The Christian faith is one where pain is a key component. And while most human beings find a natural aversion to pain, nowhere is this truer than in Western, and especially North American culture. For us, not just pain, but any semblance of discomfort, is deemed unacceptable. Our abundance and modernity have allowed for unprecedented comfort and convenience. Believe I’m as guilty/ delighted as anyone. With online grocery shopping and delivery service, my life has never been so easy, or convenient. I do 90% of my shopping from my laptop in my pj’s while sipping my morning coffee,and schedule the delivery for the day and time that most suits me. Convenient and predictable - yes please, thank you!
The other side of this predictable convenient existence though, is that it has harmed our ability to weather and welcome life unscheduled and unpredictable. We see it in our attitude when a page takes longer than 3 seconds to load on our browser, or when what we want and expect to find at the store, is not available. If these instances catch us on a particularly bad day, our reaction can put a damper on the hours left with our poor families, colleagues, or friends.
We don’t like being inconvenienced. But we especially strongly dislike the notion that we will go through hardship, and so we freeze upon the possibility that something will push us outside of the area where we excel, where the roads and shortcuts are familiar to us, and where we feel we have control.
I personally sit in the tension of the self I’m most familiar with, and the one I’m informed about in the Bible. Said tension is in essence what I write about in this blog. Hence its tagline “in the intersection of between everyday life and eternal perspective.”
That wrestling between the part of us that is asked to pick a heavy piece of wood and follow Someone; when all I want to do is sit irritated that no one is acting on my expert knowledge of how things are and ought to be, and everyone’s failure to follow suit.
What the Bible informs
Let's talk agriculture for a moment. The process of cultivating, to be more specific. First, the soil needs breaking. Being broken is what makes it ready for planting. Once seeds are placed, tending must follow. And then, a prolonged pause happens waiting for the harvest. During that prolonged pause where waiting seems to be the only thing taking up calendar days (instead of satisfying to-do’s we get to mark of) there actually is a lot of activity underneath all that dirt. It is during this last stage where growth takes place.
He prunes so that we can bear fruit. The first time I heard this passage preached and unpacked I did not know the word pruning. It was in the early 90’s during my first year of university. Thinking it was because English was my second language, I looked it up in Spanish only to realize I didn’t know it either. So, the issue was not language, but that I wasn’t familiar with plants at all.
More than 20 years later, doing my own inductive study of John’s gospel, I appreciated the details in John’s account. I took notice of the language and the intention. The cultural sensitivity revealed in the choice of analogy. Jesus often spoke in parables and used storytelling to illustrate important principles of the faith he came to live out for us.
He was speaking to an audience familiar with farming and agriculture. The people at that time derived their very livelihood from it. It was their day to day and means to make a living. Here he was, the Maker of everything using the very creation He had authored to paint a picture of how God parents us.
Pruned literally means to cut a part of a plant so that it will grow. The removal of a piece of its own composition will help the whole grow healthy. How interesting. I think of things that feel so close to me, so familiar and intimate, that its removal seems unbearable. Our reaction to the mere possibility ranges from irritation when something doesn’t go our way; to utter despair when we feel out of our depth and the deep sense of injustice to have been placed in a predicament without our doing.
God’s economy is as wide as it is generous. So He is constantly pruning out of us the self that wants to stay comfy and the same always. Because that self has no interest in Him and will not naturally draw near to Him. That self is often found holding what we think is the reins of our lives, when in reality it is our spiritual demise we are holding on to. And so committed is God to our sanctification that both the mundane traffic jam-like irritations, and the deep crisis will He use to prune the parts of us that impede our soil to be broken and good seed to take root in our lives. Because the end goal is not to makes us comfy, but to make us like His Son.
What are you wrestling with deep in your soul right now? Ask in your heart; Am I resisting God’s pruning? Because, remember, His purpose in removing something from our being is in order to help us grow and be whole.
[This is part of the “first-draft” series. If you want to know what it is and why I’m doing it you can read about it here.]