Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand. (Zechariah 4:10 NLT)
I was blessed to spend my Monday morning at a local farm in my community that grows food for families who cannot afford fresh produce and quality meats. I spent the morning touring the farm and learning how they produce tens of thousands of pounds of food very efficiently while stewarding God's resources of land and money responsibly. At the end of the tour, the group I was with packed thousands of pounds of sweet potatoes that would be delivered to local area food banks. While this activity was wonderful, a part of the tour has stuck with me all week. I can't stop thinking about the greenhouse.
We stepped inside of what appeared to be a standard greenhouse but the farmer explained how they start seeds for the upcoming crops here. These seeds are started here but they don't finish here - those crops must make their way outside where the elements can help them grow best. They must move out to make room for new seeds to grow. This greenhouse also keeps the climate at a constant temperature and shields the vulnerable seeds from extreme temperatures, critters that might like to feed on them before they have a chance to grow, and even from getting too much water. The sides of this greenhouse automatically raise and lower to allow cooler air in if the temperature gets too high. I marveled at the state of the art technology used to get the lettuces, squashes, and other crops started.
This experience reminded me that God almost never intends for us to stay in the same place for too long. He uses our education, our faith, our experiences and even our tragedies to move us out of safe spaces into the bigger, wider world so that we can grow to our fullest potential and ultimately feed those who hunger for truth and grace. As Christians, it can be tempting to hide out in the state of the art greenhouses that keep our lives typical and predictable but if we look at the examples God gives us in His word, the most impactful believers never stayed anywhere too long.
Abraham was told to go to a place that God would show him and the result was that Abraham would have too many descendants to count. Joseph went from the safe fold of his father's flock to the dungeon and then palace of an Egyptian pharaoh where he would ultimately feed his starving family of origin and nation. Esther went from the safe home of her uncle as an orphan to the palace of the king where she would prevent the genocide of her people. Jesus, Himself, never stayed anywhere too long - He had no place to lay His heavenly head and He went about His travels being challenged by the opposition but continued to heal and save the dying world.
Isaiah 61:3 says:
** and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
We might be grieving and mourning in this world but God has bigger plans for us. We are all called to be mighty oaks but can an oak be contained within a small greenhouse? Eventually that seedling must be taken out and planted firmly beside Living Water so that it can stretch towards the sun. Oaks provide shelter for many vulnerable creatures and continue to produce their own fruit so future generations can be brought forth.
I imagine it's a shock for the little seedings to be taken out to be planted. The farmer even explained they use a high powered pressure planter to make sure the seedings are dropped securely into the soil so the roots can be established. I bet those first few days out of the greenhouse are uncomfortable for those tender plants. The thing is, those veggies will never feed anyone if they don't get out and grow!
So what's your greenhouse? Is it your job, your school...your church? Maybe you've been doing ministry the same way as long as you can remember and something doesn't feel quite right. Examine your environment, is it automatic? God never intends for our faith to be automatic, it should be exciting, sometimes a little uncomfortable or downright scary. Nevertheless, He promises to grow us into mighty oaks if we allow ourselves to step out in faith.