Five Surprising Things Farming Has Taught Me About God’s Relationship With Us

old-stone-barnFarming is one of the great joys in my life. I never ceased to be amazed at how much can be done, or how much work there is to do, even on just the few acres we have. Often, it is not the idyllic life I once imagined in my farm fantasies, but I still love it.

For example; vacations are things other people take. It’s very rare that my wife and I can go anywhere exotic or romantic together for more than a day.  Someone has to be there for the garden and animals.

Also, the myth of the rich farmer is just that, a myth. Money is always tight, except when it’s not there at all. Yes, we have many things money can’t ever buy, like beautiful sunsets over our front pastures where Brittan and I can sit side by side in our rocking chairs, sipping iced tea, enjoying the animals romping together in the fading light as the sun slips over the horizon. Those stuck in commuter traffic rarely get to take time for such pleasures. Still, gorgeous views don’t pay the electric bill.

Did you know that it’s possible to get sick of zucchini? Are you aware that a human can only eat fresh chicken or lettuce or green beans so many days in a row before we begin to crave something really unnatural, like Krispy Kreme donuts or Dairy Queen?

When I used to dream about having a farm, and imagine the infinite joy it would bring, I never once considered weeds, or how stubborn and prolific they could be. I only saw rows of corn and bushels of strawberries.

Yes, farming is sometimes just plain hard. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world. How could I ever measure the joy of listening to roosters singing their morning songs as I wander out to begin my day? How could I describe how much better it is to watch a flock of geese on their seasonal commutes than to watch the cars and trucks on I-75 in theirs? How could I ever compare sitting on our deck staring agape at the multitude of stars in the Milky Way lighting up the night sky to the street lights and headlamps of city living?

I think, though, that some of the things I love best about farm life are the lessons I’ve learned about God and His incredible relationship with us. There are far too many to count, but with your indulgence, I want to share five of them

  1. It’s Messy. If farming is anything, it’s messy. For one thing, there is poop everywhere. Cows poop.  Chickens poop. Pigs poop. Rabbits, turkeys, quail, goats and donkeys all poop. Everything that hath breath goes number 2. It smells bad and, like Visa, it’s everywhere you want to be.

Where there’s not manure, there’s mud. At certain times of the year mud is a fashion style and a food group. Then, just when you think things are starting to dry out, a water line bursts somewhere and you’re up to your waste in mud again, trying to mend the pipe.

I suspect that’s how God must feel about us, sometimes. We make messes everywhere, all the time. The stink must be awful and He must have one heck of a set of chest waders. Yet His love for us looks past our stench and our stains and He wallows in the sheer joy of fellowship with us.

Each morning, when I head out back to feed the pigs, they surround me. There are four of them. Each one has done their best to out mud the other three. As I pour some soaked feed into their trough, they take turns rubbing their snouts all over my legs. It’s their way of saying good morning. By the time I’ve finished with them, my entire lower body is covered in Georgia clay and snot. But I am still compelled to take time with each pig, scratching behind their ears and along their backs. They wiggle with delight and smile up at me, hog jowls dripping with swill.

I can’t help but think how God delights in our special moments with Him, despite the sheer volume of grime we get on Him.

  1. It’s Emotionally Draining. There is great joy in seeing a pantry filled with freshly canned produce, a freezer filled with meat for the winter, or a garden ripe and ready for harvest. There is also enormous satisfaction in watching a pasture full of baby goats or calves suckling on their mothers or chasing each other around the farm at sunset. Yes, those are pleasure that silence the pain, but I assure you there are many hard days and tearful nights leading up to those happy endings.

It is extremely frustrating to walk out to feed your chickens only to find thirty carcasses scattered around the field, having been tortured and mauled by neighborhood pets, a weasel or some other ambassador of terror. You can almost feel the fear in the survivors, and even emanating from the corpses of the dead.

After waiting anxiously for a doe goat to get through her pregnancy, it is draining to sit with her as she struggles for hours with babies turned wrong or underdeveloped only to have three born dead. Your heart breaks for her, and for the money you will not be getting from the sale of those kids that was going to pay for seed for the garden.

It is almost impossible to describe the anguish of coming home from Church to discover your future milk or beef cow, down in the pasture unable to rise because of some disease or attack.

There is a real sense of shock and awe in stepping out of your house only to discover that in the night, something has gotten into the garden you’ve tended to for months and have devastated it. Seeing the tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans and squash all eaten to the ground can truly create a sense of loss and hopelessness.

Birth and death, disease and health, Joy and heartache, abundance and famine are all a part of the farmer’s life. And it can be exhausting. I just can’t help but think about how emotionally draining we can be for our Heavenly Father. We read in the Bible about God ‘inhabiting’ the praises of His People. In Luke 15 we read all about the joy of lost sheep found, lost coins discovered, and lost sons coming home. The same Bible tells us how human sin caused our loving God to ‘repent’ of ever making the Human race. During the Israeli’s 40 years in the wilderness there were times God told Moses to stand aside so He could wipe out the people. We are an exhausting species.

  1. No Matter How Much He Gives, We’re Never Satisfied. When I go out in the mornings to feed, usually just before 7, the chickens and rabbits are already at the gate awaiting their breakfast. Sometimes they risk life and limb by jumping into the yard to escort me to be barn. We have two collies in the yard that have a real taste for fresh chicken and rabbit, but the thought of food drives all fear from the hearts of my birds. That, and the fact they have brains the size of salted in the shell peanuts.

By the time I’ve gotten to the barn, the pigs are climbing on the gate, and each other, unable to wait 4 more minutes for their grub.  Even the cows will come running straight for me if they catch sight of a bucket in my hands.

When I return an hour or so later to top up their water, all the animals are begging for more food. This is despite the fact that I have never missed a day of feeding them, or that they have an entire farm full of edible pasture available to them 24/7. The simple fact is, they are never satisfied. They always want more.

Aren’t we that way with God? Regardless of how much or how frequently He provides for and blesses me, I always want more. I cry and whine and complain like a hungry boar hog. If he gives me shoes, I want boots. If he gives me a shirt, I complain that I wanted a suit. If He gives me potatoes, I whine that I have no gravy.  I have so very much, but greed drives my appetite, begging for more, more, more. Dear God, have mercy on me.

  1. When We Run To Him, It Gives Him Pleasure. This morning, after giving some hay to the cows and filling their water tank, as I turned to head in for some coffee, two things caught my eye. First, the sun had risen over the house creating a magical scene as its light sparkled in reflection off the dewy pasture. My heart leapt inside my chest. At that very instant, the second sight stopped me in my tracks as Lady, one of our two collies, came flying through the gate running across the field towards me as fast as her legs would carry her. She ran to me, jumped up on me and showered me with kisses before dropping like a stone to the ground so I could rub her belly. Needless to say, I was grinning from ear to ear as I gladly obliged her and fulfilled her wishes.

Anytime I step into the back pastures where the chickens hang out, they come running to me as fast as their little legs will carry them. They waddle and wiggle all at the same time. I have seen this same sight multiple times a day for 6 years, and it makes me smile every time.

God wants to be in a relationship with us, and when we run, or waddle, towards Him, it makes Him smile. He is no absentee Father, He is among us, enjoying our adoration and our company. We make him Happy. Our fellowship gives Him Joy.

  1. Our Needs Are More Important Than His Pain. Farming is not for the faint of heart or self-centered soul. My wife and I have crawled out of bed with fevers, injuries, colds, flus, headaches that would drop a bull moose in his tracks, and more, for no other reason that there are things that MUST be done.

Last week, I injured my foot and it resulted in the agony of Turf Toe. I could not begin to describe the pain associated with Turf Toe (tearing of the ligaments in the knuckle of the Big Toe.  It feels just like gout and lasts two to three weeks with proper care. There is no proper care in farming. Period. I’ve had fever, body aches and much pain from the injury. I would gladly cut off the toe to stop the pain, but I do the chores regardless, because they need to be done. I’ve known farmers who go to work despite crushed discs, pulled muscles, pneumonia, broken limbs, or even cancer, for no other reason that it needs to be done.

Yesterday, I stepped in a hole, twisting my ankle on the already swollen, aching foot, adding insult to injury. With each step the pain grew in intensity and walking became more and more difficult. I wanted to sit down and have a good cry, then take the rest of the day off. But I didn’t. I am not particularly noble, or brave or strong. The simple reality is, the animals and garden need cared for regardless of my comfort. Their needs are far more important than my pan.

Today, as I grunted and hobbled through throbbing toe and ankle during my chores, it dawned on me that in Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, God truly demonstrated that our need for a savior was more important to Him than His own pain. God’s very Son took beatings, endured scorn, carried a cross and bore the agony of the nails all because our need was greater that His pain. By comparison, I have endured nothing.

I love farming. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth whatever I’ve sacrificed. It gives me more back than I ever put in; but more than anything, what I love about farming is how it’s revealed to me just how much the Great God of the Universe loves me. By the way, He loves you, too.

 

God Promised Milk And Honey, How Come All I See Is Manna?

DesertRemember those “Grandma went to _______ (fill in the blank), and all I got was this stupid T-Shirt” shirts that were all the rage back in the day? The implication was, other people get good stuff and I get ripped off.

If anyone ever actually made a comment like that, he/she would be crushed by the weight of all the voices crying, ‘You spoiled brat,’ but the truth is, most of us have a difficult time when good things happen to other people, while we struggle.

You can multiply those feelings exponentially, when we perceive, that God is the one who let us down. We read all about His promises, and when we don’t seem to experience them, we get disappointed, frustrated, angry, and bitter.

Consider the Israeli nation during their journey from Egypt to Canaan. You can read all about it in the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy in the Bible. Their adventure began with God, through Moses and Aaron, promising to take them from slavery to live free in a land that flowed with milk and honey. The offer was just too good to pass up, especially when God backed it up with things like protecting them from the plagues and parting the Red Sea. Those eager people must have felt like they were walking on air.

The euphoria didn’t last, though, as the days, turned into weeks, then months, then years. It took 40 years, in fact, before the Israeli’s were at last able to enter the land they had been promised. Along the way, they experienced rebellions, encountered hostile nations, faced poisonous snakes, endured drought, and much more. Sometimes the going was really tough. Each day, though, well 6 days a week, anyway, when the people rose in the morning, there was a mysterious edible substance awaiting them. They called it, “Manna”, which means, ‘what is it?’

God explained that He provided this manna for their nourishment along the road. They were to collect enough for the day, and no more, except for the day before the Sabbath, when they should pick up enough for two days. The greedy found that if they gathered too much, it rotted overnight. The faithless and selfish discovered that if they didn’t gather on Friday, they went hungry on Saturday.

For 40 years, the manna never failed, though the land of milk and honey continued to elude them.

The people complained, they fumed, they wept, they pouted, they groveled, “Where is this glorious land God promised us? All we see is sand; sand and rocks and heat and, and, and, all this stinking manna. We can’t take another day of this gosh awful stuff. At least give us meat.”

If you know the story, you know that by this time, God had had enough of their faithless belly aching and disobedience. He sent flocks and flocks of quail into the camp. The people grabbed them up and started to wolf them down, without even a hint of gratitude. In His anger and frustration, God killed thousands of them before they could even swallow.

Eventually, as the people gathered on the banks of the Jordan River, preparing to enter the Promised Land, God had a heart to heart to heart with them and pointed out that the trip took forty years because of THEIR lack of faith and their disobedience. It wasn’t His wish or doing. Yet, despite their constant grumbling, he had provided the manna every single day for the forty years. Their animals thrived (for the record, I’ve always wondered why they complained to God about no meat, when they had thousands of head of cattle, sheep and goats they could have eaten, but we’ll save that for another day.), and even their shoes held up. Not a hole in a sole could be found. God had been there all along.

As I write this post, it’s my turn to wander. It is no secret to those who know me, that I am in a financial wilderness, and I can’t see the Promised Land. I’m exhausted and hurting. I shake my fist at heaven in dismay.

I can’t help but see myself in Israel’s story. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve cried out in despair over the seeming absence of the fulfillment of God’s promises. I’ve fallen on my face and wept over the wilderness through which I stumble. Where are your promises, God? Why hast thou forsaken me? You promised me milk and honey and all I see is manna.

If only I had a grateful, faithful heart, I might see that the ‘manna’ in my life is a gift to sustain me, to demonstrate His love, and to give me faith. He gives enough manna for one day, today. I must learn, then, to trust Him for tomorrow.

I should rejoice that my wife and I are debt free, that we planned ahead for times like this and have plenty of food and basic necessities. We have not missed paying a utility bill, or been unable to put gas in the truck, but all I see is the bottom of the emergency fund and a big stack of rejection letters from companies and Churches.

If I could only recognize how many times the delay of realizing God’s promises has been because of my own poor decisions, inaction or lack of faith, rather than what He has or hasn’t done, then I might get through this wilderness in much shorter time.

His provision is with me, on a daily basis, but I’m looking somewhere else. Perhaps my manna is in my garden that grows, or the customers who show up out of the blue to buy eggs or soap. Maybe it’s that big bowl full of a Church who needed a preacher for the weekend, and asked for someone who then got sick and who called me to fill in for him, so I got to meet some amazing people and received check in the exact amount to cover a financial need we didn’t know we were going to have. Perhaps manna is having a neighbor who is a mechanic and is available when our only working vehicle is on the fritz.

The Bible says, “The righteous shall live by faith.” That’s who I want to be. That’s who I WILL be.

I’m guessing there are quite a few, who might come across this little essay and find yourselves in a wilderness of your own. It might be financial, like mine. It might be relational, or physical, or spiritual. I urge you to look for the manna in your own life. Take heart in it. God is there, and He is not silent.