Early and Latter Rains
As I sit writing this article, I look out across the corn and bean fields of Illinois. It is obvious that they are in need of a refreshing rain before the scoring heat of the summer withers them to just dry foliage. It is essential that the plans that were put into action during the spring have the continued nourishing rains during the summer. The scripture talks of Early and Latter rains [Joel 2:23-25]. The growing seasons in Israel were dependent n both rains. The Early Rain came in the winter and gave hope of a spring harvest. The Latter Rain came in the spring as would be necessary for the crops to mature and produce during the arid Israeli summer months. The absence of either would spell doom for any hope of sustained crop production.
While our growing seasons are somewhat different in America, the crops planted in the spring are dependent on the snowfall and winters rains. Likewise the crops need the sustained rains for a bountiful fall harvest. As a child we grew quite a large vegetable garden. We had the early crops like snap peas and green onions that would come on pretty quickly. The rest of the produce such as tomatoes, corn on the cob, green beans and sweet potatoes would be the fall crops, used for canning and seeing our large family through the winter months. Now I like the early crops of peas, cucumbers and the like, but they won’t be around in the fall. So while it is enjoyable to eat of our labors quickly; they would all but be gone by fall. Amos 8:1 uses the image “basket of summer fruit.” The point is that summer fruit just doesn’t sustain; in fact it spoils very quickly.
In the April/May Renovate magazine, I titled my article “The Law of Inertia.” In that article I addressed such things as strategic plans and Long Range Planning; correlating it to the plans that had to be formulated in the winter month, and put into action during spring. You might at this point wonder ok, where is he going with this? The focus of this edition of Renovate is “how to sustain momentum coming out of summer.” I want to use the aforementioned discussion on crops and rain to draw a parallel to what must happen in the life of the Church.
For many [if not most] Church the summer months are the busiest time of the year. Most of the ministry done will be done during the summer months. Plans are made for mission trips, camps, VBS and backyard sports camps and such. The struggle with the “early rains” of ministry is that they are not enough to sustain a Church through the dry had fall and winters months. While there is a lot of excitement during the summer activity, and please I do not want to minimize the good works that is accomplished by these activities; but they are like the Basket of Summer Fruit, Amos talks about. The ministry has its quick rewards, but it doesn’t last. The focus too often of the ministry and missions of the Church in the summer months is “Let’s get through these activities for another year!” Instead of trying to create or use them as launching greater sustainable “crops” for future sustenance, the objective was do the ministry and be done with it for another year. If there isn’t a goal of using these “traditional” events for longer, deeper ministry, then all we get to enjoy is the immediate rewards for our efforts. There is nothing wrong with the summer fruit, except it is consumed during the summer months, for it will spoil before winter, so it must be eaten quickly.
Now I know that with our modern day ability to irrigate crops, we can determine that there will be a fall crop. But if we are people of faith, we must trust the Lord for the Latter Rains; this blessing from God will produce the “staple” crops for canning and the rest of the year sustenance. The planning, planting, weed pulling and plowing has to continue throughout the hot summer months. I can remember complaining about the heat of the day and wishing to just bask in the food we already had. Something about tending a garden and church ministry – if we are not mindful and attentive to the crop in the field, the weeds/tares will take over and choke out the good harvest. The Work of a Church is not done when they have finished planting and harvesting the early crops; the work continues into the fall. I am reminded at this point the words of Jesus. “Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send labors for the harvest, for the fields are already white unto harvest.”
As a child we would spend hours shucking corn, snipping beans and peeling tomatoes. There were long nights of pressure cookers and jar washing. What seemed to be an arduous task during the summer was a welcomed sight when retuning to the cellar for jars of our labors.
If a church is going to have more than “Summer Fruit” the ministry and missions work must be more that a completed task on the calendar! Every “crop/ministry” must answer the question – why did we do this? If Churches have not thoroughly thought through why they do what they do during the “missions months” then they will enter into a fall/winter season of dried up fruit, which will not sustain any momentum achieved by their hard lard in the sun.
I was so thankful for those canned jars of “latter rain” crops; for they assured that we would get through the cold months of inactivity to greet another spring filled with hope and new life.
Dr. Jim Grant
Sr. Pastor, Heartland Baptist Church