While visiting the Pacific Northwest recently, my wife and I were struck by the beauty of God's creation. There were majestic mountains and cascading waterfalls, but I was most impressed with the amazing abundance, size, and variety of plant life. We visited the Washington Park Arboretum, which was chock full of beautiful flowers and large trees, some near 200 ft tall! It was awe-inspiring to see God's creation at full bloom. We marveled at the variety of plant life able to grow successfully in this climate, and how the plants that we recognized from Oklahoma were much larger and more fully mature.
As we discussed this after leaving the park, I mentioned that Seattle must get a ton of rain for the plants and trees to grow so large. Out of curiosity, we looked up the annual rainfall for Seattle and discovered that Seattle averages 37.1 inches of rainfall per year. This was shocking because Oklahoma City’s annual rainfall is very close to that at 36.5 inches. Portland, Oregon, considered to be a “rainy” city like Seattle, averages even less rainfall per year than Oklahoma City (36 inches). How could the landscape of these two Pacific Northwest cities be so much greener and have trees much taller and older without the benefit of taking in more water than the foliage here in Oklahoma?
After further contemplation of this conundrum, we concluded that this difference in growth was primarily due to the annual number of days with rainfall. We found that Seattle averages 149 days per year with rainfall and Portland averages 164 days. Meanwhile Oklahoma City’s average is only 84 days. So the Pacific Northwest receives small amounts of rain nearly every other day, spread out over a very long season of temperate weather, which leads to longer growing seasons.
On the other hand, Oklahoma has long periods of drought and heat followed by large downpours of rainfall. These downpours are still effective for growth, but the ground is quickly saturated by the fresh rainfall and much of the excess rain turns into runoff. This runoff skims across the surface, not absorbed by the soil or allowed to penetrate the root systems of plant life, and eventually collects into streams and lakes, where the water is not effective for growth. The same quantity of rain, but spread out across many days in the Pacific Northwest, was much more effective for the growth of these large, mature trees. Each of these small, consistent rainfalls are allowed time to penetrate the root systems of these plants, and even the smallest feedings of water are effective for continued growth.
It struck me that there were some distinct spiritual symmetries to this idea of consistent rainfall and nurturing. Too often, we try to depend on large, spread out doses of biblical truth to lead to consistent spiritual growth, and we wonder what is holding us back from desiring God more consistently and seeing spiritual maturity developed in our lives. Corporate spiritual experiences like Sunday morning worship and missional family gatherings are important for our spiritual health. However, if they are not backed up by personal spiritual worship and discipline, I fear that they become equivalent to spiritual downpours after periods of spiritual drought. Like Oklahoma downpours, they are effective for some spiritual growth, but much of this spiritual rainfall turns into runoff that is quickly forgotten and never applied. We need consistent watering, sustenance, and environment, rather than the mere quantity of nourishment, to grow into spiritual maturity.
In Step with the Spirit
So the question I’ve been pondering is how we can live with a spiritual climate more similar to the Pacific Northwest and its long growing seasons? Obviously we cannot manufacture spiritual growth in our own power, but I think we must put ourselves in a posture ready to hear God's voice in our private lives rather than waiting to be force-fed truth in corporate settings. Galatians 5:25 urges us to “keep in step with the Spirit” since we “live by the Spirit.” To keep in step with the Spirit, we must know what the voice of the Spirit sounds like. The only way to know his voice is to be consistently meditating and reflecting on God's word, and by setting aside intentional time to listen to God, so that we are spiritually nourished with small showers of rainfall.
We must be continually reflecting on God’s word for it to truly begin working on our hearts. This blog post is directed mostly to myself as I continue to struggle with seeking God on a daily basis, but I hope it can be an encouragement to you as well. Let us enjoy God's beautiful creation together and be reminded of his awesome glory and power as we encourage one another to be in God's word and to share with one another what God is feeding each of us in our own times of personal worship.