When God Removes What's Good

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Gardeners prune back leaves every spring. Here's why God takes away what seems valuable in a season of 'pruning.'
Gardeners prune back leaves every spring. Here's why God takes away what seems valuable in a season of 'pruning.' (Charisma archives)

One of the delightful surprises our house offered us when we moved was an established rose bush and rosemary bush in the backyard. That first year we enjoyed their fruit—a vase full of bright yellow roses and readily available fresh herbs! But several years later, having been too busy to care for them, neither plant has produced anything worth celebrating.

Roses were replaced by thorny overgrowth and vibrant green rosemary by brown and brittle leaves. My backyard is not better from my indifference. In the world of gardening, pruning is caring.

When I consider the last decade of my life, I see a series of deaths:

  • Death of my pride through living in the shadow of my husband's giftedness.
  • Death of my fear of conflict through divorces in my family and among friends.
  • Death of my fear of confrontation through difficult friendships.
  • Death of my desires through multiple miscarriages.
  • Death of my fear of failure through situations where I could not win.
  • Death of my hope in myself through seeing my exposed sin in high-definition focus.

Each season of dying has felt just like that—dying. The choking out of something I have loved, desired and clung to for hope, peace and safety. The choking out of things in me, writhing, gasping for breath and praying, "Does it have to be this way? Can't I follow You and also keep this with me? Does it really need to die?"

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In God's kingdom, pruning is caring. Jesus is the true vine, His Father the vinedresser. Every branch in Jesus that bears fruit, the Father prunes that it may bear more fruit (John 15:1-2).

God's answer to my question is yes. Yes, it does need to die. It must be pruned. Without pruning, my life will become something even I don't want—an overgrown, thorny bush with no fruit to offer.

I don't beg God to be indifferent toward me. I don't ask Him to intervene only on my terms. But when that branch I love becomes the subject of His shears, I realize that's exactly what I wanted—His indifference and Kelly-approved intervention. But indifference is a form of hatred. Love, rather, proves itself in pain. Case in point: the cross. God-inflicted pain is like the surgeon's incision, wounding only to improve health.

How Are We Pruned?

What do the shears of the Vinedresser feel like? First, they feel exposing. Ungodliness in my heart that I've become an expert at ignoring is laid bare. A misplaced hope, a committed self-exaltation agenda flowing in the undercurrents of my heart, a consistent preference for my own comfort at the expense of those I say I love.

Secondly, they create a crossroads. No longer able to ignore my naked sinfulness, I have a choice to make. Let self-preservation kick in and grasp all the tighter to those thorny branches, or in terrifying faith cling to my true vine—the only good thing I have—and prepare for the death of letting go.

This choice is present in every pruning season: To what will I cling? Christ as my life or the candy-coated poison of my sinful longings? The answer is painful, yet always clear. Even when tempted to grab hold of the thorny overgrowth of my life, deep down, I know it's killing me.

Lastly, God's shears bring grief. The mourning of something lost. Never mind that the severed branch was harmful to my soul; I still grieve. The grief is often the loss of a lackadaisical way of life that this freshly exposed sin has destroyed. Now that I see, I must change. Either by hardening my heart or by repenting. Simply ignoring is no longer an option.

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