We have to do with One who ‘inhabiteth eternity’ and works in its infinite leisure.
Some years ago, when a new railway cutting was made in East Norfolk, you could trace it through the next summer, winding like a blood-red river through the green fields. Poppy seeds that must have lain buried for generations had suddenly been upturned and had germinated by the thousand.
… if we refuse to stay our faith upon results that we can see and measure, and fasten it on God, He may be able to keep wonderful surprises wrapt away in what looks now only waste and loss. What an up-springing there will be when heavenly light and air come to the world at last in the setting up of Christ’s kingdom! Parables of the Christ-life
Lilias’s red poppies recall a “phenomenon” that, years ago, had both delighted then confounded me. A very large and very old three-story apartment building, located on a prominent corner lot, was torn down having been vacant for several years. A large expanse of rough dirt remained in the footprint of the old building. Several months later, to my amazed delight, I observed the same surface was now flooded with flowers: purple and white with green foliage. What a wonderful bit of serendipity, I thought, sowing seeds broadcast in an area that had been an eye-sore – with or without the building. When I thanked the owner for his aesthetic surprise, he was completely bemused by my observation. “No, we didn’t plant any seeds – though I wish I could say that we did!”
It was years later that I read Lilias’s observation of the dormant poppy seeds coming to life when exposed, generations later, to light and air. And, with it, I learned one of Lilias’s life defining themes: “We have to do with One who inhabiteth eternity and works in its infinite leisure.” She had the unique ability to see the big picture: how the results of our work are not limited to the here and now – or even, for that matter, to our span of life on earth. This belief sustained her during the hardest, most unfruitful and unrelenting stretches of ministry imaginable.
It was this very perspective that caught my heart during my first reading of the “brown book” – the first biographical work, I. Lilias Trotter, by her friend and early colleague Blanche A. I. Pigott. Through commentary on excerpts from Lilias’s diaries, journals and letters, I walked through her early years of ministry – discouragements, setbacks, even outright attacks – and witnessed not only her unflagging faith but her belief that nothing done in Christ’s name, for God’s eternal purposes, was wasted. I followed her return, two decades later, to places that she had visited and reluctantly left. Unfinished work. I observed what she called “retrievals” – seeds sown broadcast that had taken hold (germinated!) in the hearts of those she had left behind. I watched as people united with her in ministry and as mission stations were planted along the coast of North Africa and down into the desert. And now, a century after the fact, I read of a growing church in Algeria – her dream of a “church visible” that was not realized in her life time.
Lilias came into my life during a time that was, for me, seemingly unproductive. Young children in process… ministry with on-going challenges… repetitive daily household routines…. Nothing was ever completed. There was no visible measure of results.
How does one measure success – or for that matter, failure? Lilias’s message – through life, through words – was loud and clear. You don’t. You measure faithfulness. The rest (i.e “results”) is over to God who is not limited to a particular span of time. He inhabits eternity. He works in its infinite leisure.
What are our goals, our dreams for the remaining years of our lives? What do we desire for ourselves… our children… our loved ones…? Yes, we plan and strategize to give our best in time and energy and talent to those things that matter most to us. We seek God’s guidance and direction. But we can’t always predict the outcome of our dreams much less control the lives of others. But! “… if we refuse to stay our faith upon results that we can see and measure, and fasten it on God, He may be able to keep wonderful surprises wrapt away in what looks now only waste and loss.”
Lilias concludes her classic work, Parables of the Cross, with a painting of a wood-sorrel which appears at first glance to be but dead twigs and leaves. Then one notes a sap green sprig of “new-born wood sorrel” above which are printed words from the book of Revelation: “Their works do follow them.” Her accompanying text was prescient for her and, potentially, for all who follow Christ. “… the results need not end with our earthly days. Should Jesus tarry our works will follow us… God may use, by reason of the solidarity of His Church, the things that He has wrought in us, for the blessing of souls unknown to us: as these twigs and leaves of bygone years, whose individuality is forgotten, pass on vitality still to the new-born sorrel. God only knows the endless possibilities that lie folded in each of us!”
We have a God Who inhabits eternity and works in its infinite leisure. Nothing, nothing done in His Name for His Purposes is wasted!
Watercolor: Travel Journal 1900