Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Autumn of the Soul: The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away

Photo by Southern Grace Photography

I have been before God, and have given myself, all that I am and have, to God; so that I am not, in any respect, my own … I have given myself clear away, and have not retained any thing as my own. ~ Jonathan Edwards
I have always loved autumn. It is my favorite season. The cool crisp air, the taste of spiced cider, the aroma of wood smoke that occasionally travels on a gusty breeze – as the July heat of high summer weighs down on me, I find myself already pining after each of these.

But perhaps more than anything, I look forward to the trees – to the vibrant reds, golds, and purples; to the sound of dry leaves rustling in the air and under my feet; to the sight of shimmering color swirling on the wind, round and round in a majestic dance. There are not words to adequately describe the sensations such scenes produce within my being. Peace and quiet joy – but also a poignant and almost sweet shadow. A shadow of mourning. After all, autumn is a time of death.

It costs something for the tree to shed its leaves. Each green blessing must be released into uncertainty. Still, the tree submits to the power of the wind.

Winter comes, and the trees stand bare, arms raised heavenward in anticipation for the promised life. They make a solemn and almost holy picture. Sometimes, though, that picture is marred.

Amongst the cleansed and empty upraised hands hangs a branch still clutching dead leaves. The only sound that interrupts the perfect peace and silence is the rustling of those withered fragments, the clamoring of a tree that loved its own life too much.

Too often, I have been that tree.

Too often I have held tightly to the blessings that God has placed in my life. After all, God gave this leaf to me, didn’t He? And look at what a good leaf it is, how it has provided beauty and shade all summer? Has it not glorified God? Has it not been fruitful? Besides, why would God have given me this leaf if He didn’t intend for me to keep it?

What all of these questions forget is that the “me” in question is not my own, but His. The tree belongs to nature and must submit to the force of the wind. I belong to God and must submit to the movement of His Spirit. My leaves are no more mine than I myself am mine. All is His.

Obedient trees seem to intrinsically understand what God’s servant Job did. When Job was told that everything was gone, that his family, his servants, his livelihood, and all his earthly possessions had been destroyed, he did not “sin or blame God.” He saw his leaves were blown away, and “he fell to the ground and worshiped.”

"Naked I came from my mother's womb,
And naked I shall return there
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the LORD." (Job 1:21b NASB)

Job understood that it was God’s right to strip him naked like a tree in winter. And when the spring came, “The LORD restored the fortunes of Job … and the LORD increased all that Job had twofold” (Job 42:10 NASB).

Autumn is beautiful, nature being led by God through the steps of a perfect dance. The baby greens that burst to life in spring and thrive to a verdant summer wither to be blown away by the autumn winds. Yet, the icy hands of winter’s deathlike sleep last only for a time, in turn being warmed by the sun which brings forth life. The leaves bud. The dance begins again.

A tree repeats this cycle each year. It does not faint, nor become weary. It grows, from a flimsy sapling to a king among flora. The tree stands – dying again and again through centuries, an ancient testament of life.

When we hold tightly to earthly treasures, even ones God has given us for a time, they wither in our hands. When we realize that nothing is our own and allow God to give and take as pleases Him, trusting in His perfect faithfulness, we grow. Like the tree, we stand, dying again and again each day, finding true life in Him.

When he surrenders all to God, the autumn of a man’s soul is beautiful.

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