My trip to South Africa raised a lot of questions in my mind. Among a large group of volunteers, it was still somewhat exciting—and daunting—that at the end of the week, 500 people would transition from their inadequate shacks into homes we built. Now I had done a little painting here and there; had climbed a ladder; and even used an electrical saw for an art installation class in undergrad. But amongst the carpenters, electricians, and other skilled laborers, I wondered for a sec what my specific task would be.
My team’s co-foreman, Mary, came to me and asked me what I wanted to do. True to my stated qualifications, I said “Oh, I can do painting.” Turned out, we had seven houses that needed to be painted—inside and out! But before we could paint, there was a lot of prep work that needed to be done. My sexy assignment: sand all the wood in each house—then top the wood off with two layers of varnish.
I gained a whole new respect for painters! Going up and down ladders, scraping for unknown amounts of time, mixing different liquids for the right consistency, and so on—it really was not as luxurious as Extreme Makeover-Home Edition makes it appear on TV. And as I continued to sand, I thought about the families that were going to receive the new house. I didn’t want there to even be a chance of someone getting a splinter from any of my doors or windows. And as I watched “hairy” wood become smooth, I remember laughing to myself saying “I’d hate to be this piece of wood. This must hurt!” But the end result was always a presentable finished product.
It didn’t take long for me to make the spiritual leap to how similar sanding wood must be to how Jesus refines us as Believers. In John 15:1-3, Jesus states: “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.” The Greek translation of “prune” is “clean,” and I remember years back hearing a sermon on how rigorous the pruning process is. Look at how Wikipedia describes this gardening process:
Pruning is a horticultural practice involving the selective removal of parts of a plant, such as branches, buds, or roots. Reasons to prune plants include deadwood removal, shaping (by controlling or directing growth), improving or maintaining health, reducing risk from falling branches, preparing nursery specimens for transplanting, and both harvesting and increasing the yield or quality of flowers and fruits. The practice entails targeted removal of diseased, damaged, dead, non-productive, structurally unsound, or otherwise unwanted tissue from crop and landscape plants.
The fact that I sanded the door did not change what it was: the door was still a door. It technically could still function, but without removing the rough parts, it could have also caused harm to a person, harbored unwanted insects, and created a bad appearance. The same is true with us as Christians. There are benefits that come from just having a relationship with God–even without any major grooming. But, without a cleanup, we could harm ourselves, distract others, and ultimately present ourselves as shabby Ambassadors for the Kingdom. Accepting Jesus as our Savior guarantees salvation—yes. But that merely connects us to the vine. In order to stay on the vine, we must expect and endure periods of God carefully and surgically removing the “diseased, damaged, dead, non-productive, structurally unsound, and unwanted tissue” from our lives, just like a Gardener would. This may mean the removal of painful memories; the plucking away of bad influences; or the chopping off of detrimental habits. Christians are not created to be dead weight—but to live and produce! God does not solely leave it up to us to figure out when we need a shape-up, a tune-up or a pick-up—and thank God for that! Without divine intervention, some would believe that their walk needs no adjusting, completely oblivious to how ineffective they really are.
But even if our walk is great, God still needs to remove even the weights we don’t think about—the weight of ministry; the weight of serving; the weight of pouring. Without being cleaned periodically, even these spiritual tasks can take their toll on our productivity. Pruning, therefore, is not a beating, but a blessing. It is God’s way of showing us that we are, indeed, still connected to Him. It should not come as a shock that “pruning” may take on the form of “persecution.” The Bible says that we would be persecuted for following righteousness (2 Timothy 3:12). But the blessing is that persecution is under God’s control—He knows the outcome of our trials and tribulations! And because all things work together for our good, the sandpaper will not kill you, but make you smoother!
Yes—pruning is painful. But as we increase in our maturity, we ought to welcome the periods of sanding, pruning and rubble removal in our lives.
Today is World Aids Day. Please take a moment and say a prayer for all those suffering and living with HIV/AIDS, for all the children who have lost parents due to the disease, and that God will work with the minds of the scientists and researchers to find a cure.
~aiming to be smoother