Sunday, September 7, 2014

Hardest Spiritual Lesson #2: Pruning

2.  Being Pruned So That We Can Bring God Glory
            This isn’t all that much different from #1.  But throughout our lives, we will find ourselves being pruned over and over again as God continues to weed out anything that doesn’t bring Him glory and that isn’t for our best.  And this isn’t always easy.  We like things to be our way.  We like holding onto certain ungodly or selfish things.  We want certain freedoms and pleasures.  But in order to grow in righteousness as Christians, to reach wholeness, and to get to the point where everything is about God’s glory, we need to be pruned . . .
            - of selfish motives and goals
            - of envy and bitterness
            - of unreasonable expectations of ourselves, other people, and the Lord
            - of “idols of the heart” 
            - of the walls that keep God from fully entering our hearts and minds and lives
            - of pride and self-inflating behaviors and attitudes
            - of our phony, polished, “I’m such a great Christian” facade so that we can reach humility and true brokenness before the Lord
            - of “good enough” so that we can strive for “best”
            - of habits and pursuits and behaviors that are morally-questionable or out-right ungodly
            - of misconceptions that we have about faith, ourselves, life, and God
            - of lazy spiritual disciplines and the comfortable-ness that keeps us parked on the side of the road in our spiritual growth
            - of our pursuit for fulfillment in anything outside of God
            - of our “need” for earthly success, approval, and appreciation so that we can get to the point where we are content with knowing that God alone sees and cares and values us and will reward us in the end
            - of so many more things not listed here.
            Sometimes pruning comes through gentle guidance and insight.  Sometimes it comes through the times when God has to discipline us.  Sometimes it comes when times are sweet and when we desire growth.  Sometimes it comes through the struggles and when we are fighting, kicking, and digging in our heels the whole way.  Sometimes we never even see it coming.  And sometimes He has to prune off things simply because it’s not the right timing.  But there is always a reason for every cut God makes.
            A couple years ago, I thought it might be time to find a “ministry” at church, maybe a one-on-one discipleship thing or maybe helping again with counseling.  I attended the informational “discipleship” meeting and contacted one of the pastors about the counseling.  As it turned out - although both ministries expressed interest in the help (one of them even saying they would call me soon about getting started) - neither one of them really pursued it again.
            At first, I was a little perplexed.  Did they want the help or not?  Should I pursue them or not?  However, I have learned that God sometimes closes these perfectly good doors for reasons we don’t know.  And so I decided to take it as a supernatural blockade, and I didn’t pursue.  I decided instead to focus again on the job that He has given me for the past many years: raising and homeschooling my kids.
            Looking back now, a couple years later, I can see the incredible, merciful wisdom of God in blocking those godly, yet not-the-right-season-for-me-yet doors.  Because it was during these past few years that I had to struggle deeply with my sense of failure as a homeschooling mom, to develop a workable plan for homeschooling through high school, to learn to be content with so many “no” answers and with deep loneliness, and to find my strength and peace and joy in Him when so many other things were stripped from me. 
            I barely had the energy and strength to get through those internal, spiritual struggles, those many months of depression.  What a mess I would have been had I also taken on the burden of having to be there for others in a ministering role.  God knew that I needed those years to seek His help and to let Him minister to me, that I needed to work on building my firm foundation in Him before I could be on any use to others, that my family needed to be my main “mission field” for now, and that I couldn’t handle more than my job at home.  And I thank Him now for closing those doors, for pruning off perfectly good opportunities so that I could focus on the job and the battle at hand, bringing Him as much glory as possible within this specific season of life.
            There are so many seasons of life.  And every season of life prunes us and grows us in different ways, bringing its own challenges and spiritual priorities, goals, and lessons.  And we need to fully, deliberately live within the season God places us in, letting Him prune off whatever doesn’t fit for the time being.  We need to focus on the tasks at hand, learn the lesson of the moment, let go of the things He takes away, grab onto the things He asks us to, say “no” when it’s required, accept His “no” in patient trust, wait on the Lord when necessary, and glorify Him wherever we are.    
            Being pruned – of things that don’t bring Him glory and that don’t fit with the season of life we are in - will happen all during our spiritual lives.  (And if you think you are doing “good enough” in your Christian life – that there is no area you need to grow in and nothing else God needs to prune off - ask Him to reveal to you the next step for you in your spiritual growth.  You might be surprised.) 
            Growing in our faith and maturing as a Christian is a life-long process, full of many painful lessons, challenges, and prunings.  But the end goal of all of this is to become more Christ-like, more whole, more healed, more humble, more firmly rooted in Him, to help us have more impact for God’s Kingdom, and to bring Him more glory.  Because everything that doesn’t bring Him glory and that isn’t about His Kingdom and His righteousness will burn up in the end.  He is more concerned with developing eternity than He is with the temporary.  Are we?        

            Psalm 4:4:  “. . . when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.” 

            Psalm 139:23-24:  “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

            Isaiah 29:13:  “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

            Hebrews 12:5-6:  “My Son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves . . .”

            1 Cor. 3:10, 13-15:  “But each one should be careful how he builds . . . his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.  It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”

            John 14:21:  “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” 

            Matthew 6:33:  “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”   

            John 15:5:  “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” 

            1 Cor. 10:31:  “ . . . whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”