A couple weeks ago, a speaker in one of my church groups asked, “Are you using major disruptions in your life to grow or to shrink?”
This question really hit me. As my regular readers know, I’ve had some major disruptions in my life over the past year. They’ve been prompting lots of personal growth, but they also come with the temptation to hide from that growth. There are days when the last thing I want to do is keep going. I want to curl up small in a nest of fluffy blankets and let the whole world go by without noticing me.
One of the main reasons God lets us go through trials is to give us opportunities for growth. In scripture, this is often refereed to as a testing or refining process designed to make us more like God. He doesn’t expect us to fully become like Him in this life. But He does want us to keep growing toward that goal, not shrinking away.
When I say we shouldn’t be “shrinking” I don’t mean that we have to be big, excessively confident, loud, or something of that sort. God can use people like that, sure, but He also uses the quiet, small, “little people.” He works equally well with meek Moses and brash Peter.
God likes working with people who can recognize they’re not complete yet. Everyone must be brought to a point of humility — a place where we know how much we need God — before we can start growing.
Yahweh says, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build to me? Where will I rest? For my hand has made all these things, and so all these things came to be,” says Yahweh: “but to this man will I look, even to he who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word.” (Is. 66:1-2, WEB)
The Lord will pay attention to (H5027, naba, “look”) to the people who are humble, needy, and afflicted (H6041, aniy, “poor”), have a stricken, maimed heart (H5223, nakeh, “contrite”), and who have fearful reverence for His word (H2730, chared, “trembles”). This is where we start growing.
Transplanted by God
Scripture frequently uses farming and plant-related imagery to illustrate what God is doing in us and what He wants from us. Plants are either growing and changing or they’re dead. They might go dormant for a little while, but even then they’re still active in the sense that they’re waiting for the next period of growth. We need to be like that as well.
Blessed is the man who doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand on the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in Yahweh’s law. On his law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree planted by the streams of water, that produces its fruit in its season, whose leaf also does not wither. Whatever he does shall prosper. (Ps. 1:1-3, WEB)
The Hebrew word for “planted” is shathal (H8362), which also means “transplanted.” This isn’t a tree just growing by itself. It was put there deliberately, showing that God places us in the sort of situations where we can grow into blessed and happy people.
The “blessed and happy” part doesn’t come easily, though. Isaiah talks about the Lord preaching, healing, liberating, and comforting His people so “that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of Yahweh” (Is. 61:1-3, WEB). He has to transplant us out of the choking, stiffing places we’re in and get our roots established in Him. Then we can really start growing.
Pruning The Church
When you’re planted by the Lord He’s going to take care of you, shaping your growth as a careful farmer or gardener does with their favorite plants.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch that does not bear fruit in me, he removes it, and every branch that bears fruit, he prunes it in order that it may bear more fruit. (John 17:1-2, LEB)
Pruning shapes a plant and encourages healthy new growth. It also removes the weak, diseased, and “crossing” branches (the ones rubbing against and damaging their neighbors). The Father does the same sort of thing with the church that’s rooted in His Son. The people who are growing receive care and encouragement to keep growing even if they’re only producing a little fruit right now. But the people who refuse to remain in Christ aren’t good for anything. They dry up, don’t fruit, and must be cut out (John 15:3-8).
Active, Fruitful Faith
Paul uses an olive tree to describe how non-Israelites can become part of God’s chosen people. Picture Biblical Israel as an olive tree transplanted, cultivated, and pruned by God with Him as the root. Under the New Covenant, anyone can be “grafted in” to this tree (Rom. 11:16-18).
You will say then, “Branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.” True; by their unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by your faith. Don’t be conceited, but fear; for if God didn’t spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. See then the goodness and severity of God. Toward those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in his goodness; otherwise you also will be cut off. They also, if they don’t continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. (Rom. 11:19-23, WEB)
God wants active, fruitful faith in those He has made part of “the planting of the Lord.” We need to continue growing in His goodness. He’ll give us the soil, water, food, and care we need to become what we’re meant to be so long as we don’t shrink away from Him.
*featured image credit: Hans on Pixabay