“And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” Matthew 6:28-29
As one who came into the ministry later in life as a second career, I spent countless hours in prayer and study at the seminary, reading and digesting everything from Greek grammar to the Good Book — all the while wondering why in the world the print had gotten so much smaller in those books during the 30 years since my last foray into higher education.
While religious study and time in uninterrupted prayer opened a whole new world of understanding of God’s Word to me, the best lessons I learned during my first years in ministry were learned, not on my knees in the chapel, but on my knees in my rose garden.
The first lesson learned was to depend completely on the providence of God. A miracle in my first year of ministry proved this to me beyond all doubt. It became apparent to me from the start that folks are not always delighted to see the minister come calling. I needed a way to get in the door and for me that way became roses.
I had always loved roses and had cultivated extensive rose gardens wherever we had lived over the years. Living in southwest Florida at the time, we had roses in bloom all year round; so it was a perfect fit. Not one to do things half way, I made a bold promise for our church to provide a rose and an evergreen sprig to each patient in our local hospital on Christmas Eve. Folks were quick and generous to donate vases and ribbon. A fellow who brought in Christmas trees from Wisconsin offered all the pine trimmings from his trees.
And the roses … oh those roses became my daily obsession. Pruning, fertilizing, watering and coaxing each bush to bloom at just the right time so that we would have enough for all of the people in the hospital on Christmas Eve. Three days before Christmas the garden was a sight to behold with the blossoms at their peak. God had answered my prayers. We would have roses for Christmas.
And, then it happened. A rare late tropical storm blew in with strong winds and buckets of rain. There was not a bloom left in the garden. The church did not have the funds to buy that many roses. How could God have let us down so completely. As I sat disheartened, my phone rang. It was a local florist who also had been affected by the tropical storm. The storm had closed the airport for two days, preventing the participants and guests who had planned a destination wedding in a beach hotel from arriving.
This had left my florist friend with a ballroom full of (already paid for) long stem red roses and no good home to send them to. He wondered if the church could use the roses. The Lord had indeed provided, just not in the way I had expected. In the words of that noted 20th-century theologian, Mick Jagger, “You can’t always get what you want; but if you try sometimes you just might find, you just might find, you get what you need.”
The second lesson roses taught was to grow where we are planted. Rose are planted where humans put them and yet they internally adjust to conditions to maximize growth. Their color adjusts to the soil type as they absorb the nutrients around them. Cool nights provide a respite from hot days and provide balance.
We too flourish and grow when we accept the places God has planted us, or transplanted us. God knows the work He has for us to do and where that work needs to be done. The dark, cold nights of life often drive us to the Lord’s Word, a place we often overlook during life’s sunnier moments. Roses naturally reach toward the sun, with its life-giving properties of warmth and light.
We must reach for the light of the Son if we are to live forever in the warmth of God’s love.
The final lesson of the rose garden is that time spent on your knees (if only metaphorically) is time well spent. Gardening is a humbling exercise. We are at the complete mercy of the Lord when it comes to weather. We can sometimes add water when needed; but we cannot stop the rain when it comes in a deluge.
The sun will shine or not at God’s direction. As long as we are on our knees gardening, we might as well have a prayer conversation with God and seek His help and guidance. Weeds and pests are a fact of life in the gardener’s world. All we can do is pray for the strength and endurance to pull out the weeds and eradicate the pests. If we really want to get all the weeds we need to get down low to the ground and pull them out. Up close too we can see better just what is a weed and what is a flower.
Life is like that too. When we seek to put sin out of our lives, we have to look at it up close from a humble perspective, as we beg God’s help to remove it from our lives.
The Scottish poet, James Barrie, wrote that, “God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” That quotation has had special meaning for me since I learned the lesson of God’s providence at Christmas during my first year of ministry.
God will provide all that is needed in this life, be it roses in December or forgiveness of sin, if we will but trust Him, accept His plan for our lives and always seek Him in prayer.
The Rev. Debbie Linville is Pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Wilmington.