This past summer was the first year for strawberries from our very own strawberry patch! Last year I pampered the new crowns with diligent weeding, manure tea application and water. I trained the vines to stay in their proper row and placed hay between each strip for weed control and easier picking. I was so excited when they began to produce blossoms, but…as directed, I painstakingly plucked each one of them! I’ve read that this makes for stronger plants and better production. While, at the time, I would have much rather allowed them to develop into fruit, it was truly worth the wait. Before the season was over this
year, I picked more than eleven gallons of berries from only thirty strawberry plants!
Once they were done producing, we mowed the strawberry plants to just above the crowns. Oh my goodness! My flourishing plants were now leafless, ugly stubs! It looked like they’d never bear fruit again! I know it sounds disastrous, but it is my understanding that this stimulates growth and produces hardier plants for next year’s crop. I went out yesterday to make sure that they were weed free and to protect them with more hay for the coming frigid weather. As I had learned, amazingly the foliage is already full and very healthy looking!
As I reflect upon the severe treatment which these strawberry plants endured in order to produce such a “bumper crop” and vibrant looking plants for next year,
I’m reminded of how Father works in the lives of His children, “He cuts off every branch in me that does not bear fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful”
We tend to think that when the Master Gardener prunes, He only cuts off the sinful “deadwood” in our lives. However, according to John 15:12, He also prunes that which is full of life! I’m reminded of times in my life when it was not obvious sin that Father was dealing with, but He was trimming around my prayer and study life and cutting into my ministry to others. Although I was producing fruit, there were still imperfections which needed purification even in those areas. The pruning which Jesus spoke of in John 15 has to do with trimming away weaknesses in order that we might be as fruitful as He desires. While our punishment was completed at the cross, we can rightly consider pruning as discipline from our Father. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
How can we expect pruning to manifest in our lives? The Master Gardener uses physical, emotional, mental and spiritual trials in order to promote fruitfulness. These trials are not only absolutely essential for our spiritual growth, but “This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8). While God chose us for eternal life, there is far more to being a Christian than receiving a ticket into heaven. “I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last...” (John 15:16) and love is the lasting fruit (John15:17)!
When it feels as though every beautiful blossom has been plucked from your life and every life-bearing leaf has been mowed down, “consider it pure joy, my brother… because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James: 1:2-3). While it may feel as though you will never again produce anything worthwhile, remember this, “trials have come so that your faith…may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus is revealed” (1 Peter 1:7). Through these trials you will learn to love like you’ve never loved before!
Sometimes it is disheartening because the older I get, the more sin-filled imperfections I see in myself and with diminishing energy, the pruning seems more wearisome. Yet, I’m assured that the righteous, “will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock…” (Ps 92:14-15).
How should I respond then to the precious pruning from my Father’s hand?
I shall consider it pure joy!
Suffering Is Not A Stepping-Stone
Several time over the past years I’ve had people say that they detect lots of pain in our congregation. With the best of intentions they say that they also sense that this pain will pass and the church will move into its destiny of a great and wonderful future. I used to cling to those kinds of promises because the pain we were experiencing as a congregation is so intense. Like them, I considered the suffering a stepping-stone to a greater and easier life and ministry.
After years and years of this kind of delusional thinking, I’ve come to the conclusion that pain and suffering are a fact of life. They are not things to be avoided, but recognized and understood. We must make peace with this reality. In biblical language, we so desire to wear the crown without the cross. True life actually bears the imprint of the cross. The cross permeates all of life. And the crown is thorny.
Even yesterday, I encouraged the community to begin to discern that meaningful life and true ministry is already happening in the midst of their suffering, that our community is being true and doing the work in the midst of the trials and tribulations. We must rid our minds of the universally pervasive illusion that once the problems and obstacles are past, then we’ll move into our glory. Not so. Our glory is in the cross, not after it.
Yes, their is pain and suffering. We don’t deny it. And we don’t deny it because we believe that it is through our obvious weakness that the truest life and work is being accomplished. To some, this is the aroma of death. To others, to those who can discern, it is the aroma of life.
This painting is one I did years ago and is called “The Narrow Way”. - David Hayward