This past Sunday our church had its annual church meeting. Postponed from the Spring because of the pandemic, the annual meeting is a good chance to reflect on the past year and consider where God might be moving us in the future.
The standpoint for all of this, of course, is the present. Our present condition is one of great uncertainty and confusion. The coronavirus pandemic still runs across everything we do, as individuals and as a church. We don’t know what might happen over the coming weeks and months. Planning for the future seems strange and difficult in times like these.
How would we sum up our current state of affairs? The picture that came to me as I prepared for our church meeting was that of a ploughed field.
Ploughed fields are messy and chaotic. Where there once was structure and order, now the ground has been torn up and thrown about. Everything has been churned up and broken into pieces.
I wonder if that resonates with how we are feeling right now? The pandemic has churned up our lives and broken the ground we were standing on. Whether it is health issues, mental wellbeing, job security or financial concerns, our worlds have been broken up and thrown about. A ploughed field might be an accurate picture of how we are feeling at the present time.
If that is the case, then we need to remember that ploughing comes before growth. I don’t know a great deal about agriculture, but I do know that farmers don’t plough their fields just for the fun of it. They do it for a reason: to plant crops and to bring a harvest.
Ploughing is difficult, painful and hard. But it has a purpose. It is done to bring growth. Reflecting on this brought me to these words from Ezekiel 36:
But you, O mountains of Israel, will produce branches and fruit for my people Israel, for they will soon come home. I am concerned for you and will look on you with favour; you will be plowed and sown, and I will multiply the number of people upon you, even the whole house of Israel. The towns will be inhabited and the ruins rebuilt. (Ezekiel 36:8-10)
These words are spoken by God through Ezekiel at a crucial time. God speaks to an exiled and scattered people to give them hope. They are far away but they will soon come home. They have been ploughed, but they will also be sown. Growth will come. Branches will produce fruit, numbers will be multiplied, and ruins will be rebuilt.
God says to his people “I am concerned for you and will look on you with favour.” These are words not just for Israel of Ezekiel’s day, but God’s words for us today. God has not stopped being concerned for us. He has not stopped looking with favour on us. He will continue to bless his people and he will bring us out of this season with growth and fruit.
Now, we do have to consider that the growth that God will bring might look different from what we expect. Ploughing brings up from the ground the rocks and stones and things that prevent growth. The ploughing of recent months might be used be God to expose those things that stop growth, that need to be picked up and removed. Those might be things in our personal life, or things in the life of our church. As ploughing exposes those rocks and stones, so we need to be on the look out for what God has exposed for us to remove.
As ploughing kicks up the rocks to remove, it also reveals the soil that brings growth. New areas for seed to be sown are brought to light, and fertile soil is given room to work.
I am sure this is also true for us. Certainly there will be rocks to remove in our church life, but there will be new areas for growth and fruit. New ways in which God is at work. New places where the seed of the Spirit is springing into new life.
We have much to be concerned and prayerful about during this season. But we also need to be watchful for the ways God is bringing out new soil of ministry and opportunity among us. There is still uncertainty in lots of areas, and the new year will look different in many ways. We must not be frightened by that, because God is still concerned for us and still looking with favour upon us. That is what enables us to step into the unknown without fear.