Growing up in Templebreedy Church of Ireland, we followed a liturgical calendar. The Harvest Thanksgiving celebration was always my favourite part of that calendar, and Autumn my favourite time of year…
I think that my love of harvest time and autumn was inspired by the beauty of growing on a farm. I witnessed my Dad (and still do!) preparing the land to set grass, wheat and barley; as the months went on he would protect his crop from harm and inspect its growth, finally watching and waiting for the crop to be ready, and the ideal time and weather to harvest. My dad is a tillage and beef farmer. Most of his crop is harvested to provide feed and bedding for cattle for the months ahead. He fills his sheds with straw bales and wheat. He’s preparing to care for, strengthen and fatten his cattle through the cold of winter and into the warmth of spring.
At harvest time, usually August, the crop is ready. This coincides with my favourite time, the beginning of Autumn. As the wheat and barley is harvested and the straw is baled, my familiar friends begin to reappear. I see the beechnuts on the beech tree, the acorn on the oak. Blackberries and elderberries appear in the hedgerows and trees; fuchsia adorns costal roadsides; I know that I will soon be able to gather crab apples and sloes.
I always looked forward to singing one particular hymn during Harvest Thanksgiving, ‘We plough the fields and scatter’, written by Matthias Claudias in 1782. Here is the first verse and chorus,
We plough the fields and scatter
The good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered
By God’s almighty hand;
He sends the snow in winter,
The warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine
And soft refreshing rain
Chorus: All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above, the thank the Lord, O thank the Lord, for all his love.
The ripening of crops, the success of harvest and the abundance of fruits on the trees and hedgerows are evidence of the showering of God’s love, a display of His goodness and provision.
Harvest time and Autumn display the abundance of God’s gifts to us, the reality of His sovereign hand and His role in the fine details in our lives. The farmer sets the seed, trusting God for the right amount of rain and sunshine for the crop to flourish and grow. “He covers the heavens with clouds; He prepares rain for the earth; He makes grass grow on the hills” (Psalm 147:8).
If I know one thing from growing up on a farm, it’s this: farming is a risky business. A crop may flourish or fail. Weather is unpredictable. Seasons change. Yet for the life of the farm to move forward, steps must be taken, sometimes risky steps. Cattle cannot be fed in Autumn and winter if the seed is not set in spring.
In life, I so often want to know the outcome before I take the step. This summer I faced some uncertainty which caused me great anxiety: waiting for the clarification of a job for September. Now that I’m in September, I realise how unnecessary those feelings of anxiety were. God was with me at the first step and knew the outcome that was best for me. I come to him repenting of my distrust in Him and giving thanks for his goodness to me despite my unbelief. As the father of a mute boy cried out to Jesus, so do I, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
Harvest time and Autumn remind me of the wonder of who God is, a reminder I really needed!
God is with me always. As it says in Joshua 1:9, “Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go”. He is there when I set the seed, and when I reap the reward. He is there in the uncertain moments in between.
God is trustworthy; He is faithful; His promises do not fail, “The works of His hand are faithful and just; all His precepts are trustworthy” (Psalm 111:7). The rhythm of the seasons, the return of Autumn and the abundance of God’s gifts in nature are reminders of this.
God is a provider. He knows what we need, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither reap nor sow nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? …Therefore, do not be anxious, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Matthew 6:26, 31-32). He provides for our needs, because He cares for us, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). He fills the storehouses to prepare for winter, knowing that spring will come.
There is always a reason to give thanks to God; He is intimately involved in every detail of our lives, just as He is involved from the setting of the seed to the harvesting of the crop.