Voices

Cosmic agony

God's people fall so very short of what we are called to be, but God is a stubborn gardener

Issue: "Ronald Reagan: In memoriam," June 19, 2004

WE PLANTED TOMATOES LAST YEAR. IN MARCH, my 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter helped me plant the seeds indoors in a dozen little miscellaneous pots-the kids "sowed generously," of course, and the seeds grew. They grew some more. We had too many seedlings. I pulled some up. We had too many pots. We gave some away. My wife cleared the little patch of garden by the side door next to the driveway, and the tomato plants went outdoors. They grew some more. They climbed up the fence and across the steps. We picked cherry tomatoes until the October frost.

You want drama? Plant a garden. God planted a garden once-grapes, not tomatoes. But no late summer harvest: "He looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit" (Isaiah 5:3). More than annoying-deeply tragic. For "the vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of His delight. And He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress" (5:7).

But God is a stubborn gardener. And this is the big drama of human history: He is committed to making His garden grow. For starters, He will have a people of His own, not a scattering of individuals, but a people, a family, a society. And the Lord is passionate for His people, with a white-hot passion that will not be put out by any amount of unfaithfulness or coldness of heart. He will do this-He will establish His people safe and secure, mature and ­complete, restored and redeemed and completely whole. He will have that harvest of righteousness.

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The Lord is determined; there is no question about His commitment. The work of Jesus is the definitive proof of and down payment on God's intention. But throughout history God's people have often fallen painfully short of what we will one day be. There is a kind of cosmic agony to my slowness to believe, my persistent timidity, my fear that God will not provide for me. When will the gospel finally break through? It's not a bad thing to get in tune with this agony of the universe-even the minutiae of ordinary lives ring with a discordant clang. Why is he still lazy? Why is she still irritable? Why is this church so full of the love of money?

This is Ephesians 4:12-13, the longing that "the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." That's where we're going-that's real life. And it's why every small kindness or helpful word, every measurable change in the lives of those who believe, is so significant, so deeply good, so pregnant with possibility-it's a glimpse of what we're waiting for. We're waiting for the solid establishment, the maturity, the safety of the church of Jesus Christ.

This is also a missionary principle. Where is the church in Japan, in Thailand, in Morocco? It's there, but you have to look hard. There's cosmic agony in that too-longing that the Lord's church would be strengthened and built up, that it would grow and transform cities and nations. Consider the small, weak, apparently irrelevant collections of believers hanging on in scattered communities in Western Europe. Think of the young churches in parts of Africa and China, with believers still unfamiliar with the Scriptures, still vulnerable to false teaching, so in need of faithful ­shepherds who will teach them well. The planet groans for God's people to be healthy, whole communities that work redemptively where they're planted.

God is passionate to bring these things about. He wants us to long for them too. "For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem's sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch" (Isaiah 62:1). It's all but done-but yet not finished. The universe still groans. As you have fellowship with God, you share the agony. You start to make some noise for the righteousness of the Lord's people, for the maturity, well-being, and final safety of the ones He loves. This is micro-this person in front of me-and on from there to macro-on the level of families, churches, cities, nations.

God is looking for men and women who are alert, wide awake to the real drama of history, full of concern for His people, who will do some hard work, getting dirty praying for the church. He has a garden-do you have a trowel?

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