Oct 20, 2023
Today on Celebrating God's Grace, host Julie Harwick teaches of God's picture of the change and growth in our lives that He has ordained through the changing seasons of the year.
Welcome to Celebrating God’s Grace, a Women World Leaders podcast. I’m your host, Julie Harwick. Thank you for joining me today as we celebrate God’s grace in our lives, in this ministry and around the world.
Fall is finally here! It’s one of my favorite seasons of the year. Here in Florida, it means the temperatures drop down to the 80’s and sometimes even the 70’s! And believe it or not, we even have some leaves changing color and falling to the ground. It’s nothing like what I experienced as a child in Ohio, but there’s definitely a change in the air. I’ve put out decorative pumpkins of every size and color: also my fall scented candles and quite a few other pieces of autumn décor. There’s a sign on my kitchen counter that says, “Fall is a reminder that change can be beautiful.” That got me thinking. Of course, it’s the changing fall leaves that immediately come to mind, but there’s a much deeper message in that sentence.
The wisest man who ever lived, King Solomon, wrote about that very subject in Ecclesiastes chapter 3. It was so profound that the Beatles even recorded a song about it. “There is a time for everything, “ he says, in verse one, “ and a season for every activity under the heavens.” The next seven verses give examples such as “a time to be born and a time to die, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to speak and a time to be silent.” In verse 11 he summarizes, “God has made everything beautiful in its’ time.” Maybe this scripture was the inspiration for my sign!
It seems remarkable to me that an eternal being who is not limited by the constraints of time, recognizes its’ importance in our lives. Even before the Creator breathed life in Adam and Eve, He created the sun, moon and stars – not just to give us light and warmth, but to set up the foundations of time: day and night, and in most parts of the world, four distinct seasons. It’s not hard to see the value of a period of darkness and a period of light. They coincide perfectly with our need for activity and rest. But the seasons…why did He feel the need for those? Could it be a reassuring pattern that also coincides with our lives?
Spring brings to mind new baby lambs and chicks, colorful flowers pushing their way through the dirt and trees that previously looked dead exploding with vibrant blossoms and green leaves. It’s a new beginning, a time of tremendous growth and promise. Not at all unlike the beginnings of human life. Like the newborn lambs, we have so much to learn and we’re dependent on others to provide for us, care for us and help us become mature. It happens a lot faster for lambs, but in the spring of our lives we are full of potential, energy and wonder.
As spring melds into summer, the seeds that were just beginning to emerge from the dirt grow tall and lush – this is a time for producing. Little seedlings have become what they were meant to be. It has become clearly visible that the seed is now a stalk of corn or wheat. The blossoms have turned into peaches or cherries that will continue to mature over the course of the summer. For us, adulthood is all about becoming what we were meant to be, finding our place and our purpose and beginning to produce – valuable work, greater skills, relationships and even children.
Fall has long been associated with the harvest. This is the time that the farmer reaps the rewards of the previous two seasons’ planting and nurturing. For us, that means being more sure of ourselves in our work and our personal lives, having a bit more time to savor our achievements and seeing all that we’ve invested in our children begin to show a return.
As winter approaches, farmers finish gathering the harvest and settle in for a slower pace – a well deserved rest. It’s calmer and quieter and there’s lots of time for reflection and preparing for the next phase. In the winter of our lives, we set aside our work and instead do the things we choose to do. We enjoy the benefits of the relationships and families we have built, share our wisdom and experience and find ourselves thinking more often about the future.
I see the seasons of life within my own family. My youngest child is about to cross from spring to summer. He’s all grown up and has been serving in the army for the last three years, but when he’s discharged next year, he’ll begin college and figure out what he wants to do with his life. My other three daughters are in their summer: building careers, marriages and establishing themselves in the world. My oldest has recently given us our first grandchild – a sweet little boy who is, like the baby lamb, full of wonder and potential. That puts me squarely in the midst of fall – harvesting the fruit of previous investments in all of their lives and focusing less on work and more on ministry. I am so fortunate to still have both of my parents. They are in their 80’s and 90’s, the winter of their lives, and while I do see them slowing down, they are active and engaged with the world around them, daily fighting spiritual battles on their knees. They take great pleasure in seeing our family come full circle – knowing that none of it would exist without their investment and they look forward to eternity with all of us together in God’s presence.
The various seasons of the year, and of our lives, can be beautiful. But they can also be difficult and sometimes seem as if they may last forever. I clearly remember our last winter in Ohio. It absolutely confirmed the wisdom of moving further south. Throughout March and into April, we had a major snowstorm every other Friday, like clockwork. We’d have a day or two when the sun would come out and temperatures might reach 70 degrees, making us think spring had arrived at last. But then our hopes were quickly dashed by yet another snowstorm. By May of that year, our daytime highs had barely broken into the 50’s. It was the winter that refused to end.
Seasons are all about change which can be beautiful, but it can also be extremely difficult. There are those who become easily bored and change their hairstyle with every appointment or rearrange the furniture every few months or move from city to city looking for the next big adventure. But I haven’t known too many people like that. I think most of us struggle with change – especially when it’s forced upon us.
The bible is full of examples. Abraham was called by God to leave his home and relocate to a land no one knew anything about. Esther was pulled out of obscurity to become queen of the land so that she could risk her own life to save the lives of her people. Peter, Andrew, James and John were called from the only way of life they knew as fishermen to follow Jesus and become fishers of men. But when it comes to changes that lead to a very long and trying season of life, there is no one like Joseph. As the first and long-awaited son of the only woman his father ever really loved, Joseph was the favorite of all favorites. He was so favored that while his brothers were out tending the sheep, he was home being measured for a custom coat of many colors. Dad wanted everyone to know that Joseph was something special. Young Joseph was well aware of it and the dreams and visions God gave him only confirmed it. As a teenager, he was eager to share his dreams of his entire family bowing down to him with everyone who would listen, convincing his ten older brothers that his ego needed to be deflated.
A very unwelcome change was about to come into Joseph’s life. Some of his brothers hated him so passionately, they plotted to kill him and hide his body in a cistern. Reuben, knowing what his death would do to their father, suggested they simply drop him into a cistern, knowing that he could return to rescue him later. When Reuben was away, a caravan of traders came upon them, and the brothers decided they could rid themselves of Joseph and earn a little extra cash. They sold him as a slave and tore and bloodied his beautiful robe, telling their father he had been eaten by a wild animal.
Joseph went from being the favored son in a wealthy household to being an entry level slave in Egypt. The bible doesn’t tell us how he felt about that, but it’s hard to imagine that he welcomed this change. We do know, however, that in some way, Joseph accepted the change and made the best of his situation. It wasn’t long before his master noticed his work ethic and put him in charge of the entire household. He was still a slave, but his position was now the best he could hope for. Unfortunately, his master wasn’t the only one who took notice of him. The lady of the house found him far more attractive than her husband and tried every method she knew to seduce him. Joseph spurned her advances pointing out that it would be a sin, not just against his master, but against God. Her desire for him soon turned to rage and like his brothers, she looked for a way to take him down. She made one last attempt to seduce him and when he refused, she tore his garment off of him and accused him of rape. As a wealthy Egyptian of high social status, her word was enough to send him to prison. Yet another change that was not to his benefit.
Once again, Joseph seemed to accept the change and make the best of his new position as a prisoner. And it wasn’t long before the prison warden recognized what a great guy he was and put him in charge of running the prison. While he was there, two of his fellow prisoners who had served Pharoah had unusual dreams on the same night. Joseph told them that God could show them what the dreams meant. They told him their dreams, he gave them the interpretation that God revealed to him and both were soon released just as Joseph predicted. Joseph had asked them to remember him and do what they could to get him released, but one was soon executed, as Joseph predicted, and the other simply forgot him. Do you see a pattern here? Something terrible happens to Joseph. He accepts it and makes lemonade from the lemons. Things start looking up for him and then something bad happens. And the cycle repeats. It seems like Joseph is trapped in a never-ending season of winter destined to repeat the same awful Ground Hog Day over and over.
But he doesn’t stay in that season forever. Eventually Pharoah has some disturbing dreams and he doesn’t trust anyone to interpret them who can’t tell him what the dreams were. When no one in Pharoah’s court can do it, the ex-prisoner finally remembers his promise to Joseph. Joseph is not only able to tell Pharoah what he dreamed and what it meant, but he knows exactly what to do to prepare for the coming famine. Like Joseph’s master and the prison warden, Pharoah recognizes Joseph’s incredible potential and sets him up as ruler of Egypt, subject only to Pharoah himself. Finally! A change for the better! Joseph’s seemingly never-ending winter had finally passed!
In his new season of life, Joseph’s story comes full circle. The famine he predicted is in full swing and his family back home is about to starve. Dad sends the brothers to Egypt to buy food. They don’t recognize Joseph because he now looks like an Egyptian and they last saw him when he was 17. He’s 30 now. This could’ve been the ultimate “I told you so,” for Joseph. The brothers are literally bowing down before him, just as they did in the dreams he had as a teenager. But instead of rubbing their faces in it, Joseph provides for them, invites the whole family to come live in Egypt with him and forgives them, telling them that what they had meant for evil, God had used for good.
How many times does God take us through difficult seasons and allow things in our lives that seem evil? But as He did with Joseph, could He be using them for our ultimate good? And maybe someone else’s too? Change is hard and most of us are hard-wired to resist it. But if we could accept it and make the best of it like Joseph, would we find the truth of what Solomon said? That He makes all things beautiful in His time. Let’s allow the changing seasons of the year to serve as a reminder of this. And as difficult as change can be, it’s reassuring to know that there is one thing that never changes. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”
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