The delicate clusters of golden rain, their petals showering dry ground, wine for the wasps and giant bees, sustenance for ants, and for my soul – the sun rising through haze with joy, highlighting intricate branch formations soaking the blossoms and mango babes, life source for nature, and for this day – doves silhouetted against the sky, perched on bare trees or the slope of thatch, calling out love notes with tenderness, whipping through morning air, in pairs – you, Abba, renew me this way, the touch of your fingertips on your world, the proof of your kind and creative grace, your Spirit caressing us in the wind.
My dad was a bird watcher. When we first arrived in Côte d’Ivoire (evacuated from Congo), I remember walking the dusty dry red paths with him, getting used to in this new environment so radically different from the forested Congo mountains, looking up at birds in the trees. Dad told me, “God blessed Congo with amazing plants; here, he has blessed the land with birds.” We were indeed amazed at the variety of colors and bird songs high in the sky and next to us in the parched earth. It was a part of our healing journey, and Dad kept on treasuring all winged things throughout his life. Once the rains came that first year in a new country, he discovered great plant life was there too as the land came to life!
I could never match his knowledge of all the bird species (or that of other missionary friends), but I reveled in the melodies that filled our courtyard in Ferkessédougou each morning and evening after I returned with Glenn as a missionary myself. A chorale of birds accompanied me on those Saturday mornings of solitude under the golden rain trees. This time of year it is “winter” over there, too – no snow, just cold wind off the nighttime desert to the north, and drought. Dust coats the green that is left; most trees have lost their leaves. But then in March the golden rain bursts into bloom, heralding the coming “spring” of mangoes and rains.
It was all a great picture of God’s goodness to the land and to life on it. He carried it through its annual rest, the dry season wait, and then showered it with blessing. Sound familiar? Here in Michigan we have different weather, and different birds and fruit, but as the seasons change and winter turns to spring, our wait is rewarded.
It is in the middle of the barren times that we practice waiting. In our lives, it may be that we are begging God to bring hope, but there is ongoing suffering in our bodies, our family or close community, or our nation. These words of Jesus recorded by Matthew seem hard to understand:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knock, the door will be opened. (Mat 7:7,8)
And then verses 9-11 throw the challenge back to us: is it normal for any of us parents to give our child a stone when they just asked for bread? Or would we snicker and give them a poisonous reptile instead of the fish they wanted for supper? Only the wicked parent acts like that. We all fail in many ways, but those of us following our Lord do know how to be kind, how to give good gifts to our kids, and that is even true of most parents in the world. Now, to the point: do we not trust our good God to act as our loving Father and kindly answer our prayers with a good gift? What is going on when we wait, and don’t see an answer?
The truth is, this world is broken and bad things happen to good people. Who gets blamed? All too often our fingers point to God. Instead of trusting him to work things out according to his timing and beneficent purpose, we gripe. But God points out that if we know how to be kind to our kids, we should know that our Father God – who is holy, perfect – also is kind and gives good gifts to his kids. We need to think about the reality of what can be involved in good parenting. We might delay giving a phone to our son until he is older and mature enough to handle the responsibility. In the same way, he has a reason for making us wait.
It seems odd that the next verse (12) says:
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
What is the connection here? Instead of reaffirming that God only does what is good, even if his ways are not always easy for us to understand, this is a command to the listeners. The Greek word οὖν that is translated “so.” in NIV and ESV could also be translated “therefore.” It definitely links this verse to what comes before. Often commentators see it as indicating that this statement known as “the Golden Rule,” summarizes all that Jesus has been teaching to this point. So this is what it means to be a disciple. And it does indeed apply that way. We all would appreciate being treated with kindness and justice, so if we act that way toward others, we would also be doing what was right, following Jesus’ teaching.
But how does it apply to the immediately preceding verses about trusting our heavenly Father to respond to our requests? We should respond to the requests of others the way we would want them to respond to us, the way our Father responds to us. In other words, do what is right, with kindness and wisdom like that of our Father.
This responsibility may not always be what we had in mind:
Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matt. 5:42 NIV)
We are not to cling to our possessions but hold them lightly. When someone is truly in need, we are ti meet that need, and trust our heavenly Father to take care of us too. He says that when we ask, he hears, and he answers. He treats us the way we want to be treated, with love. His loving care for us has already been underlined in chapter 6:
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matt. 6:26 NIV)
Ah! If your Father even takes care of the birds, can’t you trust him to take care of you, too?
So I go back to that moment when I was watching the doves silhouetted against the morning sky, perched on the skeletal branches of the trees, all nature waiting for the coming rains. But the birds were singing!
I turn to my Father: you, Abba, renew me this way, the touch of your fingertips on your world, the proof of your kind and creative grace, your Spirit caressing us in the wind.
The waiting can be done with joy, with humble trust in the gracious attention of Abba. He knows what is going on, way more than I do. His Spirit is not only near but within those of us who have given ourselves to him, and he is our comforter. We just need to listen, be alert, and notice the pictures of Abba’s care all around us. When the answer takes a while to come, or is not what we expected, we can still be completely sure that he is good and is acting according to his purposes. Even perfect – completely set apart with nothing bad in his character. We can trust him completely. And we are to be like him, act like him:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:48 NIV)
That is another way to describe “holy.” Jesus is quoting the Law:
‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy. (Lev. 19:2 NIV)
May his Spirit work in us to increase our personal attachment to our Father and make us increasingly like him! He will sustain us with his creative grace as we wait, and watch, and listen to him.