Sometimes nature can be a bit unpredictable—things happen in an order we wouldn’t expect.
Normally, plants put forth leaves long before they produce flowers.
But some trees and shrubs flip the script, so to speak.
With certain plants, the normal sequence is reversed: the flowers come first, before the leaves have developed.
A good example is the beautiful redbud tree. It puts forth gorgeous pink flowers on its bare branches in early spring, when none of its leaves are yet in sight.
The forsythia shrub bears its bright yellow flowers in advance of its leaves, and the lovely magnolia presents its pink or white blooms before the green foliage appears. Some maples and oaks also exhibit this flower-first behaviour, although with less showy blossoms.
All of these plants give us a treat in springtime when we’re starved for colour. We get the flower first without having to wait for the leaves.
Why do some plants reverse the normal order of things?
Some trees are wind-pollinated, so put forth flowers before their bulky leaves get in the way. The same goes for flowers that need extra sunlight. Other plants produce a mass of conspicuous flowers first, unobscured by leaves, to better attract the attention of pollinating insects.
Did you know that God also flipped the script and gave us the flower first, so to speak?
If you’re married, do you have a “date night” with your spouse?
Some people set aside time each week when they get together with their spouse, just the two of them, and do something special.
Life is so busy these days that we sometimes have to actually schedule time to spend with our spouse. We have to juggle work, raising children, community involvements, caring for aging parents, hobbies, and so on.
There are so many demands on our time that we often have difficulty making sure we’re giving enough attention to the person most important to us.
And besides, we know that our spouse is aware of our love for them. So we let things slide and don’t make the relationship a priority.
In this way, however, the bond between you starts to suffer. Without regular conversations and one-on-one time, a distance can start to grow in the relationship.
It’s the same with our relationship with God: we’re so busy with family and work commitments that we sometimes fail to fit Him in to our schedules.
Do you ever feel a bit shaky when you’re “up at bat” in life?
Sometimes we face daunting challenges, and don’t feel we’re capable of facing them on our own. We feel like we need a bit of help, someone who can take over for us when we’re at our weakest.
Someone like a pinch hitter.
In baseball, a pinch hitter acts as substitute who bats for a teammate. The pinch hitter might step in because the original player is injured, or when the one next up at bat is a less effective hitter, such as when a pitcher is worn out after six or seven innings pitching.
The manager might decide that the substitute has a better chance of helping their team to score, or may send in the pinch hitter to execute a specific play. In many cases, the pinch hitter will be called upon at a critical moment in the game.
Sounds like a handy person to have around, doesn’t it?
Did you know that believers have a heavenly “pinch hitter”?
This teammate who comes to your aid is the Holy Spirit Himself.
They say if you put a seashell up to your ear, you can hear the sea.
Maybe some people truly can.
With my luck, I’m more likely to hear, “Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line…” or, “How did you get this number?”
Sometimes it’s hard to tune in to what you really want to hear, isn’t it?
Similarly, it’s often difficult for us to hear God clearly.
There are so many other competing voices in our lives, and even our own thoughts can crowd out God’s attempts to get through to us.
We’ll discuss more about how to hear from God in future posts, but for now let’s concentrate on the most important tip:
Get under the dome.
What do I mean by that?
Perhaps I can best illustrate this by exploring a quirk in the construction of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, United Kingdom.
Have you ever been at a complete loss for words?
Like if your little boy comes in the house, covered in purple paint, and proudly announces, “Guess what, Dad! I’ve painted your car!”
Or when your daughter announces that she’s dropping out of med school to become an itinerant street juggler?
Maybe you’ve been left speechless after you’ve searched the house for the vintage fishing tackle box in which you hid thousands of dollars, and your spouse says, “That old thing? I donated it to the thrift shop months ago.”
How would you like to leave Satan speechless?
Jesus showed us that it’s possible, as long as you have the key.
It’s nice to have a bodyguard, isn’t it?
Someone who watches over you, keeps tabs on what’s happening to you, and is ready to step in if it looks like you’re headed for trouble.
Even flocks of geese have a bodyguard of sorts. The individual bird which fills this role is called a sentinel.
While the other geese are feeding, individual geese will take turns acting as protectors for the rest of the gaggle. These sentinels will stand guard, necks erect, alert to any threat from predators. They have keen eyesight and hearing, and will honk loudly to warn the others if they sense any danger.
Geese make such effective guards that we humans have often taken advantage of their services. We’ve employed geese at farms and warehouses as living alarm systems, and have even used them to guard U.S. Air Defense Command installations in Germany!
We could all use a sentinel like that in our lives, couldn’t we?
Did you know that if you’re a believer, you already have a “bodyguard”?
It’s God Himself.
Sometimes in life we just need a friendly ear, don’t we?
911 dispatchers have certainly found this out.
People call the emergency line for the darnedest of reasons, either to vent about some minor injustice or just to get some advice.
Like the fellow who called 911 to ask what last night’s sports scores were.
Or the little girl who needed help with her math homework.
One guy called 999, the UK version of 911, at 4am on a Saturday morning to ask, “Where is the best place to get a bacon sandwich right now?”
A Halton, Ontario, boy recently called the emergency line in an outrage when his Mom changed the password to his Xbox.
Some have been known to dial 911 when their pizza delivery wasn’t ready on time.
We get consumed with anxiety, uncertainty, confusion, or anger and think, “There must be someone I can call about this!”
Needless to say, 911 should be reserved for actual emergencies only, please.
But sometimes we just need someone to talk to, even if it’s about random things.
It’s good to know that no matter how big or small your concerns, God is interested in hearing from you.
Avalanches are mysterious things.
The snow on the mountains appears static and unchanging. From day to day, nothing looks different. It seems like the status quo will continue as before.
But then all of a sudden, a mass of snow and ice breaks loose and barrels down the hills. Sweeping change happens in a flash, seemingly coming out of the blue.
There was no hint that this would happen.
Or was there?
Underneath the surface, things were going on that we couldn’t see. Perhaps the composition of the snowpack was changing, the load was becoming too great, or sublayers were weakening through melting. From above, we might not be able to tell that the snowpack was becoming increasingly unstable.
But it was now being held in such precarious tension that at any moment a tipping point would be reached. It would be enough to set the whole thing off, leading to a massive snow slide.
Do you ever feel that you’re in a period in your life where nothing seems to be happening? Despite your prayers for change, everything looks the same from day to day.
Looks can be deceiving.
When Jesus is in the picture, sudden change may be on its way, perhaps even an avalanche of blessings.
Sometimes there can be magic hidden within the most unlikely of places.
Take tree burls, for instance (or burrs, to our British friends).
These rounded, knotty growths found on tree trunks can seem very ugly.
Burls form when the tree is under some kind of stress, causing bud growth cells to develop in an abnormal way. Such stressors might include bacteria, viruses, fungi, insect infestations, or wounds. A burl is visible evidence of how the tree is dealing with these attacks.
They look rather like tumours, and mar the otherwise regular pattern of the bark.
Surely there’s nothing good about burls?
But there is.
Their unsightly exterior hides magnificence.
Few people know that inside these contorted and gnarled outgrowths is concealed something wonderful. The wood that burls yield is unusual and highly figured, making it valued and sought after by woodworkers and artists.
This unique wood is prized for its beauty and rarity, and is often used for veneers or inlays in fine furniture, trim or panelling inside luxury cars, and for household objects like bowls or pens, which become works of art.
Do you have a few “burls” in your life? Some knotty problems that have grown into a tangled mess?
Wonder if God could ever bring something good out of them?
Did you climb trees when you were a child? (Or do you still?)
As a bit of a tomboy in my childhood, I was an inveterate tree-climber.
But I quickly learned that some trees were a lot easier to climb than others.
Some trees have rough bark, prickly needles or sticky, oozing sap: I wouldn’t even bother trying to climb those. Other trees might have smooth bark, but their branches were too close together or too high off the ground for a child to manage.
The old apple tree in my backyard was perfect, however. It had been climbed by generations of neighbourhood kids, with the result that much of the bark on the best branches had been worn smooth by little hands.
Its limbs had open architecture, making them as welcoming to children as open arms. And they were low enough to the ground that even the youngest tyke could clamber up.
That tree was a magnet for the neighbourhood kids, a favourite spot for us to gather. I have fond memories of it!
As I look back, it seems to me that we as believers should try to be a bit more like that old apple tree.