I never once imagined that I would plant and care for a flower garden. My entire adult existence has been spent loving and nurturing my family. Life was blossoming with four children–not flowerbeds. A vase of freshly cut flowers? You bet. Pretty, fragrant, and effortless. Quite different from designing and tending a garden.
As it goes, that nurturing instinct runs strong, and with children now grown, I have rolled up my sleeves, sinking my hands deep into the dark, rich soil of flower beds. Hydrangeas, lilacs, and tulips are my favorite triumvirate. Fortunately for me they are perennials, which regrow every spring, unlike annuals which flourish for one season, and then die off.
So I have worked a garden. As I weed and water and prune, I am reminded in new ways that whatever I faithfully tend will grow. I cannot toss pretty things into the ground, brush off my hands, walk away, and hope for the best. I must water and weed the plantings in order for the garden to thrive.
Such labors are never in vain. Hard work, patience, plus a little sweat will brightly bless others. A garden for everyone to enjoy. Likewise, a mother who loves, cherishes, corrects, teaches, and disciplines her children is showing consideration not only for the little soul but for others. Such obedience in training is a labor of love that will one day produce a priceless gift for her children’s future spouse, children, and friends. Her diligent work will not return void. Generations reap the rewards of such devotion. It is a labor to raise children in the fear of the Lord–a long obedience aimed heavenward.
A mother who disregards such consistent training of her children, crossing her fingers (which are ever busy scrolling social media rather than tending to the little people in front of her) in hopes that things will somehow work themselves out is deceiving herself. She is behaving selfishly. It might initially be easier to ignore rebellion, bad behavior, or temper tantrums. However, willful, rebellious children grow into willful, rebellious adults. A mother who teaches her children that the world revolves around their every wish and whim is, in fact, planting ugly, relentless weeds. Self-centered children grow into selfish adults. Their future spouse and children and neighbors and friends have been gifted nothing more than an undisciplined and egocentric mess. A cycle that is terribly destructive and difficult to shatter.
And now I must broaden the scope beyond flowerbeds and mothering. I am now considering all Christians who faithfully labor in love, becoming perennial plantings that captivate and form others for generations to come.
I am speaking of people who pay attention to and honor their God-given gifts, abilities, situations, and passions, with a heart aimed upon serving. I am speaking of those who steadfastly flesh out the good works that God has planned. (Ephesians 2:10) Obedience to God, not man, will sweep and grow and extend further than the human mind could ever fathom. It is stunning to consider how fidelity to God above all else blesses everyone. A lush, perennial garden.
I personally know this to be true, by the lives of five men. These Christians were (and in some cases are) faithful to God in ways that effectively reordered my life. And just imagine! I only personally knew one of them.
I am speaking of Dr. Ockenga, Billy Graham, Moe Bergeron, John Piper, and my Grandpa. The faithfulness of these five means everything to me. I am one beneficiary of their perennial faith.
Never, ever underestimate how superb obedience to God actually is. (Nor underestimate how destructive selfish ambition is.) To love others well is impossible unless we love God most. And when we love God most, we obey him. And as we obey him, we reverently embrace the good works he has planned for us. As we fulfill those good works from a faith-filled heart, others will be impacted. It is stunning how God works all things for good, for those who love him. His ways are intricate, mysterious, and perfect.
In 1992, I was a college student at Taylor University, situated in the vast cornfields of Indiana. The only church I had ever known was far away, some nine hundred miles east in a quaint New England town. Our pastor had left suddenly, one year prior, under sad and confusing circumstances. The church was reeling.
While that disturbance was unfolding, a conference was held at our church. A fairly unknown pastor was invited to speak, and thus traveled from Minnesota to New England. During this conference, a New Englander named Moe Bergeron (who was a member of another area church) approached this pastor, asking if he kept his sermons stored on the computer, and if so, would he be interested in sharing them on the internet?
That pastor was John Piper.
In a nutshell, through the encouragement of Moe Bergeron, who desired to see the Gospel spread free of charge through the new World Wide Web, the Desiring God website was born, making John Piper’s sermons available for all.
I knew none of this at the time, nor did I then know who this John Piper was. These events would change my world in time, some twelve years later.
I think now: What would have happened if John Piper had declined the speaking invitation? What would have happened if Moe had not approached John Piper? I understand that there is no Plan B in God’s economy, but it is helpful to consider what might have been if these men had resisted God. Faithfulness and obedience always yield treasure. Even if we never personally see the results, which may remain veiled.
God sees it all.
My beloved Grandpa become a Christian during the Billy Graham Crusades held in Boston in 1950. Christ changed my grandfather, who at the time was a thirty-something husband and father, living for pleasure and for self. By all accounts, the changes in him were swift and distinct. He made it his business to find a Bible teaching church, and after a few bumpy starts, landed in Boston’s Park Street Church under the expository preaching of Dr. John Ockenga. My Grandpa served faithfully at Park Street for forty years, until his death.
This Dr. Ockenga was also a dear friend to Billy Graham, and encouraged him to hold those Boston Crusades, which first began in Park Street Church.
As a little girl, I quickly ascertained that not everyone who claimed to be a Christian actually was one. (Matthew 7:21) Healthy fruit, over time, is easy to see. Rotten, fleshly, fruit festers and rots. My Grandpa was the former, and my goodness how he glowed.
While under the teaching and preaching of Dr. Ockenga, my grandparents raised their children. Dr. Ockenga counseled and shepherded my grandfather, encouraging him to take whatever means necessary to see to it that his children attended a Christian college. How about Taylor University? Dr. Ockenga suggested, which was his own alma mater.
Heeding such wisdom, my grandfather greatly sacrificed, working several jobs in order to send several of his brood to Taylor, the place where my parents met. Less than twenty years later, I chose this same university where I met my future husband.
What would have happened if Dr. Ockenga had kept silent about potential crusades? What would have happened if Billy Graham had brushed off the suggestion? What if Dr. Ockenga had left well enough alone, not discipling my grandfather to pursue Christian education for his children? We will never know, but I do know this: One faithful act always leads to another, and without the steadfast obedience of these men, I would not be who I am.
The ripple effect widens.
John Piper was a Wheaton College student in the 1960’s when he fell sick and was quarantined in the infirmary. Dr. Ockenga’s sermons were played on the local radio stations for Wheaton’s Spiritual emphasis week. As John Piper was resting in bed, recovering from mononucleosis, those sermon messages altered the entire trajectory of his life, as he sensed an urging to preach, longing to handle the Word of God every bit as faithfully as Dr. Ockenga.
Which is precisely what he has done.
I offer thanksgiving for one ho-hum day long ago, when I wandered the library with my four young children. I was soul-hungry for something more than shallow, easy-breezy fluff. I needed direct, biblical answers to tough questions. It was time to stop playing around.
I discovered John Piper’s Pleasures of God. That book sent me turning the pages of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. I was undone. Completely unraveled by such meaty truth. God sewed me back together, one Bible verse at a time. And the internet made it possible for me to listen to Desiring God messages, free of charge.
The aim of the Desiring God ministry?
Spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.
I am astounded as I consider the stretching consequences of one man’s faithfulness. Dr. Ockenga’s life yielded a flourishing perennial garden, deeply alive today, despite his death in 1985.
Consider the blossoms:
1. Dr. Ockenga was a faithful expositor of God’s Word, preaching verse by verse. A commitment which shaped not only the faith of his congregation, but far beyond through his radio ministry.
2. Dr. Ockenga encouraged Billy Graham to preach, and even shared his own pulpit, showing himself to be kingdom minded. Many bowed to Christ, and my Grandpa was one.
3. Dr. Ockenga’s fidelity to Scripture inspired young college student, John Piper, to preach in the same manner.
4. Dr. Ockenga’s willingness to disciple my grandfather led to my parent’s union, and to my birth.
5. Dr. Ockenga’s weekly sermons at Park Street Church fueled my grandfather’s faith, which in turn shaped mine.
6. John Piper was called to became an expository pastor through the influence of Dr. Ockenga’s expository preaching. He was then invited to preach at my childhood church, where a man named Moe asked him to consider offering his sermons free of charge on the internet.
7. Desiring God was born, and those sermon messages became my food, fueling my faith and desire to be in God’s Word daily.
Do you see the ripple effects? Everything about this perennial splendor is centered around the fidelity to Scripture. Teaching verse-by-verse ensures that no inspired words are eclipsed. Dr. Ockenga’s expository preaching shaped who I am today. It is never the wrong time to walk in obedience, despite naysayers who think it foolish. Such actions are beautiful in the eyes of God, and that is all that matters. God will grow the garden in his time as we obey.
Something else to ponder–painful circumstances are always used by God for our good. If my childhood pastor had not left our church under sad circumstances, John Piper would not have been asked to preach at the conference. Moe (who attended the conference specifically to hear John Piper preach) would not have been present to ask him to consider offering free online sermons. Desiring God might not exist. And who knows if John Piper would have become a faithful expositor if he had not first been confined to his sick bed, listening to Dr. Ockenga?
A few days ago, my precious ten-month old grandson feel fast asleep on my shoulder. Is there anything as sweet as feeling the full weight of a trusting grandbaby in one’s arms? I think not.
I take this role seriously. My tender grandson is impressionable, and I know well the power of a grandparent to either tear down or build up. I have experienced both, which has proved a Providential blessing. A valid reminder of the importance of my commitment to follow in my grandfather’s faithful footsteps. We cannot pass on a strong heritage of faith until we ourselves are walking the narrow path. I cannot pass along that which I do not first possess.
So I cradled him and swayed as he slept, kissing his head as his chunky arms hung heavy in sleep. While humming a lullaby, I prayed that he will never, ever question my unconditional love. The baton has been passed, and it is now my turn to water and tend this perennial garden, as I stand on the shoulders of those Christian saints who have gone before me.
A privilege, an honor, a gift, a weight.
I refuse to toss such precious plantings into the ground and selfishly do my own thing, while hoping it turns out well.
There is work to be done, as I faithfully sow seeds for future souls, who I pray for even now. A stunning perennial garden for generations to come.
And one generation shall commend your works to another and shall declare your mighty acts.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.