(October 21, 2021) Brian Bell reflects …

As Moses approached the end of his earthly life, he reminded God’s people about the festival of harvest (Deuteronomy 16:10) which was one of the three festivals they were to celebrate each year. These festivals were an opportunity for God’s people to reflect, remember and recognise the Lord’s blessing on them.

Here in Northern Ireland, ‘Harvest Sunday’ is for the most part, still a fairly traditional celebration, usually in the colder, wetter, and darker months of September and October and held especially for folk in our farming/agricultural communities.

God’s handiwork
Last Sunday, October 17, we celebrated harvest in my home church and while we would not be described as being folk who live in a designated farming/agricultural community, some of our folk do come from such backgrounds. The church sanctuary was therefore modestly yet tastefully decorated and as I looked at the various displays they reminded me not only of the harvest of creation – fruit, vegetables, and such, but also of the harvest of salvation.

For me, the harvest of creation can be seen in the words of David J Mansell’s song Jesus is Lord which say, Jesus is Lord, creation’s voice proclaims it, for by his power, each tree and flower was planned and made.’

Creation is God’s handiwork – but he has given us a fairly significant role in managing it and we see this in the rewards as we reap what is sown.

The harvest of salvation is also God’s handiwork. As the good seed of God’s word is sown, the Holy Spirit can lead people into a saving experience and he reaps a harvest of those who respond in faith.

This theme of reflection is also found in Jeremiah chapter 8, from which I will share some brief thoughts…

Reflection on a Disappointed Walk (Verse 4)
This verse queries ‘When people fall down, don’t they get up again? When they start down the wrong road and discover their mistake don’t they turn back?

In verses 4 to 7, the Lord is pointing out the waywardness of his people, who we could say are going their own way and indeed the Lord says they do not know what he requires of them – a similar thought is in Micah 6:8.

This presents a challenge to me – how is my walk, can I say I know what the Lord requires of me? Am I seeking to walk daily in the light of his word?

I can only answer for myself, how about you? I praise the Lord for experiences of life when I did discover my mistake and turned back again. If on reflection you find that to be your experience you can by God’s grace turn back.

Reflection on a Disappointed Promise (Verse 11)
This verse speaks of wrong leadership: They offer superficial treatments for my people’s mortal wound, they give assurances of peace when all is war.’

These words are a repetition of those spoken in Jeremiah chapter 6 verses 13–14. Sadly, these words also relate to those charged with speaking God’s word (prophets and priests as mentioned in the text) however taking it in context, I believe it speaks to those involved in a ministry role and I would describe it as the absence of truth and of a compassionate ministry. 

Now, I understand how some feel in these days that it is a priority to sound out the message of God’s judgment and I agree that is a vital message we must not overlook, that some may feel sounding out a ‘warning’ is a measure of compassion.

Butwe must remember mercy, not wrath. That these are also days for reaching out with the good seed of God’s word… in compassion to those who are struggling and or hurting, whether in a practical or spiritual sense (which thankfully many are doing).

Reflection on a Disappointed Hope (Verse 15)
This verse challenges, ‘We hoped for peace, but no peace came, we hoped for a time of healing but found only terror.’

Interestingly, these words are also repeated in Jeremiah 14:19. In Proverbs 13:12 the writer tells us ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick’ and, if this has ever been your experience, then you will know that ‘sick’ feeling.

I believe in this Jeremiah passage the disappointment comes because the people were given a misleading message as in verse 11, speaking of prophets and priests, ‘they give assurances of peace when all is war. I also see a misplaced confidence as in verse 14 ‘Come, let’s go to the fortified cities to die there’ speaking I believe of our tendency to place too much reliance on ourselves.

I must be honest and say I can recall incidents in my life which, when I reflect on them now, were likely to cause disappointment to others. Not things I planned, possibly immaturity or thoughtlessness on my part may have had a role to play. 

However, we can only ever fully place our hope in the Lord himself, his message will not mislead us nor will our confidence in him be misplaced! He is the one who can give us that eirene peace – shared about this month by Dr Robert McQuillan (Eirene Peace) – and who is able to heal body and soul.

Reflection on a Disappointed Expectation (Verse 20)
This reads like a condemnation – ‘The harvest is finished, and the summer is gone… yet we are not saved.’

These are among some of the most well-known words in scripture and they are included in Jeremiah’s weeping for the people to whom he has been bringing God’s word and he goes on speaking through to chapter 9:4 to recall their disobedience, that ‘they all take advantage of one another and spread their slanderous lies, they all fool and defraud each other, no one tells the truth.’

I believe this is another challenge for believers and especially those in church leadership today. We may not agree on various doctrinal/theological issues; our music tastes may differ; our ideas about how our fellowships should be conducted may vary; all these are incidental.

It was Mother Teresa who said, ‘It’s not about how much you do but how much love you put into what you do that counts. Life isn’t worth living unless lived for other people.’

To take another brief line of thought, as believers we are living with the expectation of the Lord’s return… Our hope in the certainty of that event should not be disappointed by our views as to ‘when’ it may happen because its ‘timing’ is not within our knowledge. We are to keep on labouring in the kingdom.

Reflection on a Reckoning of the Harvest
When seed is sown, the sower expects to reap a harvest, whether as I mentioned earlier, it is the harvest of creation or of salvation. It is the reaping which reckons the measure of the harvest.

Let me share the words of a song (sung by various gospel artists):

‘When the harvest has been gathered and all my work is done,
When the last mile is travelled and I’ve sung my final song,
If I’m called to give an answer at Heaven’s judgment seat,
Then let the blood of Jesus, speak for me.
May it write me down as righteous where no righteousness has been,
Shielding me from wrath and judgment as it covers all my sin,
There’s no work that I’ve accomplished nor my goodness I would plead,
Just let the blood of Calv’ry speak for me.’

One day every believer will be called to ‘reckon’ before the Lord of the harvest for how we have laboured in the harvest field. We associate work with activity yet for those who are physically unable to ‘work’ in the usual sense of the word, there is still a work of prayer, of giving, of encouragement. While our work of whatever nature may be rewarded, I believe what is usually called our eternal security, is not based on our works, but on the righteousness of the Lord Jesus.

The prophet Habakkuk , in those well-known verses we find in chapter 3, speaks about a failed harvest (for some parts of our world, a failed harvest still brings a harsh reality) ‘the fig trees have no blossoms … no grapes on the vine … olive crop fails … fields lie empty and barren… ’. Yet in this situation Habakkuk sees scope for encouragement as he says, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in the God of my salvation.’

In the continuing uncertainty and instability of these days – and perhaps for many more to come – wherever you are, whatever may be touching your life, let us all be encouraged and seek to encourage others because the Lord of the harvest is still the same, his nature is unchanging, and we too can rejoice in him – now that is worthy of reflection.

Brian Bell is a diaconate member, Christ Church (Congregational) Abbots Cross, Northern Ireland, and a volunteer with Disabled Christians Fellowship Ireland. He describes himself as ‘grateful for the privilege and opportunity given me to serve my Lord.’

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