Every journey needs “pit stops” – planned times to slow down and to pull off the road. These are opportunities to be refreshed, to review the progress made and to anticipate and plan the next stage of the journey. We will take the time to do that now on our “journey through sacred time,” before we press on into the full heat of Summer, and review our progression through the Biblical Cycle of the year. We started the cycle at Rosh HaShanah, at the transition of Autumn into Winter, and have now arrived at week thirty-four. We have passed the half-way mark and are about to venture forth on the homeward stretch of this year’s journey.
Now is a time to pause and to examine our hearts. We find, as with an extended physical journey, that as we travel through the annual cycle of sacred time there are ups and downs! We experience many joyful “high places” but there are “lows” that seem dark and are filled with sadness or confusion. These, too, have a purpose. We slowly discover that the darkness serves to enhance and brighten the light that follows. When we experience a “descent” – a difficult time of trial and testing – we can endure it in faith. We can persevere in the knowledge that our Father has our lives in His hands and He will redeem the situation for our greater “ascent”. Each time we stumble or fall, or circumstances bring us down, He is there when we call to Him and He will lift us up. We discover, at times, that it is necessary for us to be brought low, to humble ourselves; then He can lift us up to a higher place than we were before.
“Because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord… and wept before Me, I also have heard you,” says the Lord.
(2 Kings 22:19)
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you. (James 4:10)
Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands to God in heaven (Lamentations 3:40-41).
In any painful circumstance we need first to examine our hearts and deeds in humility and recognize if there is any sin for which we need to repent. Are we allowing anything to impede our relationship with our Father? If not, we can accept that He is teaching and disciplining us for a reason known to Him. We can rest in His wisdom and love, and we can trust that He will reveal His purpose in His time. Our loving Father continually corrects and disciplines us, like a good shepherd using his rod to guide and direct his sheep. He prods us still further for our eternal good and for His glory.
My child, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves the one he loves, as a father the child in whom he delights.
WHERE are we Heading and WHY?
When, for example, a hiking trip is long and demanding, it is a wise and productive exercise regularly to review the reasons for the trip and the destination for which one is aiming. To move forward and to invest the effort involved in accomplishing the hike, we often need to reinforce our motivation and determination to press on. The same applies to our spiritual journey. It is a constant challenge of upward growth – growth in spirit, in character, and in relationship with our God, which is reflected and worked out in our daily actions and earthly relationships. This journey of the spirit continues throughout our life on earth for the destination is found in eternity.
As a result, there are no “instant fixes” in spiritual growth. We need constantly to learn and grow in order to overcome negativity and the desire to quit and simply drift. If we are not moving forward intentionally and purposefully, then we will stagnate and drift further and further backwards – away from our true purpose in life, away from our God. When we review our journey and remember our ultimate goal, which is to be in the Presence of our Father and the Beloved of our souls forever, we can be grateful for each new day He gives us and treasure all the possibility it holds. Every step forward, no matter how faltering, is in fact a giant leap!
Let us look back on the way we have come.
We came through the darkness of winter illumined by the light of His Word and His Presence. We experienced the “Time of our Freedom”, our Exodus from slavery, drawn forth by God’s mighty outstretched arm and redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. We celebrated the First-fruits of Messiah’s Resurrection Life and the joy of spring and new growth. We counted the days, the seven weeks of the Omer, until the gathering of the harvest in Shavuot when we sang grateful praise for the bountiful provision of our King. We rejoiced at the great gift of His Torah, His eternal Word, and in the outpouring of His Holy Spirit in a bursting forth of new Kingdom life.
Now, refreshed and empowered, we stand ready for the next phase of the journey – the long, hot summer during which all the fields and crops need to be tended carefully in order to celebrate the final great harvest in the Autumn of the year – the Fall Festivals of Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur and the joyful Feast of Tabernacles – Sukkot.
A TIME TO GROW
Summer is a time of rapid growth. As we nurture our spiritual growth, we need to be as watchful, careful and industrious as good farmers who tend the crops in their fields. To be assured of a bountiful and fruitful harvest, invading insects and scavengers need to be warded off, the weather needs to be monitored, unwanted weeds must be uprooted and disposed of, crops must be watered and fertilized. Then, in the Fall, they can rest back in contentment and celebrate the fruits of their labors and give generously in gratitude to the One who is the Source of it all.
Through the coming Summer months we will have the opportunity to monitor our growth, as it were, by exploring and considering the following topics, for which the word ‘growth’ is an acronym:
G – Gratitude and Generosity
R – Repentance and Righteousness
O – Obedience and Order
W – Worship and Warfare
T – Trust and Truth
H – Hope and HalleluYah!
At this bridge between Spring and Summer it is a worthwhile exercise to examine and clarify our motives for the journey. Why are we on this road at all? And why do we, and should we, desire to grow?
A few positive motives to consider:
- To fulfill God’s plan and purpose for my life, as His child.
- To receive and take pleasure in the many gifts of life that He has given us.
- To give back to Him through offerings of worship and obedience, and through tzedakah – giving to charity and acts of loving-kindness.
Negative patterns of motivation that hinder our Father’s purposes in our lives need to be recognized and dealt with according to His grace. Some of which are:
- To impress others and gain favor.
- To cover insecurity.
- Fear of reprisal or punishment.
Let us consider the account of Cain and Abel and the offerings they brought to God. They both did the right thing in bringing an offering, but Abel’s was accepted and Cain’s rejected. What was the difference? The motivation of the heart! Abel desired to please God and brought the best from his flocks. Cain thought just the ‘doing’ was enough and did not seek out the best of his crops to offer God. Nevertheless, although God rejected the sacrifice, He did not reject Cain himself. As a loving Father, He came to him and gave him the opportunity to repent and to learn His ways. In response, Cain did not humbly and gratefully turn to God and take heed of His guidance. Instead, he was filled with jealousy and anger and murdered his brother in baseless hatred (Heb. sinat chinam). This same baseless hatred was cited as the reason for the destruction of the Second Temple – God’s Holy House in Jerusalem. Sadly, we see it at the root of the ongoing wars, violence and wanton murder that pervade our world to this day.
When our motives are pure and we are walking and working with God, our progress will be strong and will endure. The positive growth will be meaningfully etched in our characters. May all that we do flow from our heart’s desire to bless our Almighty God and Father, in the love of Messiah Yeshua and in the power of the Spirit of holiness.
~ Keren Hannah Pryor