Over the past few weeks I have been recording the audio version of In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process for Fruitfulness, and then this weekend it was time to prune the four grapevines I have in my back yard. And it just so happens that I’ve been undergoing a bit of pruning in my spiritual life as well. So, I have been freshly reminded of how much I love those stories from the vineyard, and how much I appreciate the Father’s engagement in helping us find our fulfillment in him so that his fruitfulness can take hold in a transformed heart.
Except for some snowy scenes at Christmas time, winter seems to be the most unpopular season. Spiritually, however, I’ve come to appreciate it deeply. At no other time does the farmer have so much influence on his vine’s fruitfulness. In the slowing cold of winter, the Master can cut off all the extraneous branches to focus our lives on the few things he wants us to do well, rather than being driven by the demands of our circumstances.
Having read these passages recently, I wanted to share them again with you from In Season:
The slowed days of winter fly in the face of our frenetic pace of life. This is the gardener leading his vineyards to rest in the same way the shepherd takes his sheep to green pastures and quiet waters. There they lie down to rest. The waters that nurse them are quiet, not raging. If we learned this well enough, perhaps the expression “to be busy for God” would be an oxymoron. It is the world that invites us to busyness. Take it from one who used to find most of his identity in a crammed schedule, proving by activity his worth to God. It is a fool’s trap that has made busyness a coveted merit badge in the kingdom of God.
God doesn’t want our busyness; he wants our trust. Having our trust, he knows we will respond to him and his ways as life unfolds before us.
When we are drawn away from our busyness then we’re free to submit to God’s reshaping of how we live our days, more focused on him and less manipulated by the illusions around us:
Pruning is God’s invitation to lay down those things that no longer need to take up our time and energy and move on to new things that will inspire us and help others. Through it, God resets our focus so that we can concentrate on what he wants us to do. Better to do one thing fruitfully than a lot of things that only turn out to be empty foliage.
I know people like that. In fact, I’ve been like that myself. Externally I looked productive, busily rushing from one meeting to another or jumping from one project to the next. Leaves everywhere! How intoxicating busyness can be. But I couldn’t find the fruit. My spiritual life was so diluted by my myriad of activities that none of them were bearing anything more than paltry, unripened fruit.
Busyness is not the goal of a conscientious believer; fruitfulness is. Not every request that comes my way is God’s will for me to accept. Good opportunities are not necessarily godly ones. Expectations pushed on us by others are not the directions Jesus invites us to follow.
Paul wrote to Titus that, “The grace of God teaches us to say no.” That means we can say no to the worldly passions that destroy us and no to the opportunities that overwhelm us.
Notice that it’s not fear that teaches us to say no, but grace. Because we can trust God and know that he will lead us into the fullness of joy, we are free to say no even to the things that we desire, whether good or bad.
Jesus said no to the enemy’s temptations, knowing that God’s way was better. He didn’t rush to Lazarus’ side when he first heard he was sick. He stayed two days longer to finish what he was doing before he joined the friends he deeply loved. Given Paul’s explanations in his epistles, he didn’t rush to churches that desired him to come either. He followed God’s agenda instead.
Recognizing that we are branches on his vine will free us to focus on the few things that God has really called us to do. That’s the only way to be fruitful. Draw near to God and let him show you what his plans are. His grace will teach you to say no to those that aren’t.
We hope to have the audio out in a month or so. We’ll let you know here…