Good evening dear Reader,
I am so happy you are here for the Sunday Series! Today has been busy with landscaping. I've been weeding, pruning, and ripping out old shrubs from my garden. I was originally going to post a different blog today, but as I set down my pruning shears to go and make dinner, I recalled one of my favorite posts I've ever written: Are You Willing to Be Pruned? I realized that I needed to share this with you today for whatever reason.
So, here we go! Straight from the annals of the blog and the depth of my heart. Enjoy!
It's not afternoon right now: it's actually Saturday night. I'm sitting on my old loveseat from college that I've souped up enough to withstand the scrutiny of an actual ADULT living room. I'm facing our Christmas tree which seems to be imploring me to release it back into nature through the sign language of wilted branches and falling needles.
I know, I know, we should have taken it down long ago, but you see, I have this belief that if you get a "REAL" tree, then you're obliged to allow it to decorate your house for at LEAST one month longer than a fake one: it did give it's life for the Christmas cause didn't it?
I think that is an overlooked theme of Christmas: Christ coming into the world ready and willing to be a human sacrifice for mankind. During Christmas, we celebrate sacrifice as well, with our trees being given up and dying in celebration of the holiday.
This is not a topic that I've seen come up very much in Christian women's circles lately, so I'm thinking it's the perfect one to address today.
Let's dive in.
I went on a trip to Israel for one month my junior year of college. I was feeling full of turmoil, even before the trip began, with a heart full of the realization that I needed to make changes in my life, I just had no idea where to begin.
During our month away, we travelled across the country visiting various locations and landmarks. At each one, the professor who was guiding us brought out her Bible and read a correlating story or verse that matched the location where we were at.
The first Friday of our trip, she brought us to an ACTUAL vineyard just outside of Jerusalem. It was tiered, kind of like the ones in Asia, where the hills are so immense and numerous, farmers often have no choice but to cut into the hill and create a quasi stacked field to use for agricultural endeavors.
It was gorgeous.
That morning, in that stunning vineyard, despite ALL of the bountiful "vine & grapes" motifs and stories rampant though out the entire Bible, our professor chose this very specific verse to read out:
"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 15:1-2)
God prunes you, cutting and chopping away at the dead parts of your life and heart. But we must allow him to. That morning in Israel, I faced my Father in Heaven and said, "I invite you to prune my life."
That one sentence has brought more tumultuous change, transformation, blessing, and suffering than I ever thought possible, but it all stemmed from this: a heart of obedient sacrifice.
And this is what I want to discuss today: obedient sacrifice.
SACRIFICE BY OBEDIENCE
Think of the people in the Bible: the ones who's stories we build our lives upon. You may have visions of great wars, miracles, and incredible prophesies. But amongst this greatness and splendor, there is equal parts misery and suffering.
I think of Ruth, widowed and forced into poverty, and of Paul, sitting in prison for years. Of Peter, crucified upside down, and of course, I think of Joseph, condemned by his own family and hated until very late in life. Some of these stories end in marriage, familial reconciliation, and wealth beyond measure. But others, MANY others, end in crucifixion, death, and torture.
When God uses people for immense change, he often allows them to undergo great suffering as they carry out his will. This is a general theme in Scripture: when God writes your story, when he truly uses you as a CATALYST in life, you will suffer.
Following Jesus does not come without a cost. We often preach encouragement, love, and inspiration from our pulpits and Christian Instagram accounts, while we also neglect the very reality that is the sacrifice of living a Christian life.
I think of the rich young man who rushed to Jesus, saying that he would do anything to follow Him. However when challenged by Jesus to give all he had to the poor, the young man could not do it and went away to return to his riches in shame.
I used to be on the young rich man's side when I read this Bible story. I thought "Come on Jesus, the guy has to feed himself somehow: ALL he had to the poor?? Isn't that a little extreme?"
But now I see the truth behind Jesus's request: he wasn't saying "Go give all you have so that you will starve and become a beggar." No. Jesus was testing the young man much like God tested Abraham on the mountain by asking him to sacrifice his only son Isaac.
God asked Abraham to not only give up what was most precious to him, but to kill his son himself: it was the ultimate sacrificial act of obedience. With a willing heart, Abraham raised his hand to strike down and sacrifice the most precious piece of his life in OBEDIENCE to God, and he was rewarded for it.
Of course we all know that God spared Isaac his life and Abraham the pain of killing his own child: he proved that he was willing to sacrifice anything for God. But unlike Abraham, the rich young man proved that he was unwilling to sacrifice everything, choosing to live an ordinary life over an extraordinary life of obedience.
I would also like to say that God doesn't only look for a "willingness" to sacrifice everything: I cannot promise that when you raise your hand to sacrifice the "Isaac" in your life that God will stop you. Sometimes he requires REAL sacrifice, not just the intent.
Either way, obedience is the key to a powerful Christian life in service to God. Obedience is what drives you to take up your cross and follow Jesus. All God requires of us is an obedient heart: one willing to give up ALL of us, even the things most precious to us, in service to him.
Are you willing to be pruned if that means the thing most precious to you will be cut out? Are you willing to undergo suffering, shaping, and painful sacrifice in obedience to God? Honestly, most days I don't feel like I am, but yet I obey.
WE WILL SUFFER
Carrying out God's grand design in life may be painful. In fact, if you are truly a catalyst for great work or change, I can guarantee you that there will be pain. Although we are promised a pearly white Heavenly eternity, on earth, we are not to be so inclined. Earth is a dark place, where sin grows deep and temptations are all around.
Living a Christian life often doesn't result in the fame, success, and fortune that we see following around Rachel Hollis, Joel Osteen, or even Lauren Daigle. Following Christ is an act of obedience that often leaves us in prison, bereft of earthly status symbols, and empty in the eyes of the world.
God's own son suffered and died during his time on earth: well before the ripe age of 80 that most modern Westerners aim to reach. And following in His path, we too are guaranteed to suffer, guaranteed to face persecution, and guaranteed to fail in the eyes of the world.
When and if you choose to allow God to prune your life and sacrifice what is dear to you, you will be living out the act of DENYING yourself.
I feel that in my own life, it hasn't been until very recently that I've explored the concept of denying myself. I find this shameful, yes, but I also believe that it speaks to the larger problem that I, and you, and everyone living in Western society faces: we are rarely asked to deny ourselves ANYTHING.
Instead, we run fast in the pursuit of temporary pleasures: fashion, trendy restaurants, Instagram Followers, travel, education, money, good-looking friends, and the "perfect" romantic partner.
The problem isn't the clothes, the pictures, the boyfriends, or the money. No. The problem is our dependence and attachment on these things for a sense of value in ourselves but also for a sense of value in the meaning of life.
The indulgence in all we could ever hope for or imagine is a curse in the disguise of a blessing. For when we get so wrapped up in the pleasures, pursuits, and successes of this world, it is easy to feel accomplished and good about ourselves.
Are you living for yourself, or are you allowing God to prune you?
The Bible does not give out aspirational advice to "wash your face, follow your dreams, do the squats, slay everyday, or be a queen."
No. You want to know how Jesus pumped up the crowds? He literally stood on top of a mountain and said,
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
When you are poor, when you are weak, when you are nothing but pure in heart: YOU ARE BLESSED.
Jesus was blessed and he died on a cross. Paul was blessed and he was beheaded. Peter was blessed and he was crucified upside down.
How little we have to sacrifice for God in comparison to those first apostles. Still I sometimes struggle with the difficulty of getting up on a Sunday morning, the strain of reading my Bible every day, or the pressure of helping a friend.
However I have learned that when I am unwilling to deny myself, God cannot use me. When you can only give up small things for Christ, Christ will only use you for small things.
I promise you that God's plan for your life is good, even when you allow him to use you 100%. I can guarantee you that you will not end up crucified upside down, and probably won't end up in prison. Unless you decide to become a missionary to North Korea.
God has promised to use each of us according to his or her gifts, and he also PROMISES to give us the desires of our heart, according to HIS WILL.
If you end your day with nothing accomplished but a fervent time of prayer to your Lord and time in his word, loving those around you, and contributing to society, then you have lived a God centered day.
The concept of Mary and Martha still stands true: many of us run around like Martha, in dedication to many things good AND bad. We run around chasing our careers, the perfect relationship, or "OUR" dreams, yet we wonder why we feel empty.
The interests and will of God lay in the heart of Mary: in the heart of the one who is sitting at his feet listening to him and receiving his wisdom, love, and forgiveness, and most of all, allowing herself to be PRUNED.
God does understand that things must be accomplished here on earth and dreams must be captured, but I can promise you that none of those dreams will ever be as fulfilling, satisfying, or everlasting as sitting at the feet of Jesus, getting to know him.