“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.” (John 1: 1-4)
Sometimes I find myself thinking that as long as you believe in God, you won’t have to suffer. Yet that’s not the story the Bible presents. The people closest to God are often the people who suffer the most for their faith. Despite knowing this, it never really occurred to me that God might intentionally bring challenges into my life. That he might be an “active” gardener.
I suppose it was just wishful thinking.
We view gardeners as someone who helps plants become stronger, more beautiful, and healthier. But do you really think the plant feels that way when it’s getting cut apart? Do you think the plant believes in the good intentions of the gardener? Makes you have second thoughts about cutting your grass, doesn’t it?
I believe we’re like that plant. The minute we start feeling “pruned” we start wondering why things are so miserable. “Does God really want me to be suffering?” we ask. “Does my life need to be like this? Do I need to go through all this pain?”
Sometimes the answer is “yes” we must suffer. Not because God wants us to be in pain. But because there is no other way to get to our destination. There is no other way to become stronger and healthier. There is no other way to move out of our pride, our complacency, or our self-centeredness.
In order to prune a plant, a gardener must “hurt” the plant by pulling off dead leaves or rotting branches. Even in medicine we do this. A doctor will amputate a severely injured limb. This isn’t because they want you to suffer, it’s because the only way you will survive is to lose a limb.
I believe God is sometimes that doctor. Not all the time. Just sometimes. I think a lot of our suffering is our own fault. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself when the last time you did something you knew was wrong. How did that turn out for you? I’m betting you regret it. But I suppose that’s all for another conversation.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not easy when God starts pruning. When Israel left Egypt they had an 11 day hike to the Promise Land. It took them 40 years. Now it’s possible that Moses just didn’t stop to ask for directions. But it’s more likely that God chose to take Israel on a route because they needed to be pruned. In fact, that’s exactly what God says – “If they (Israel) face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”
God was allowing Israel to suffer so they would be prepared to handle the challenges ahead of them. He was making sure their faith was strong enough to overcome the challenges they would face. Was it fun? Not at all. Was it necessary? Absolutely.
My natural reaction is to run from pain. I don’t like being uncomfortable. So I certainly don’t like it when God is bringing obstacles into my life. But I’m struck by the fact that I need to embrace these challenges. How different would Israel’s journey have been if they had recognized what God was doing? They never would have been tempted to build a golden calf, or complain for 40 years. (And you think it’s bad with a kid sitting in the back seat saying “are we there yet?” Imagine a 40 year car trip!)
Instead of running around looking for an exit strategy, I need to calm myself down and ask, “God what should I be learning?” If I must suffer, then I want my suffering to be caused by my faith. I want it to be brought about by a loving God who’s desire is to help me, not hurt me.
I am willing to sacrifice if it means knowing God better.
As spring approaches and the world starts turning green again, consider the hardship the plants go through each winter. I challenge you to think about your own suffering as well – each time you see a budding bush or a blooming flower, ask God what needs to be pruned from your life to help you to bear more fruit.