulb also speaks about disappointments we have buried in the cemeteries of our broken hearts—a failed marriage, a betrayal, a wayward child, a child that never came, an illness, or financial difficulties.
Even though Scripture repeatedly assures us of God’s compassion, we cannot understand his ways. We are like so many in the Bible, a living book about real people who experienced heartaches like ours. Their stories remind us that God can bring beauty from the ashes of disappointments and broken dreams.
We read about Abraham, to whom God promised offspring as numerous as the stars in the sky (see Genesis 15:5). This, despite the fact that Abraham and Sarah were well beyond the childbearing years and Abraham was “as good as dead” (Hebrews 11:12).
Like the tulip bulb in the frozen earth, we see no signs of life. But in creation, God teaches us again.
As we are told in 1 Corinthians 15:36, what we “sow does not come to life unless it dies.” Even from the charred blackness of a forest fire green shoots eventually poke through.
This takes time, however, and our broken dreams may need to endure a winter of waiting. Although imperfect people struggling with doubt, Sarah and Abraham endured their winter, waiting 25 years for God to stir those seeds of promise.
But just as an entire forest can grow from a single seed buried in the ash, from 100-year-old Abraham and 90-year-old Sarah, Isaac and the Jewish nation were born.
The longer the winter, the more welcome spring’s flower.
When God Seems Distant
Sometimes God seems so near, his presence is almost tangible. We read our Bibles and the words come alive, addressing our concerns, speaking to our hearts, teaching us and comforting us.
The nearness continues at church services. We feast on sermons and during worship our spirits seem to rise and join the heavenly throngs praising God around his throne.
But then winter sets in and with it, what St. John of the Cross called, “the dark night of the soul.” At such times the sense of nearness fades and we may wonder if God is displeased because of something we have done. We may feel forsaken like the tulip bulb in the earth.
It could be that God allows the dark night to teach us to “live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). However, we struggle against feelings—fickle seasons of the soul that come and go. Though these may change, God’s Word endures and he has promised never to leave us nor forsake us (See Hebrews 13:5).
Creation provides us with the example of the sun, which remains even when clouds shut out its rays. This can be compared to the emotions and burdens that obscure our sense of God’s nearness. No matter how we feel, he “who does not lie” (Titus 1:2), stays closer than the air we breathe. Just as in spring the sun awakens life in the tulip bulb, the “sun of righteousness” (Malachi 4:2) will rise to stir our hearts anew.
Resurrection and Renewal
I attended a memorial service for a beloved sister-in-law who was also my sister in Christ. The service took place along Florida’s roaring ocean where, according to her wishes, her ashes were to be spread on an isolated stretch of beach she loved.
However, strong winds presented a dilemma, threatening to blow the ashes on those in attendance. Wanting to fulfill his favorite aunt’s wishes, a young man took the urn and fully clothed, waded as far as he could into the ocean. When the water came to his chest, he emptied the urn.
That instant, a squall picked up the ashes, scattering them great distances over the sea and sand, away from the mourners. Watching this, I marveled that although the most brilliant forensic scientist could not find and reassemble them, not one molecule would be lost or forgotten to God.
That is true for all who die in Christ—whether lost at sea or lost to time. God never forgets his own, and he who formed us from earth’s dust will one day call us from it. “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake,” we are reassured in Daniel 12:2.
“Nothing is lost,” a friend likes to say of the Christian’s prayers, dreams, and even those hard-to-understand dark nights of the soul.
Like the tulip bulb and like our bodies, at the appointed season, each will respond to the call: “The winter is past . . . . Flowers appear on the earth . . . . Arise” (Song of Songs 2:11-13).
Flora Reigada is a freelance writer in Titusville, Florida.
A Calm Voice in a Dark Sea
The following excerpt comes from Second Guessing God: Hanging on When You Can’t See His Plan, by Brian Jones (Standard Publishing, 2006).
The year before I graduated from seminary, I lost my faith in God. . . . Life was becoming too painful. Truth had become too open to interpretation. The Bible seemed too distant and, as a few of my professors gleefully proclaimed, too unreliable. My doubts seemed to climb on top of one another, clamoring for attention. . . .
One night, in a last-ditch effort to salvage whatever remnant of faith I had left, I called a mentor and professor of mine from college and shared my struggle with him,
I told him, “My faith in God right now is like a walk on the beach. I’ve taken off my shoes, and as I stand at the water’s edge, the tide has started to roll across my feet. It feels wonderful. Up to this point my spiritual journey has been incredible, but in the last six months doubt has begun to paralyze me. It’s like when the water goes back out to the ocean. It’s washing away the sand underneath me, and my feet keep sinking lower and lower and lower. If this keeps up, there won’t be anything left to stand on.”
Without hesitation he shot back, “Brian, I have stood where you’re standing. I’ve felt the water cascade across my feet. I know how wonderful that feels. But I’ve also had the water go back out to sea. I’ve felt the sand get washed out from underneath my feet.”
He paused—I think he heard me crying—before he slowly finished, “Brian, listen to me when I say this. When the last grain of sand is finally gone, you’re going to discover that you’re standing on a rock.”
That one sentence saved me. That one sentence gave me enough spiritual strength to eventually, over time, rediscover hope, which the Bible beautifully called “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19).
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