“Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” – Hosea 6:3
To be bare is to be naked, or stripped away, or uncovered. It also means to be basic or simple, without addition. It can also mean to be spread out, plundered or even laid waste.
To be barren is to be too poor, or low in quality, to produce much of any value. It also means to be bleak and lifeless.
You might be in a bare spiritual season, but you are never in a barren spiritual season.
All of us at one point or another will experience a spiritual winter. In fact, you may experience many spiritual winters. God designs the winter season to bring beauty and strength. He’s busy with spiritual development at all times. God never sleeps. God never wastes your time. God’s always doing something that is designed for your benefit, however surprising or counter-intuitive it may seem.
A spiritual winter is a season for embracing something quite opposite to what the flesh naturally desires: summer.
Galatians 5:17 says, “for the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.”
A well-fed flesh won’t bring you peace.
You can indulge the flesh over and over and never find satisfaction. But embracing a bare season with faith always will produce a wealth of peace in your life. It sets the stage for spring and summer.
As Jesus delivered one of his most famous messages, the sermon on the mount (see Matthew chapter 5-7), the crowd must have been confused. Why is He saying these things that seem so upside down and backwards?
“Blessed are those who mourn.”
“Blessed are those who are poor.”
“Blessed are the humble.”
These are not summer sentiments, but bare and raw, much like winter.
Have you ever lost something? Have you ever experienced a disappointment, or a stripping away? Maybe you’ve even felt like you’ve lost everything.
I know a man who received a divorce letter from his wife in the same week he was diagnosed with COVID-19. And yet when I talked to him, you could tell that God was doing a huge work in him. I was struck by the strength of his faith. I am not saying that God brought these horrible things on this man. What I am saying is that God is able to bring about spring from every winter.
Some people have the most noble ambitions. They want to operate in their strengths, and in the abilities and talents God has given them. But they don’t realize that sometimes God’s will for our life is to be in a bare season, like a tree in the stillness of winter.
We tend as human beings to want to see our summer. Like a large and fruitful tree, we picture ourselves in full health and full capabilities. Rarely do we desire for humbling circumstances. Yet, this is exactly what Jesus said. “Blessed are you…”
We want our fruit to be visible. We want our gifting to be seen, and our abilities to be appreciated. We love to find comfort in our gifting and our fruitfulness. It feels good to be flourishing and to do well. And there’s nothing wrong with those things. God wants us to be fruitful and multiply. But in order to bear much fruit, a plant must experience seasons, pruning, and care. In time, and in season, the fruit comes.
In the book “Anonymous” by Alicia Britt Chole, the author writes
“What the plenty of summer hides, the nakedness of winter reveals: infrastructure. Fullness often distracts from foundations. But in the stillness of winter, the trees’ true strength is unveiled. Stripped of decoration, the tree trunks become prominent,” Chole writes.
She continues, “spiritual winter is a season meant for examining the motivations that support our desire to be fruitful for Him.”
Winter exposes the dead parts that need pruning. It exposes the foundation of who you are. When all of our leaves and fruit have been taken away, we can easily make the mistake of seeing fruitlessness as failure. But, this isn’t a failure. It’s exactly where God wants you.
Genesis 8:22 says
“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”
God loves the winter. He designed the winter. God’s work is not asleep in winter. He is busy with preparation for spring and summer. The same can be seen in our spiritual seasons. We can become misguided and miss the point of a spiritual winter. Even with the most noble intentions, because we have simply not surrendered ourselves to the Holy Spirit.
We simply aren’t embracing the winter before the spring.
Wherever you want to lead me, God! Whatever you want me to do!
Whatever season. I am in, I say yes.
Here I am. Send me.
Ask yourself the following questions:
You might see failure. What does God see?
Then ask these questions:
What if God is preparing us for spring? What if he’s adding one of those rings in our tree trunk.
“The Father’s work in us does not sleep. Though, in spiritual winters, he retracts all advertisements. And when He does so, He is purifying our faith, strengthening our character, conserving our energy and preparing us for our future. The sleepy days of winter hide us, so that seductive days of summer won’t ruin us.”
It’s crucially important that we embrace spiritual winters. If we were always in summer, we would miss out on so many things God has strategically made available in winter.
Maybe we wouldn’t be prepared for the floods. We might not be ready for the drought. We might not be ready for the cold temperatures. But every winter season, we grow stronger and more capable in God.
James 1:2-4 says, “consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.”
Fruitlessness is not failure. Obscurity is not failure. These things can actually be part of your maturation process. James said we would be “lacking nothing”.
To be barren means that you’ve lost all value because you can never again produce anything good. No matter how you feel, you are not barren. You are valued by God.
The Father’s work is not complete in you. You have much to give.
Philippians 1:6 says “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Are you thankful for everything He has given you in this season? Even if you feel like you’re in winter, are you grateful? Are you, like a tree in winter, growing stronger and deeper roots in preparation for spring. Or are you growing in frustration and discontentment?
What are the strategies of God that are unfolding in your life that maybe you haven’t recognized? Have you trained yourself to give thanks in every circumstance?
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
If you feel barren, I pray for your encouragement! If you feel disappointed, stripped down, or destroyed, I pray for God to show you His goodness in the winter, so that you can have hope for spring and summer. Let’s be a people that embrace and look with hope on winter seasons. Because we know that whatever God has called us to do is for our good.
Imagine the words from 2 Corinthians 4 where Paul expresses in vivid detail what the life of a disciple often looks like.
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. (4:8-10)
I ask God today for a paradigm shift. I ask Him to give us strength in the winter. I ask that He will give you faith when you feel bare.
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