“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies it bears much fruit”
One of the jobs that Magdalen and I have done recently is to plant our raised vegetable beds with seeds that will grow ready for harvesting potatoes, beans and other produce during the summer and autumn months. Being able to do this whilst admiring the blossom on the trees gives me a real sense of joy and hope.
As I ponder the new life and growth in the natural world I remember that for many bulbs and shrubs the energy and vitality for spring growth is stored up during the winter months of apparent dormancy when little seems visibly to be happening. The daffodils and other flowers store up what they need during the dark times and this is used to bring new life and growth in spring.
Thinking about growth in relation to our lives as Christian people and as a church, something similar is often true. It is sometimes the “dark” times of struggle, anxiety or hurt that can become the seedbed for new growth in our lives. All of us will experience “winter times” in our lives for a variety of reasons. It is often difficult to find much meaning or purpose when we are directly within them. However, we can sometimes find ways to redeem such times as we offer them to God and draw from them a deeper knowledge of ourselves and a greater capacity to serve and empathise with others.
The Methodist minister and writer, Leslie Weatherhead, put it much better than I can:
“Like everybody, I love and prefer the sunny uplands of experience, when health, happiness and success abound, but I have learned far more about God and life and myself in the darkness of fear and failure than I have ever learned in the sunshine. There are such things as the treasures of darkness. The darkness, thank God, passes. But what one learns in the darkness, one possesses for ever.”
Spiritual growth often involves challenge and struggle, even struggle with God and with life. Jacob wrestled with God at the ford of the Jabbok and won for himself and his descendants a new name (Genesis 32:22-32). Job wrestled verbally with God and won for himself and us a more profound understanding of God and his ways.
When Jesus spoke the words that I have used as the title for this piece he was referring to his own imminent death. He knew that it would only be through his embracing of the way of the cross and God’s redeeming of the winter darkness of the cross that the power of the new life of the resur-rection could be released. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).
But he goes on to say this: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life”. In other words, spiritual growth, eternal life, sometimes involves sacrifice and struggle.
As a church family it is sometimes through the things that we find challenging, difficult or stressful that God works with us to bring new life and growth in our midst. Change is always difficult to live through and manage. Yet if we can embrace not simply what we like or are familiar with, but also embrace the things that take us outside our “comfort zone”, then we will reap great benefits of growth in our knowledge of God, ourselves and our fruitfulness as Christian people in the world.