In 1879 a botanist named W.J. Beal initiated an experiment in East Lansing, Michigan. Beal put different varieties of seeds in different bottles, packed them in sand, then buried them a foot and a half into the earth. 20 bottles, each containing 50 seeds from 20 different species.
Another generation of scientists dug those bottles up 100 years later to complete the experiment. They wanted to know how many seeds would still have life-giving potential after a 100 years in the earth. They found a couple species still had viable samples alive.
That in itself is amazing. The seeds were effectively dormant for those 100 years but life could still come forth, producing another generation.
Just as exceptional is Beal’s motive. He knew this was an experiment whose findings would not benefit him. He invested in it, not to get life from the seeds, the immediate benefit in his time, but to pass on life-giving information to another generation. He was making a contribution that would serve somebody else, far after he was dead and gone.
In the immediacy that all of us have become accustomed to in our culture, we get addicted to seeing quick results. Diet and exercise fads, hair extensions, nail jobs, eyelash implants (can you believe there is such a thing?!?) all promise the results we want now. Waiting is a thing of the past. We tend to overlay those expectations onto our faith journey, also. We pray or we serve for what we want now, the blessings and the spiritual payoff need to come quickly or else. I can’t imagine Beal understanding that mindset.
How much of our faith journey is about investing forward? What if the prayers we pray will not all be answered for us in our time? What if some of them will come to be in our children’s or grandchildren’s generation? What if God is calling us to pour ourselves into something, like Jesus, in a truly self-sacrificial, other-centered way? I think of Jesus, in John 17, praying for those that would believe because of the impact of his apostles. Jesus’ mind was already moving past those he could immediately influence in that moment, and praying for generations to come in the future.
Abraham, as a father of faith, also had this vision for each generation that would come from him.
On resolving his conflict with Abimilech in Genesis 21 over the well at Beersheba, it says Abraham planted a Tamarisk tree. A tamarisk tree in the Middle East can grow fairly high – up to 24 feet or so – and is useful in the hot, dry conditions for providing shade on those long sunny days.
They grow slow though. Really slow. What Genesis is telling us here is that Abraham is not looking for immediate shelter for himself. In fact, it doesn’t seem he’s thinking of himself at all. He is thinking of those that are yet to come according to what God has promised him – descendants as numerous as sand on the seashore and stars in the sky. The tree is for them. He is devoting his resources to care and provide for all of those that will come from him, not just his genetic line, but his spiritual one as well. Abraham is putting down roots, in a literal and figurative sense, to tell us he’s in it for the long haul, not for what he can get from it right now.
Those of us today, on this side of the world, or anywhere in the world, are far from his tree, his time, and his location. But we all benefit from the example he lived out and the commitment he showed. He is not just a father to us all, but an example for us also.
I’m just like everyone else. I want what I want when I want it. I pray for me, for the things that will benefit me. Today, I’m going to go bury a treasure for the next generation. My prayers will be for those that I will never meet. At least, not on this side of things.
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.” (John 17:20)