I see the season of winter as an excellent example of the transforming work of the Lord in a Christian’s life. When winter comes, the vegetable world, it seems to me, reflects the image of the purifying which God does in order to remove imperfections from the life of one of His children.
As cold comes on the wings of a winter storm, the trees gradually begin to lose their leaves. The green is soon changed into a funereal brown; soon the leaves fall away and die. Behold the tree’s appearance now! It looks stripped and desolate. Behold the loss of summer’s beautiful garment. What happens as you look upon that poor tree? You see a revelation.
Under all the beautiful leaves there had been all sorts of irregularities and defects. The defects had been invisible because of the beautiful leaves. Now those defects are startlingly revealed! The tree is no longer beautiful in its surface appearance. But has the tree actually changed? Not at all. Everything is exactly as it was before. The beauty of the outward life of the leaves had only hidden what was always present.
The same is true of you. The same is true of all believers. We can each look so beautiful….until life disappears! Then, no matter who, the Christian is revealed as full of defects. As the Lord works on you to produce purification, you will appear stripped of all your virtues. But, in the tree, there is life inside; and, as the tree, you are not actually becoming worse, you are simply seeing yourself for what you really are. Know that somewhere deep within the tree of winter there is still the life that produced last spring’s beautiful leaves.
No, the believer’s inmost being has not been deprived of its essential virtue. He has lost no advantages. He has only lost something human, a sense of his own personal goodness, and he has discovered, instead, his utter wretchedness. He has lost the ease of following the Lord. That ease was born more of ignorance of self than anything else.
As with the tree, so with you.
The Christian, now spoiled and naked, appears in his own eyes to be a denuded thing’ and all those around him see his defects for the first time: defects which were previously veiled, concealed by outward graces.
Sometimes such revelation is so devastating to the pride of a Christ he simply never recovers, and decided to be a Christian on some other level; or gives up following the Lord entirely.
Throughout the long cold winter, the tree certainly appears as dead as the very deadest of all trees in the forest. The tree knows no reality. Here is total destruction, it seems. But the truth lies somewhere else.
That tree is actually undergoing and submitting to a process which preserves its life and strengthens the tree. After all, what does winter do to a tree? It contracts the tree’s exterior. The life deep within is no longer uselessly expended! Its life, rather, is concentrated within the deepest part of the trunk and in the hidden portions of the root. The life is forced deeper and deeper into the inmost part of the tree.
Winter preserves the tree, no matter how dead the tree may appear. Yes, its leaves have fallen away and its true deformed state has been exposed; yet the tree has never been more alive than at that time. During the winter, the source and principle of life is more firmly established than at any other season.
In all the other season, the tree employs the whole force of its life in adorning and beautifying itself. But it does so at the expense of expending its life, taking its very vitality from the roots and the deepest part of the trunk. There must be winter. Winter is necessary for the tree if it is to live, survive and flourish.
Virtue has a way of sinking deep within the Christian, while totally disappearing from the surface, leaving the outward and natural defects in very conspicuous view.
If we have eyes to see, then we see that this is beautiful.
Grace operates in your life in exactly the same way. God will take away the leaves. Something will cause them to fall. The outward virtue will collapse. He does this that He may strengthen the principle of virtue. The source of virtue must be built up. Something deep within the soul is still functioning. Somewhere within the spirit the functions that are the highest (in God’s estimation) have never rested. What is going on is exceedingly hidden. It is humble.
What is happening is pure love.
What is going on in the inmost part is absolute abandonment and contempt of self. The inward man is making progress. The soul in venturing forth into the interior. True, it seems that the operations of God are concentrated on the external parts of the believer, and even a moment’s glance reveals that the exterior things are not pleasant to look upon. Yet, in truth, no new defects in the soul have developed. Only the uncovering of old faults has come about. And, as they are exposed, they are better healed.
If you dare the spiritual pilgrimage, you need to remember in times of calamity, and in times of what appear to be dry spells, and in that time which men will call a spiritual winter: Life is there.
If winter comes…….