I just have to give credit where credit’s due! Tim Keller’s sermon, The Vinedresser on John 15:1-2 is one that many have heard me quote. Keller’s sermon addresses the ministry God our Father has as the Master Gardener and how his “pruning” of us is essential for growth. Our Father examines us— the branches— looking for a few things. Are we abiding in Christ the true vine, drawing love and life from him, or from something else? Are we bearing supernatural fruit that gives testimony that we are vitally connected to Christ and his fragrant, fruitful life?
Two verses into this beautiful chapter of Scripture, Jesus (the one speaking in John 15), says something startling: the Father wounds, cuts, prunes fruitful, abiding branches! To punish? Shame? Sideline from the good life? NO! The Father cuts things away from our lives so that we may bear more fruit, not less!
Pain: When Loss Equals Gain
Keller says that the Father never cuts/prunes something out of life unless there is a loving purpose behind it. “The skillful eye knows that there are no random strokes of the [Father’s] pruning shears; nothing is cut off that wasn’t a gain to lose because it would be a loss to keep.” Let those words soak in. The Lord will take his pruning shears and cut things out of our lives, even leafy branches that are next to us, and clusters of tasty grapes we’ve grown fond of. God may take good things, remove not so great things, or outright cut off influences that are leading us to sin. The purpose in every situation is that we become more like Jesus through bearing more fruit as his life surges unhindered through us.
It is often the good things that distract us from what is best, wouldn’t you agree? A relationship, job, ministry opportunity, bank account, house, and so much more can be good gifts. Good gifts, however, can become more important to us than the Giver. Ever so subtly our focus shifts from Christ to this person, this thing, this feeling and before we know it, we are attempting to abide (or draw life from, find our meaning in) that gift. Our Father loves us so much that he will tenderly draw near with his pruning shears to remove it for a time or maybe permanently. He may rearrange our life so that this gift returns to its right place “under the feet” of Jesus (see Ephesians 1:22-23). When his purposes are mysterious to us, we can find refuge in who he is: a loving, purposeful Father…
There are times when I am driving my car, running simple errands or on my way to work, when I am struck by the landscape around me. The lush green hills set against the pure blue sky with puffs of clouds so thick, I wonder if I could reach out and grab one. Everything pressing on my mind vanishes and I feel a sense of wonder and amazement. Then I ask myself “Has that been there all long? How could I have missed something so amazing?” I’m especially surprised when it’s a route I often take.
This is true when it comes to reading God’s Word. It’s incredible what God can open our eyes to see in His Word at different times, especially in places that have become familiar. That’s the beauty of Scripture: Whether it be your first time reading it or the 20th time, you can still stumble across sweet treasures. Just like on my drives, the Lord is constantly setting our gaze on new things for us to see.
A New Treasure in John 13
A recent treasure for me has been reading Peter’s denial found in John 13:36-38. This story comes on the heels of Jesus serving the disciples by washing their feet, the same occasion where He announced to them that someone would shortly deny Him and informed them of His upcoming departure. When Peter heard that Jesus would soon leave them, he said, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” His response makes sense because they had experienced so much together and grown in their relationship. Jesus’ question in return carried a tone somewhat like “Really?” He said “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.”…
I witnessed a beautiful surrender one afternoon while waiting for the bus to come up the road. In the center of our front yard stands a large October Glory maple tree. This tree is the last to change colors every fall, but once the leaves do change color, the tree is the brightest and most beautiful fall tree on our street.
As I waited for the bus, I watched the beautiful surrender of one of those tiny orange leaves. The wind came and that little leaf could not hold on any longer. The wind carried the leaf off the branch and gently swirled the leaf to the ground. The leaf did what it was made to do—and the tree would continue to survive even after the surrendering of this leaf. The October Glory will be dormant for a season, but soon it would bear new blossoms and leaves in the spring.
Sometimes on this side of heaven, faithful people face seasons of beautiful surrenders. In the surrendering, God grows His people into maturity. My family faced a season such as this last year. I am a PCA pastor’s wife and a mother to four elementary-aged children. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of thirty-three and passed away when she was forty. I was thirty-five at the time and I knew I carried a gene mutation which increased my risk for breast cancer. My doctors and genetic counselors strongly advised me to have a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy.
This was an emotionally and physically painful—but beautiful surrender of my physical body. It brought me back to the woundedness of my past and tugged on the heart strings of my story. But in the surrender of my physical self, God was faithful to our family and as we only had Him to cling to—He grew all of us in our faith and trust in Him.
A Beautiful Surrender to an Eternal Perspective
This life is an entire journey of letting go. Just like the October Glory in my front yard, we are always shedding pieces of the old self as we grow into Christlikeness….