We have this tree in our back garden that has a tendency to take over. It has an unnerving ability to grow rather large rather quickly, a fact that brings serious concern to my neighbour who feels that left unchecked, the monster tree will tip my oil tank into her garden.
However unlikely that event may be, instead of taking the risk – and not being much of a botanist – I took some advice. As it turns out, I am to frequently, without mercy, cut it right back until it resembles a large stick poking out of the ground. I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now and the oil tank, thank God, remains firmly in place.
My wife and I have lead a church in Northern Ireland. It’s been a blast, getting a front row seat seeing God at work in people’s lives. But the real fun has not been where I expected it to be.
I had confidence, I had calling, I had training. I had a measure of experience, I was ready – but – I was not ready for the man with religious delusions and an outstanding warrant who believed God told him to sleep in our car park. I wasn’t ready to take the funeral of a young man I didn’t know, who died in mysterious circumstances. I certainly hadn’t considered that I would be writing a letter to a judge to plead leniency for a member of our congregation who had committed a serious crime. I wasn’t ready for some key people in the church leave without saying a proper goodbye.
In times like these you have to say goodbye to a self-reliance you didn’t even know was there. The best work God has been doing over these last few years hasn’t actually been in other people at all, it’s been in me. I’ve seen in a new way that maturing as a follower of Christ is as much about what God lops off your life as it is what He puts in.
Jesus, always several steps ahead, warned/promised his followers about this process of pruning, saying that if we want to be fruitful disciples we must also be cut right back to nothing. When I read about discipleship these days I read of being a ‘Christ-follower’ and ‘apprenticeship’ and other such ways of dressing up what is really a quite uncomfortable concept. in a way, it’s actually a simple concept.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it; “When Christ calls a man, he bids him, come and die”.
Back to our tree. Every trimming session seems to result in it growing back at an even more ferocious pace than before. Praise God this has been my experience in discipleship. Each period of trial has led to increased fruitfulness. Slowly I am learning to embrace God’s secateurs as they come to snip off all those extra bits I don’t need any more. Now every time I look at our tree I think of God’s gracious hand snip, snip, snipping away.
So let me encourage you not to resist the pruning work of God in your life. It is His mercy to you.
As John Newton wrote in one of his classic hymns:
Since all that I meet shall work for my good,
The bitter is sweet, the medicine, food;
Though painful at present, ‘twill cease before long,
And then, O! how pleasant, the conqueror’s song!