May is the season for new growth. Change is coming, the seasons are quickly moving from spring toward summer. The dead looking branches are sprouting leaves and blossoms. The barren earth is hosting weeds galore, and the grass of the lawn is long past its first mowing of the season.
A number of years ago I read a prayer by Richard Foster, the author of Celebration of Discipline. Foster has written a lot about prayer. He teaches us how to pray, and assures us that prayer matters. I have shared his prayer with you before in worship, but I wanted to share it again because I think it applies to this time of year and to this season in the life of our congregation:
Be the Gardener of my Soul
“Spirit of the living God, be the Gardener of my soul. For so long I have been waiting, silent and still – experiencing a winter of the soul. But now, in the strong name of Jesus Christ I dare to ask: Clear away the dead growth of the past, Break up the hard clods of custom and routine, Stir in the rich compost of vision and challenge, Bury deep in my soul the implanted Word, Cultivate and water and tend my heart, Until new life buds and opens and flowers.” (From “Prayers from the Heart”, HarperCollins 1994)
I love this image of prayer as a cooperation between us and God, as if we are a gardening project for our master gardener. It reminds me that we can do only so much by ourselves. We need to rely on God to do the heavy lifting – to clear away the dead growth, break up the hard clods, stir in the rich compost, bury in us God’s Word, and cultivate & tend our heart. Then new life will bud, open and flower. It is God who shows us what is worth watering and what can be cleared away. It is God who grants us a vision for a future we cannot yet see. It is God who dwells in us, keeping us grounded to the source of our hope, Jesus Christ. It is also God who will tend our fragile plants until new life begins to thrive.
Foster’s words echo themes in the bible. In particular, today his words remind me of Psalm 1:
“Happy are those [whose]… delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.”
I also recall Jesus’ many parables about the seeds, the weeds, and the sower. The parable of the mustard seed reminds me that the growth we see in God’s people is as amazing as a small seed becoming a large tree…
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)
Today I wonder what might it mean for you and me to “clear away the dead growth of the past” or “break up the hard clods of custom and routine?” It is tempting to think growth and new life are all up to us and our plans and programs - and of course they are not. New life is a gift from God, nurtured through prayer.
In the next few weeks you will be invited to join the session in times of prayer together or on your own. Each week there will be a new prayer sheet with specific suggestions for scripture and reflection. Please join us in praying for the new life that God can bring to us as individuals and as a community.