Max Lucado wrote a riddle in a chapter on “growth” in a book I love (Tell Me the Secrets) to provoke a group of children who were dealing with challenges in their lives. His riddle was this:
“You’re glad I came when I’m gone, but you wish I’d leave when I’m there. It hurts when I help. I stretch when I strengthen. Who am I?”
It can be so easy to talk about wanting to grow when we are not in a season of growth. I wonder if we pause to think much about what will produce growth when we ask the Lord to help us grow in Him. If you take a trip to the vineyard of a master vintner, you will hear how crucial pruning is to produce the very best grapes that are the very sweetest and healthiest. What appear to be healthy leaves and vines must be cut away along with parts of the vines that are not so healthy.
The master vintner looks at every vine and every cluster of grapes many times over to discern what pruning must take place to produce just the right fruit. He is concerned about every aspect of the vineyard from the soil and root systems of the vines to the first buds that appear. His wisdom and knowledge guides him so that he doesn’t overstress the vines in his pruning or prune too little so the harvest is not as good. If he is very skilled, the vineyard he plants and tends will produce for many years to come.
God is like that with us. As John 15: 1-2 points out, Jesus is the vine and we are the branches:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
Over and over again throughout His Word, He makes clear we are to be fruitful. No vinedresser is more knowledgeable about what is needed than our Father in heaven. Despite that truth, it can be easy to struggle when He prunes an area of our lives so that can happen. My tendency (and perhaps yours) can be to want to pull away from the snipping of the pruning shears. Pruning often does not feel very good and I don’t get (you don’t get) to choose what gets pruned.
Not unlike the vintners of vineyards all over the world, He knows and sees what the vines and branches do not. He has the long view. He has the end in mind and the purpose of each branch and vine. I am called to yield and trust…often not easy.
His Word tells us over and over again and illustrates the principle that painful things today have a purpose tomorrow. No, I don’t believe He causes or chooses to cause all those painful things, but I am persuaded that He uses each one because He loves His children more than we can possibly imagine. And He really is working all things for our good and His glory.
A year ago we learned our youngest granddaughter (then 13) would need to face a serious and very painful surgery for scoliosis. The adults in her life cringed as we heard the surgeon explain what would be done and the pain she would endure. We watched as she listened and openly shared her belief God would be with her and all would be well. Her child-like faith was absolute and provoking even though we knew she had no frame of reference for what was ahead.
It soon became clear the surgeon had not overblown what she would endure. Her pain was extreme and we heard her on more than one occasion cry out to God and ask Him to prove Himself faithful. We heard her repeat promises from Genesis to Revelation that she had stood on. She reminded Him of her reliance on Him and challenged Him to be there. He was not knocked off His throne by her cries and reminders and on one occasion a rainbow appeared outside her window as a symbol of His faithfulness even though the pain did not immediately disappear.
Our granddaughter’s faith and trust were being tested (pruned) and as we watched her walk through those weeks and then work to regain her mobility and flexibility, her courage was evident and so was her warrior spirit.
Over this past year we have seen the evidences of the pruning in the growth it has produced in her life. We have seen her faith mature.
This weekend I watched as she stepped into the baptismal waters, this youngest granddaughter of ours, who at fourteen has already provoked all of us who have observed her life and faith-walk to consider our own. I listened to her testimony and my heart filled with gratitude for so many answered prayers. The Master has so much in store for her yet, but I am confident He has begun a good work in her.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 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 1:2-4 NIV