May 2010

May Devotional 

I’ve started a garden.  It’s spring, and it’s the time for planting in Tennessee, and I’ve started a vegetable garden.  Now, I can promise you that I don’t have a green thumb, but I do enjoy getting a black thumb from digging in dirt.  There’s something both amazing and satisfying about sticking these incredibly small things called seeds into regular old soil and watching tiny shoots come bursting through with the hope of a harvest ahead.  It’s a truly remarkable concept, and I’m so glad God thought of it.


We’re planting a slew of seeds this year – everything from basil and beans to corn and cucumbers.  And already – miraculously, after only a few days – my radishes are coming up.  Yahoo!   I love gardening.


The Bible has much to say about gardening.  In fact, in Genesis 1:11, God instructs the land to “produce vegetation – seed-bearing plants and trees that bear seeds, according to their various kinds.”  Ezekiel 17:5 reminds us to keep our seeds watered and put them in good soil when it says, “He took some of the seed of your land and put it in fertile soil. He planted it like a willow by abundant water.”  Isaiah 32:20 says, “How blessed you will be, sowing your seed by every stream,” and Zechariah 8:12 says:  The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew. I will give all these things as an inheritance to the remnant of this people.”


Jesus, too, spoke about vegetation, using it in parables and by way of illustration.  In Matthew, we read that Jesus said:-


"A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop--a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear."


Those who have ears hear that Jesus was speaking about the Word of God in our lives and how important it is to sink it in the good soil of our hearts and lives.  We’re to be careful to not let the “weeds” or temptations/distractions of this life choke it out or to not take the Word seriously and have it just make a surface impression.  Weeds are a funny thing.  Left unchecked they will take over the good vegetation, growing greedily where you don’t want them to be.  But if you daily pick them out, the garden remains pure.  Our hearts are like that – daily needing to be checked for wrong thoughts or motives and made pure through confession and forgiveness.  Sometimes I think I don’t need that, only to later be somewhat surprised by the weed of jealousy or dandelion of deceit that has been allowed to fester.  Better to do a daily inventory and clean out the weeds, than have them become a problem later.


Jesus also gives us the analogy of the vine when he said in John 15:

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”


This is a difficult passage in some respects because it identifies the process of pruning, a not-so-pleasant process that comes in many forms. I’m currently going through a season of pruning, where God has taken away some of the things I’ve relied upon to make sure I’m relying more upon him.  It has been painful to lose comforts and security and be forced to rethink the strength and maturity of my faith.  In the pruning process, God allows challenging circumstances to wean us from our own dependence, to make sure we “remain” in Him.  This passage says that even fruit-bearing limbs will be cut to produce more fruit.  That means even good and beneficial things in our lives may be stripped away for a time in order for a greater, more bountiful harvest to occur. 


Have you had that happen in your life?  Have you had a painful pruning experience?  Maybe you lost a job, faced a broken relationship, heard devastating news, or experienced a trial of health.  In each circumstance you may have felt that God had left you – but the truth of the matter is, he has never been closer!  He is pruning away the dead, the unnecessary, and yes – sometimes even the good – to make way for something better.  It’s just hard to see that something even richer might be coming when the pruning is taking place.


While growing up, I took dance lessons from a woman named Sherry Johnson.  Sherry was a kind, loving teacher who had a firm hand.  If your leg wasn’t straight enough (an important factor in ballet), she would give it a solid whack until your extended it further.  That pain was an important reminder to do the right thing, but it was administered with love.  And the truth of the matter was, that if Sherry didn’t think you were worth it, she wouldn’t pay as much attention.  If you got a loving whack from her, it was because she identified promise in you.


I always remember that lesson when God brings out his pruning shears.  No matter what the circumstance, it’s always painful.  But knowing God the way I do, I know it’s also loving.  He is allowing this season to make me better on the inside.  His pruning is going to bring about a conclusion that wouldn’t have occurred any other way.  And I know it’s in his plan, his timing, and with his love.


I would be lying if I said I still don’t struggle from time to time with the circumstance God uses when pruning.  No one enjoys pain or suffering.  But the writer of Hebrews said it best, in that: “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.”  And honestly, I know I don’t want to miss out on the benefits that come from his loving scissors.


Jesus’ life and ministry was cut short (in our eyes) – pruned in the height of his impact on humanity.  But God had something even better planned through that pruning.  Though Jesus asked that if possible his circumstance would be taken away, he relinquished his will to the Father’s will.  The ultimate pruning of his precious life was accomplished, but it led to the salvation of all mankind; any who would accept his free gift.


The next time you feel pain in this life, it may be that God is gardening.  He may be pulling out some weeds or conducting some necessary pruning.  And you can be 100% sure that he is with you, right in the midst of it, and that the outcome has a divine purpose.  It may not be easy to understand in the moment why it’s happening, but you can be sure it is being done with love.  So yield yourself to the wisdom and loving-kindness of the Father and let him do his important work.  You might just be surprised to see what grows from it.