The squirrel found my sunflower seeds in the planter. Again. I camouflaged them with a distracting pansy, but the squirrel managed to dig around that and go for the gold. When I put the dirt back for the remaining survivors, my furry foe was back the next day with a vengeance. Dirt all over my deck. The sunflower seeds didn’t have a chance. Strangely, he was uninterested in the bean, cucumber, and squash seedlings growing not 10 feet away in starter pots. I guess even squirrels have their preferences.
Living in Kansas, I’ve learned just enough about plants to be dangerous. My backyard blackberry bramble and grapevines have given me spiritual food for thought on more than one occasion. Jesus borrowed from his agrarian culture on a regular basis when looking for helpful illustrations to prove His point.
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.” (Matt. 13:4-7).
I wonder if they have squirrels in the Holy Land. I wonder if they dig up sunflower seeds in manicured planters.
What about the seeds that we as a church plant in beautifully cultivated, regularly watered pots? We even add the curriculum containing Miracle Grow! What about the word of God that has been gently and meticulously planted and cared for, guarded by our Bible studies together, nurtured in corporate worship, spoon fed in discipleship, nursed along by the sprinkling can of phone calls, encouraging notes, and intercessory prayer? What to do about the squirrels who pounce on our careful work?
Yesterday during worship, we had our first big technical glitch during our Facebook live feed. The audio went dead and the tech crew flew into high gear for the next 3 agonizing minutes while they isolated the problem and rebooted the whole system. The adrenaline rush in the sanctuary was palpable, and I did what one with technical handicaps can do: I prayed. Hard. And I prayed for the remainder of the service for absolutely anything that came across my intercessory palate: the wiring, the airwaves, the Word of God going forth, the receiving of the Word in people’s hearts. I prayed fervently against the enemy of our souls and of our sanctuary, the distraction of it all. And I got angry. Righteously, of course.
Sometimes I find myself angry at the squirrels. How does Jesus address the idea of growing in the protective green house of God, while at the same time being on guard against those who may invade uninvited and even unknowingly? The Apostle John was dealing with squirrels in the greenhouse even while in exile on the island of Patmos.
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
4“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spiritof truth and the spirit of falsehood.” 1 John 4:1-6).
I find myself trying to figure out where to direct my anger these days, and here it is. It’s not the squirrels. He’s just looking for lunch. That’s what squirrels do. That’s what the world does. It thinks and speaks and acts from the viewpoint of the world. And those of the world will listen to that voice. I can’t expect behavior befitting of the church from those who do not acknowledge the rightful place of Jesus Christ as Lord of all. The world listens to the world.
But I can expect certain thoughts, words, and behaviors from those who are cultivated by the Holy Spirit of God, because “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them (the antichrists), because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world…13 This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of His Holy Spirit.”
As a person called to serve the church, to plant seeds of faith, to guard and cultivate, I can forget that in the end, it’s not my work. It’s not even my prayer, although I know that God will use both in the process of growing souls and protecting audio systems. I may plant, and others may water, but “God has been making it grow.” (1 Cor. 3:6). These days of distancing, of stepping back from literal “hands on” ministry, have been the maturing process the church has needed to test its root system and see where the soil is good. It’s been a call for the beloved, while sheltering in place, to shelter under the wings of the Almighty God and learn to feed itself. Like a mother of a young adult, I need to let go and watch her grow.
My only concern, and I see this concern throughout the voices of the New Testament writers so I know I’m in good company, is the palate of the church. Where will it choose to get its food if we’re not around to spoon feed it? Is the church discriminating enough to know what’s good and what’s not when it comes to the menu of spiritual choices? Like John, like Paul, like Peter, as a church leader I want to know “How deep is the work we’ve done over the past several years of ministry?” Sometimes I feel as if my reputation as a teacher is on the line, rather than the work of the groundbreaking, earthshaking, world-remaking Spirit of the Living God.
His green house may be located at 940 Northview, but the potted plants are scattered among the addresses of McPherson, Inman, Lindsborg, Galva, Canton, Moundridge, and along dusty county roads in Kansas. His Holy Spirit is growing seedlings in pots on military bases and in homeschool basements and in foreign soil. He’s growing souls via Zoom, Christian books and periodicals, Christ-centered conversations, and through people finally pulling up to the adult table and eating meat for the first time on their own. I won’t always get a front row seat to what God is doing in these remote and sanctified soils, and I have to be fine with that.
“8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matt. 7:8-9.)
That last sentence is for me. The point of the parable is that there is good soil. Lots of it. Yes, the squirrels may come and try to do what squirrels do. The energy of my anger can be put to better use. I can replant. I can try netting the pot for a while until the roots are more firmly established against furry invaders. I can get creative and plant outside the box. I might even be given the blessed task of taming the squirrel. But it is God’s Holy Spirit who ultimately makes it all come together for kingdom growth.
And my faith will grow by having ears to hear Him (Rom. 10:17).
- Lynn Black