In Every Season, God
A Conversation with Richard Blackaby.
By Erin Gieschen
If you were to experience winter for the first time in a true four-season climate, you might initially think that everything has simply died. Devoid of leaves or fruit, all the deciduous trees stand bare—their unadorned branches in stark outline against often-gray skies.
Yet anyone who’s at home in this weather knows that the cold, even harsh season is both natural and necessary. Despite what seems obvious on the surface, the trees haven’t stopped growing at all. Beneath the bark, their sap is silently moving inward to fortify the tree for the coming months. Similarly, the rest of the landscape lies buried under blankets of snow, ice, and decaying leaves. The reality is that life is still at work, but in different ways than during the rest of the year.
Likewise, each of us experiences life in seasons. We have our own winters and springs, summers and autumns, that are always in flux—ebbing and flowing, one into the next. It’s important to recognize the value of each and what God is trying to communicate in these times. In Touch spoke with Richard Blackaby, president of Blackaby Ministries and author of The Seasons of God, about the difference viewing our lives this way can make as we journey with God.
In Touch: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 is a famous passage in which King Solomon philosophizes about how “there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Eccl. 3:1 NIV). That’s fairly straightforward wisdom that anyone can appreciate, but do you think there’s something deeper in this passage for us to mine?
Richard Blackaby: There’s truth to the saying “Timing is everything.” It’s possible to do the right thing at the wrong time. I believe the key to this passage is that God has designed each season of life in a manner charged with divine purpose. Rather than seeing these variations as random, we’re to recognize “human experience as a tapestry woven of ‘times,’” as Bible scholar Iain Provan eloquently puts it.
What can we learn about our own spiritual seasons by considering the natural seasons in the world around us?
While we humans may be at the apex of creation, we’re still creatures in nature and are subject to seasons just like everything else. In that light, there are some wonderful truths we can learn from seasons. Spring is for beginnings. There’s a freshness, hope, and vibrancy to it. So in the springtimes of our life, we have the opportunity to see God initiate new things in us. Summer is a time for labor and growth. Fall is for harvest. Winter is for withdrawal from activity, rest—and even death of what has come to the end of its time. To be fully healthy, our lives require each one of these seasons at their due time. The key is to recognize what season we’re in and then embrace it to the full.
We all know that in nature, sometimes winter seems like it drags on forever. Some summers can seem extremely brief. Seasons vary from year to year. Sometimes God chooses to prolong them to fully accomplish His work. Sometimes so much needs to die in us before we can embrace spring that we need an unusually long winter. We have no idea how brief or long each season will be this time, but we can also learn to embrace and find the good in each season as it comes, rather than being impatient to move on to the next one that we think will be better.
We all experience points in life at which our situation seems so far from what we initially expected that we end up feeling stuck and hopeless—or even completely lost. Why do you think it’s so important during times like these that we recognize how God has made a season for everything?
I suspect many Christians have doubts about whether God could bring anything good out of certain circumstances. We all can appreciate “harvest” times in our lives. The purpose for those is obvious. But what about “winter” when things decline and even die? In those times when we lose things like relationships or our health or our job, if we don’t believe God is still in control, we’ll become extremely discouraged. But if you still cling to the God you know and trust, even when you can’t see His purposes, you know He is still at work, doing something that He will eventually reveal.
You grew up during the season in your family’s life when your parents were discovering and walking out the basic ideas that now make up the well-loved Experiencing God study written by your father (Henry Blackaby). How did those years impact your own experience of following Christ?
I grew up in a home where my parents faced some enormous hardships and challenges. If God were only a religion to us, we would have grown discouraged and felt defeated pretty quickly. But growing up in my home, I learned that God was a Person who loved us, wanted to guide us, and would provide for us.
Early on, I was encouraged to seek the Lord for guidance in my own life. I’d ask my dad for advice, and he’d say, “Have you asked God?” I would have preferred that my dad just tell me what I should do. But he was training me to have my own walk with the Lord. I watched how over and over again when people did what God told them, regardless of how impossible it seemed, He always “came through” and provided everything that was needed.
I’m afraid too many people practice “religion” but don’t have a relationship with Christ that is dynamic and personal. I’m grateful that my parents steered me into a walk with the Lord that was fresh and growing and personal. As a result, I’ve been able to spend my life trying to help others experience God in the same way as I carry on the ministry my dad started.
There’s a real paradigm shift in realizing that God is always at work around us and is inviting us to join what He’s doing. If we were to live this way, how might it change the way we see our current situation—particularly when we feel as if we’ve lost our bearings?
Part of the reason we sometimes feel lost or “stuck” is because we keep trying to solve our problems by ourselves. God is at work all the time. The key is to ask His Spirit to open our spiritual eyes so that we see Him and what He is doing in and around us.
The apostle Paul suffered a painful “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7-10) and begged God to free him from it. Instead, God, in His grace, gave Paul a fresh experience of His presence. Once Paul experienced the Comforter, he didn’t need so much to ask for an absence of pain.
It’s as if his quest changed focus entirely.
Yes. When we truly experience God’s active presence in our lives, we experience joy and victory no matter what we’re going through.
So maybe what seems like uncertainty, instability, or even chaos might be part of something bigger than what we see right in front of us?
Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has made everything beautiful in its time. Let me quote Provan’s commentary again—he says that recognizing this truth helps us to see “perpetual change not as something unsettling, but as an unfolding pattern, scintillating and God-given. Instead of frozen perfection, there is the kaleidoscopic movement of innumerable processes, each with its own character and period of blossoming and ripening, beautiful in its time and contributing to the overall masterpiece which is the work of one Creator.”
It helps us to know that we’re not the only one on the planet God is working with at the moment. Often, all our prayers and focus can be on ourselves. But then we realize that even as we’re seeking to live out our lives, God is also at work in other people, and our life may actually be a part of God’s purposes in helping others. We may want God to grant us something. But He realizes that to accomplish His larger purpose, He may have to do something different in our life than we have been asking for. Life is not nearly as one-dimensional as we tend to make it. While we experience one thing, people all around us have their own journeys. Yet we have the privilege and opportunity to cross paths with them. It is what makes life so rich and diverse.
How can we Christians, in all our varying experiences, help each other by recognizing that we’re all experiencing different seasons?
Right now I live in a multi-seasonal family. When we get together, we each bring different concerns. Some are feeling overwhelmed. Others are uncertain what to do next. I believe our relationships could be revolutionized if we learned to recognize and appreciate the various seasons our family, friends, and colleagues are in. Many of our conflicts come from people trying to relate to one another without recognizing these differences.
Here are a few examples. People who are in spring are exploring new possibilities. They may feel inadequate for what is coming and need encouragement. Those who have gone before them in particular can offer words of wisdom. People in summer are working hard. Sometimes they may feel as if their work will never be done. We can offer to help them out, baby-sit their kids so they can go out on a date with their spouse, or express how we appreciate all they’re doing. People in a fall season are in “harvest.” They are at the peak of their influence in that particular stage of their life. We need to seek their advice as well as affirm them. People in winter are experiencing some area in their life slowing down or drawing to a close. There can be some grieving involved. We need to support them with prayer—and even help them celebrate all that they’ve experienced during the past season. We can also remind them of the hope they can have that another spring is coming.
Any church will inevitably have all four seasons represented and needs to help each person recognize the seasons in his or her own life and how to support those in other seasons. Churches ought to be the most encouraging place on earth.