And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
That phrase “harvest of righteousness” is a real attention-getter, isn’t it? What do you suppose a harvest of righteousness looks like?
In my case, I got to thinking about another harvest in my life this year–my tomato plants. True confession: If I have a gardening obsession, it’s tomatoes and chili peppers. It starts back in January, when I start getting the seed catalogs and surfing the online nursery sites. Visions of heirloom tomatoes like Mr. Stripeys, Purple Cherokees, and Oxhearts dance in my head, and every year I embark on a semi-futile attempt to raise Hatch style New Mexico chili peppers (varieties like Big Jim and Joe Parker, that need heat and dryness) in northeast Missouri, the land of 100 percent humidity.
Up until this summer I’ve been blessed with abundance in tomatoes most years, and at least passable chili peppers. (They never get as big as the catalog says they are supposed to get, but they are tasty enough.)
This summer, though, was another story. We had the wettest, coolest summer we’ve had in decades. The end result was my tomato plants continuously had wet feet, so to speak, and what few tomatoes I got were rather small and pitiful. (I told people, “I have a great crop of cherry tomatoes this year, only problem is these are full sized plants.”) My chili peppers? Sigh. I don’t even want to talk about them. I got a few beautiful ones early in the season, then suddenly we were pitched headfirst into Missouri monsoon season (if there is such a thing) and my chili plants promptly got moldy and died.
This was the harvest I got–and it sure did not feel like a harvest of righteousness. To combat my dejection, I started putting together some pots of “bird and butterfly mix” wildflowers. I still didn’t have tomatoes or peppers, but I started (begrudgingly, at first) enjoying the butterflies and hummingbirds that showed up. This morning, however, I discovered something that made my heart leap for joy–a monarch butterfly caterpillar on one of my milkweed plants! I planted the milkweeds specifically to help with the problem of dwindling habitat for monarchs, and it was the first time I really felt like planting the milkweed mattered, and my failures with tomatoes and peppers didn’t seem to matter. I’m still a bit disappointed, but the prospect of investing in new life–even butterfly life–seems to make it all ok.
I suspect for most of us, at first that notion of a harvest of righteousness is one where the deepest aspects of our heart’s desires come true in just the way we envision them–but in a broken world this is just SO NOT likely to happen. More likely, I suspect that in a harvest of righteousness, we still walk through intense pain and angst in some deep places in our heart, but grace shows us things that weren’t even on our radar, with equal intensity of joy. That said, it requires one thing–our willingness to let God be God–and in the end, we see it for everything it is, and say, “It’s good.”
When is a time you’ve experienced a “crop failure,” and what did you discover the crop that year was really supposed to be?
Image: Monarch caterpillar on milkweed by Maria Evans