I grew up in a small mining town in northern Canada, a place memorable for its hard, cruel winters. But on the first day of summer in 1975, a few weeks after I turned 15, I found myself transported, as though on a magic carpet, to a home in Greater Vancouver. I was delirious with joy. I spent that summer practically living in downtown Vancouver. I walked virtually every mile of the city, exploring streets, bridges, parks, and beaches.
In the golden hue of memory, it never rained the summer of 1975. Every day dawned more magnificent than the one before. I have vivid recollections of walking English Bay—the smell of popcorn and coconut oil in the air, bodies turning chocolaty-brown in the sun. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
A foretaste of heaven
In some ways that's what summer is: a foretaste of heaven; a rehearsal of paradise; a preview of the Promised Land. Revelation 21 and 22 describe the New Jerusalem—the kingdom of God in its fullness. Revelation 22:2 has this image: "On each side of the river stood the Tree of Life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations."
What an amazing tree. It's just one tree, but it stands on both sides of the river. Picture that, if you can. It bears "twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month." The progression of months remains intact in God's kingdom—one through twelve—but the cycle of seasons ends. Each month simply ushers into another month of summertime. It's endless summer in heaven.
Jesus explicitly equates the kingdom of God with summer. In Luke 21:29-31, Jesus says, "Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near." Jesus makes a connection between summer and the kingdom. Words and images we associate with summer—fruitfulness, daylight, rest, play, wonder, festival, joy, reunion, vacation—are kingdom experiences. The Bible describes the kingdom of heaven as a banquet, a homecoming, a joyful reunion, a true Sabbath, a full and final reprieve from life's misery, drudgery, and loss. It's endless summer.
When we're in a summertime of the heart, we experience all these things—vitality, connectedness, rest and play and fruitfulness, warmth and shade, ample daylight, a sheer delight in what God has made. It's the diametric opposite of winter. In winter God and others seem remote, and death breathes down our neck. In summer God and others are intimately near, and abundant life is everywhere at hand.
God is bestowing in such times a taste of the kingdom. He allows us to savor for a time what we will experience for eternity: a time when God is fully present, reigning in justice and mercy; a time when we need no sun or moon, because God is the light that shines day and night; a time when the tree produces twelve crops of fruit, one for each month. The summers of the heart, brief as they usually are, hint at the summer of heaven, which has no end.
The invitation to abundance
Zechariah 8:1-23 offers a vivid description of God coming near and summer breaking forth. Here are a few verses from The message translation, because it captures this season so vibrantly:
God says, "I've come back to Zion, I've moved back to Jerusalem …. Old men and old women will come back to Jerusalem, sit on benches in the street and spin tales, move around safely with their canes—a good city to grow old in. And boys and girls will fill the public parks, laughing and playing—a good city to grow up in …. People and their leaders will come from all over to see what's going on. The leaders will confer with one another, 'Shouldn't we try to get in on this? Get in on God's blessing? Pray to God … ? What's keeping us? Let's go!"
Most people come to Christ exactly this way. They witness a vibrant church or a household of true Christ-followers. They see life as it is meant to be: with God at the center. They confer with someone, maybe just themselves, and say, "Why would I miss out on this? Let's go!" And most people, getting up and going, go straightaway into summertime. It's God's welcome wagon gift after moving into the neighborhood. Everything is right. Everything is bright. Everything works. The old is gone; the new has come.
A few weeks after I came to Christ at age 21, I went on a fishing trip with a group of guys from the church. I had never before been among a group of men who didn't speak in lewd, demeaning ways about women, who didn't curse a blue streak, who didn't guzzle beer until they were bleary-eyed and slurry-mouthed. I didn't know men like these men from the church existed, but I spent a whole weekend in the company of six or eight of them—men who began and ended each day with prayer and Scripture reading, who spoke lovingly of their wives, who honored one another and served one another, and who laughed at jokes that were clean. I came back and, as I tried to describe it to my wife, broke down and wept with utter joy.
In that season I heard God crystal clear. I could almost see him. Every conversation I had—with fellow believers or with non-believers—was holy. Every Scripture was a revelation. God was in my seeing and in my hearing, in my speaking and in my understanding. He was tangibly growing fruit in my life. The world seemed light, bright, and full of color, and it was warm all the time. Summer.
We do not live now in a perpetual summertime of the heart, but just as the seasons of the earth faithfully cycle through, so do our hearts' seasons. The bliss of summertime will periodically be ours in our journey to Christ.
Revel in summer.
How should we live in summer? First of all, we must simply enjoy it. Warm up and rest up. Play with childlike abandon. Play with your children. Connect with people you haven't seen in a while. Take a vacation—a time of genuine refreshment and replenishment. Eat fruit and grow fruit. Get a tan and sleep in the shade. I mean this in the most literal and ordinary way; and I mean this spiritually.
Kingdom life, like summer living, is not hurried. It luxuriates in the sheer abundance of God's watchcare. In summertime you begin to live in the way A. W. Tozer described:
Those who are in Christ share with [God] all the riches of limitless time and endless years. God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which he must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves. For those outside of Christ, time is a devouring beast; before the sons of the New Creation, time crouches and purrs and licks their hands.
Kingdom life, like summer living, is not worried. It basks in the sheer abundance of God's goodness. And kingdom life, like summer living, abounds in fruit. It delights in the sheer abundance of God's provision.
Water in summer.
Secondly, beware of dehydration in summer. The danger of summer is drought—plants and animals and people simply not getting enough water. I put potted flowers and hanging baskets around my house every summer. On a hot day, I can water one of those thoroughly in the morning and find by afternoon its leaves are wilting. Things dry out quickly in scorching heat. Though in summer we like to play and rest, we do something in this season that we don't in others: we water things.
You and I hold the glory of God in clay jars. We hold it, but thinly. We dry out quickly. We need a continuous in-pouring of God's spirit and his Word. In the parable of the seed and the sower in Mark 6, Jesus says one of the greatest threats to fruitfulness is not a lack of warmth and light, but too much of it. "When the sun came up," he says, "the plants were scorched." Summertime, both in the natural sense and the spiritual sense, is a good time for some intentional inactivity—the resting and playing we've talked about. But the one thing you cannot neglect is water—a life of prayer and the Word. In the summer of the heart, beware of drying out.
Gather in summer.
Third, we must gather firstfruits in summer. Proverbs 10:5 says, "He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son; he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son." There are crops to be gathered in the summer. These crops are called firstfruits: the first apples the tree yields, the first corn the field produces. The Bible says that such firstfruits belong to God. Repeatedly in the Old Testament we read we're to bring the best of our firstfruits to God. In a spiritual, New Covenant sense, firstfruits are both what God gives you and what you give God.
When you're in a summertime of the heart, don't sleep through it. Be especially attentive to God's best for you and your best for God. In the summer of the heart, beware of drying out, and gather firstfruits—the ones God gives you, and the ones you give God.
Prune in summer.
Lastly, don't mistake leafiness for fruitfulness. Over a decade ago, I built a grape arbor and bought two tiny grape plants. I asked the horticulturist for plants that produced the sweetest, most delectable grapes around. She sold me a breed of grapes that was supposed to taste like candy. I panted and lovingly tended those sprigs until they grew into sinewy, rough-barked trees, twining their thick trunks through the lattice of the arbor. Every year, I wait in eager anticipation for dense clusters of delicious grapes—and every year I'm disappointed.
I wait until the grapes look dark purple and ready, and I pluck one and pop it in my mouth. I wince as if I'm sucking lemons. The grapes are always as hard as stones, bitter as gall. I recently asked another green thumb what was wrong. I found out that I needed to cut back the leaves to let the sun get to the grapes. I liked all those leaves because they threw a cooling shade and looked great.
Jesus cursed a fig tree that was thick with leaf but didn't bear fruit. In the end the abundance of leafiness means nothing. It's by our fruit that we're known. Apply it this way: we can get spiritually busy during summer in ways that make us feel productive, but make sure there's something else growing within the busyness. If you must, sacrifice some of the leaves for greater fruit.
In the summer of the heart, beware of drying out, gather firstfruits—from God and for him, and don't mistake leafiness for fruitfulness. In this warm season, revel in God's gift of growth and abundance.
Mark Buchanan is an Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at the Ambrose Seminary in Calgary, Alberta.