Autumn PassionOctober 18, 2011
As you read the title for this article, I assume your mind sees an apparent oxymoron: We rarely associate the Fall season with passion or exuberance. But ask a farmer which of the seasons he most looks forward to, and he will always point you to the Fall. All the planning, planting, preparing and pruning points to those days of harvest when it all makes sense. The Fall is the time of life when we get to see what all the effort is about, where we get to experience meaning and purpose, and not just play with those ideas.
I have mentioned my writing mentor, Jim, in a few articles in the past. Let me feature him here. Jim is 97 years old and has accomplished more than most people with those decades of writing. He has written thousands of articles, interviewed hundreds of celebrities and been involved with the production of 26 books. Several of those books have been published in multiple languages and several more have exceeded 100,000 copies in print.
Jim has weathered several health problems in the past few years, and this temporarily left him in hospital this winter. I visited with him one Tuesday morning, and we talked well through lunch into the afternoon. I had come there expecting to find a man looking back over his life. Indeed, we did spend time reviewing many of his former writing projects. At one point, our conversation wandered to focus on a gentleman Jim had met while in the care facility. He noted this man was just biding his time, waiting to die. Jim assured me he had no intention of doing the same. Jim loves to talk about the books he has already written, but he also focuses on his current writing project. Yes, Jim is actively marketing another book, one that is essentially finished except for its publishing. Jim has lived all the seasons of passion. When pressed, he admits that the most enjoyable, and necessary, experience is being able to look back and focus on what has been done for God and for his family.
In the Jewish calendar, a layout initiated and confirmed by God himself, there are seven mandated feasts. If we broke up the year into its four seasons, we notice that there is a great imbalance in the feasts. They are not evenly spread out: four of the seven take place during the Harvest Season, or what we call Autumn. This reveals the framework for Autumn passion: It is to be a time of feasting, celebrating and Thanksgiving. It is no coincidence that most cultures which have a time of Thanksgiving do it during the harvest season. If you want to enjoy Autumn passion, thanksgiving is the key.
We cannot continue to plant, plant, plant and work our plan without stepping back at times to rejoice in what has been accomplished through our efforts. Some people mistakenly think it is wrong to look back at what you’ve done in life with any sense of satisfaction. They may call that pride. Pride is actually the mindset of independence, where one echoes the words of Frank Sinatra: “I did it my way!” The Psalmist says “Bless the Lord O My soul, and forget not all his benefits.” He then spends the rest of the psalm recounting all that God has done in his life and in the covenant people. We face so much opposition just living a life of integrity and moral excellence, that occasionally we feel beaten down. That’s when it is time to step back into thanksgiving.
This summer, I went through a period of feeling sorry for myself. Perhaps it is the universality of social media, but I realized so many of my friends spent a greater part of their weekends enjoying themselves and spending time with others. I work every Sunday and have done so every week for 31 years. Part of my commitment as a pastor is to serve others in the teaching ministry. This, by our cultural tradition, necessitates I work every Sunday. For some reason, I felt resentful as I watched my friends and loved ones enjoying something I can never have. As a result, I moped through July. At one point, I even voiced my frustrations on Facebook. The next day, I received a beautiful email from a young man I had not spoken to in 21 years. He told me the story of how he had lost his job and came to the town I was living in to work in a warehouse. He was a professional and felt like a failure doing manual labor. He remarked about a sermon I preached during that season in his life. It was about living deliberately and choosing how we will spend each day as God moves us on to his goal. He told me how that morning he committed himself to doing the next thing God showed him and would keep doing it the rest of his life. This man is now working at an incredible job and has leveraged it into a unique ministry. He thanked me profusely for the sacrifice I had given to surrender my Sunday to teach him.
I wept. I realized after reading the email that my efforts had been worth it. I was able to thank God and my passion (which had left me during my moping) was renewed with greater vigor than before. Thanksgiving will do that. We absolutely need to look back and see what God has done through us at times. It will be a great moment of reflection and joy.
Embedded in the Autumntime passion is another necessary element. Autumn is a time of releasing. Just as we allow ourselves to rest, we give over the fruit of the harvest to the cooks, canners, juicers and other food preparation professionals to do their work. In the midst of our ministry, there must be a place given over to releasing those we have mentored and partnered with to allow them to branch out on their own.
It can be as simple as letting the kids cook the meal. It can be as simple as encouraging a co-worker to start their own branch office. It can be as simple as a pastor training up an assistant and then releasing them to start their own church. When we started our current church, my overseer had me draw up a five-year vision for where Gateway Fellowship was going. As part of the vision plan, I saw where I thought we would be after five years. In my mind’s eye, I saw us releasing people to go start a new church in another part of town. I do remember that Sunday we had the new church plant team come forward and laid our hands of identification upon them. It was incredibly satisfying to know we had a huge part to play in their existence. Last Sunday, they had almost as many people in church as we did. The joy of Autumn must include that letting go. It is the joy a parent has at the wedding of their children. It is the joy Jesus had when he told them to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came on them in power.
Don’t you want the Autumn passion? You can have it today if you commit yourself to Thanksgiving and Releasing. Then you’ll be ready for the Wonderful Wintertime Passion.