‘Before and after’ views with vivid new colours picturing changed times can leave us with the initial impression that new seasons arrive with the ease of flipping a calendar page.
Yet, with more thoughtful reflection, we are reminded of an ongoing continuity through which each successive season grows and builds.
Before summer arrives, and after winter has slipped away there is a barren stretch of spring where only icy ridges had been before and new life is not yet obvious. After summer harvest has been reaped, and before all autumn colours fly away in the strengthening chill of winter winds waiting just around the corner to bring fresh falls of snow, there is a stretch of fall where baring trees stalwartly sketch a holding pattern as late November nips at bark and branches still standing in the shrivelled memory of summer insisting they let go of dead foliage to enter winter rest.
Time lapse photography much more precise than six month intervals would quickly reveal the tiny daily changes taking place often unobservable to the naked eye yet integral in the movement from one scene to the next. Incremental steps showing bulbs erupting from the earth, leaves preparing to unfurl from tight encasements, and flower petals dropping out of buds to droop their colours against vibrant grassy greens would be captured on film to document the journey from a frigid February scene to jubilant August jewels of emerald and ruby gardens one moment at a time.
We rarely arrive in new seasons overnight. There are usually many preceding and subsequent moments giving shape to our lives and ministries. Dates and events of a whole new day may indicate otherwise, but upon closer inspection, the hard and painful work of reparations in fragmented souls through the grace of regenerative inner work of the Spirit and the reverence of worship in the gradation of good times and bad are all part of the process. The preparations and perseverance before and after the graduation, the wedding, the birth, the ordination or induction into a new charge, are crucial components along the way and paint a more faithful picture of our lives and spiritual journeys of service than any one single snapshot. Pain and joy and natural routines overlapping.
We arrive in new seasons only to have a clearer view of new seasons yet ahead. From glory to glory, we are being changed in and through the unfolding story across many layers and years of altered landscapes.
Yes, it is true that there are radical critical turning points of before and after.
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)
But most of life takes place in between.
Before and after seeds of gospel grace have dipped below the cool intellectualizing of religiousity and set up home in the garden of faith-filled hearts to flourish with a dynamic new hum of life in Christ. Before and after a move towards greater unity and depth of community in the Holy Spirit through the spiritual gifts he pours out on his people for the building up of the whole. Before and after we see that the steadfast love of the Father has been proven unequivocally and we’ve learned to stand as one, serving generously in his name.
There are the special moments of surrender and sealing new realities, but it is before and after we have moved from the winter woundedness of being frozen in the past that we see a whole summary of new possibilities in faith and practice sprout in our imaginations by the Spirit’s initiative. It is during this stretch when cameras may not flash that the hope of producing a summer harvest for his glory is lived out by faith.
Spiritual journeys take a lifetime.
We learn to live with patient grace together from one frame to the next remembering that an unfolding beauty which is hidden as potential, not yet seen, will one day come to full bloom awaiting transformation through ever deepening cycles of growth as the Spirit blows and we respond. We wait patiently for new colours of Christ-likeness to emerge as new seasons unfold, however slowly.
One day, we will become aware that things look different.
Multiple small changes rearrange new attitudes although the latitude and longitudes of our circumstances may well remain the same. As time lapses, we awake one morning to notice greener grass and realize how very far the Spirit has brought us when we look back … and humbly give him thanks.
‘Before we become discouraged with what appears to be slow progress towards a peak season of blessing, remind us that a thousand years is but a day during which time your saving grace is presently at work to change our hearts, our homes, our churches, our places of influence, O God.
Help us look back and see how far you have led and constantly fed our souls along the way. Long after each season comes and goes, you remain the constant tree of life who holds all things together. Before and after whatever each one of your servants is going through today, you are there … moment by moment, frame by frame … to bring about healing change according to your will. Amen.’