Eccl 3:1 "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven." Seasons come and go; they have a beginning and an end. We just finished the Lent season and we are passing through the Easter season. We just finished winter, a time a hibernation and rest, and started springtime, a time of planting and new growth. The conscientious fruit tree farmer plants in spring, maintains the elements for growth in summer, harvests at the start of autumn, and allows the trees to rest in winter. Knowing the season allows the farmer to work in accordance to the tree's activity. The farmer coordinates his activities by seasons because he knows it will produce the most fruit. Just like the seasons of the year, our faith has seasons. Do you know the seasons or your faith or what season you are in?
Jesus used the parable of the fig tree (Mat 24:29-31) to illustrate that we need to be aware of our spiritual surroundings and seasons. One of the greatest tragedies for Christians is they do not recognize the season they are in. For example, if a Christian is in a winter season and becomes nervous that their does not seem to be any fruit appearing in their life, they may commit to new ministries in order to force themselves to produce fruit. No matter how hard they try, they won't produce fruit until God produces it in them. But what is worse is that sometimes they blame God for the lack fruit. I can't tell you how many times I've heard "I did everything right but God didn't come through." God does not fail. However we fail to recognize our seasons and work with God.
What should Christians do in the different seasons? In every season, being in touch with God is essential. I like to view the spiritual seasons following the seasons of the year, although there are liturgical and other season models. Lets start with spiritual springtime and finish in spiritual winter.
During springtime, look for the leading of God in new activities and ventures into new opportunities. On the personal level, these can be activities like new ways of doing your daily devotions or new relationships with encouraging saints. Regarding ministry, springtime can bring new ministry, more attendees or new ways of serving God. Be careful not to invest too much of yourself in all these new things because, just like a fruit tree, not every blossom will lead to fruit. These temporary blossoms serve to pollinate other blossoms. They are also signs to show us that it is springtime.
Summer is a time of spiritual development and fruit bearing. Applied to your personal spiritual development, you might find yourself learning to study scripture better, having deeply significant devotions where you feel God's presence more regularly. Applied to your ministry, you might find God giving you strategic insights, you seem to be more effective in your ministry or you have a new sense of anointing. On the other hand, Satan will attempt to divert you; to cause you to put your energies into non-fruit bearing activities. Some of these activities could be attempts to maintain some of the temporary blossoms that were never intended to bear fruit.
During the summer my orange tree in my front yard will be maturing fruit in its braches. It will also be growing new shoots that point straight up. These shoots don't bear fruit and only suck some of the vital resource from process of producing fruit. I cut off these shoots, called suckers, so the tree's resources go to bearing fruit rather than maintaining new growth that will never bear fruit. Again, being connected with God is critical for producing and maturing the fruit that God is giving you. Not only does He give all the resources for fruit bearing, but also He knows which activities are "suckers" and will cut them off if we allow Him.
During spiritual autumn, our spiritual growth will be shrinking back but the demands from us increase. It is interesting that the greatest harvest of fruit comes when the tree is heading for a season of rest. It is incorrect to say that a person in spiritual autumn does not have God's anointing; God anoints all the spiritual seasons. On a personal level, during spiritual autumn you may be feeling a need to return to the basics of the faith, or a new commitment to the spiritual disciplines of fasting, praying, solitude, individual worship and devotion; things which in themselves, seem to produce little fruit but are essential for our Christian walk. In ministry, you might have to cut back your commitments or there might be a downsizing. There might be external factors like reducing finances, attendance or time availability that reduces our ability to produce fruit.
Lastly, there is winter. Spiritual winter is the most uncomfortable time for many Christians, especially in the western church. In our western society, we tend to value people based on how much they produce. If you don't believe me, look at who gets recognized in your church. Usually it is the people that seem to live at church and are committed to many different activities. This work=value culture is not Godly and it is wrong to applaud people who are over committed as much as it is wrong to applaud people who are under committed. God values people not works and we should to... but that is another discussion.
Spiritual winter is like the Sabbath. Let's talk about Sabbath rest. It is not doing nothing. I know of many people who, when they go on vacation, skip their daily devotions. Some don't even bring their Bibles with them. They take a vacation from God. But this is not the rest of the Sabbath. During the Sabbath, God instructed people to keep the rest holy to God and reflect on the things that God had done for them. God says in Lev 23:27 we must "deny" (NIV, NASB) or "afflict" (KJ, NKJ) ourselves when observing the Sabbath. What would be denied? Whatever keeps our minds from reflecting on God's good deeds and keeping holy attitude before God are the exact things that we must deny. They might include watching TV or reading that novel. They could include sports or shopping. They might even include catching another bible study or getting involved with another ministry. We need to discipline ourselves to stay connected with God during our rest because our natural inclination is to wander spiritually when we are in a season of rest.
During spiritual winter, it is normal to feel like God is not hearing our prayers or speaking to us. We may feel like we are having a "wilderness" experience. Our inclination is to pray harder or more or anything but to remain; but must remain in the season of rest. We may feel like our ministry is unfruitful and assume it is dying. But during winter, there is no fruit bearing and it is a time or spiritual rest. In winter, reflect on God and God's faithfulness to you and maintain an attitude of reverence before God. It is God's perfect order that all creation rests periodically. God thinks so highly of rest that on the seventh day of creation, He rested too. When we don't rest, we've made our service an idol above God. When we squirm away from spiritual winter, we squirm away from Godliness.
Spiritual seasons are not spiritual conditions of the saint nor a way of measuring Godliness. God ordains spiritual seasons to provide the greatest spiritual fruit bearing and the greatest spiritual growth. God's seasonal plan includes periods of growth and periods of rest. Recognizing the season you're in and responding appropriately to that season, is the best way to insure continued spiritual growth and a life that bears Godly fruit.
Not only does this apply to you, but your congregation has seasons too. We must be sensitive to the season of the congregation and develop our worship sets accordingly. There are times of reflection so lead songs that speak of reflection. There are periods of vision, so lead song that visionary. There are times when the congregations mourns so lead worship that allows the expression of pain and desire for healing. In time of revival, lead song of refreshing, evangelism and spiritual desire. Learn to be comfortable with the season that God has ordained for your congregation and let God move the congregation from season to season. Minister according to the current season not according to the last or next season. Doing this maximizes the spiritual growth and the production spiritual fruit.