God the Gardener

As much as I have learned during my walk with Christ–as much wisdom as God has given me from when I have come through trials, I have found that God can always teach me more. This may sound obvious, but it is very true. God knows more than I do, and God will teach me and help me grow if I can remain CONNECTED with Him. To be taught and changed by God is a priceless gift. I know this because every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17). It is a neverending gift that God gives to those who remain in Him. You can’t get this gift if you don’t know Him. How can some guy I’ve never met in Australia expect me to get him a Christmas present? Random gifts to people you don’t know are ok sometimes (and maybe even much appreciated), but regular gift-giving would imply a close relationship. It is the same with God. God has given everyone access to the gift of salvation–life instead of death, freedom instead of self-imprisonment, confidence instead of uncertainty. This was a gift given even though we were separated from God, and didn’t know Him. Everyone can choose to open this gift or to turn it away. If, however, we want God’s continued guidance and blessing in our lives, we must have a relationship with him.

One of the ways God works in my life is, again, teaching me stuff. Sometimes it is helping me to understand and explain the Bible, and sometimes it could be showing me how to help another person develop a relationship with God. Many times it is pointing out something that is preventing the development of a closer relationship with Him. Since the word “growth” is often closely associated with plants, the Bible uses the word “pruning” a lot to show how God can help us grow spiritually. If a branch on a tree is unhealthy, and it isn’t producing leaves or fruit, it should be cut off so that the plant’s energy can more easily give life to the branches that ARE producing leaves and fruit (read John 15:2). It is easy to understand in nature, but look at it in your own life! Paul says to the Galatian church (read Galatians 5:22) that God produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in the lives of those who have His Holy Spirit. I think it would be safe to say that none of these are inherently bad. There is certainly no rule that says it is wrong to be kind or patient with people.

In order for this “fruit” to grow in our lives, we have to get rid of bad things from our lives. They are like lifeless empty branches, dead because of things like hate, negativity, hostility, impatience, disloyalty, impulsiveness, and pride.

Recently, God has been showing me that I need more fruit in my life. I need God to do some pruning. Specifically I need to be more humble in my life. I know that pride is something I struggle with; I always try to avoid opportunities where others can acknowledge something I’m good at. If it is something that I can’t avoid, though, I always want to glorify God so that He is exalted instead of me. But this isn’t the full extent of my pride. Praise to God that He can see things in my life that I can’t. Praise to God that He cares about me enough to humble me when I need it.

The air conditioning at my house died recently. I had just returned from a week-long “Jesus high” and already Satan was attacking me (big surprise). Not only that, but we had run out of food in the house, and I was starting to get hungry. After a night of limited sleep and a lot of discomfort I began to feel a bit selfish about my predicament. I was feeling quite the little victim.

“Why did we have to run out of food when I came back?”  “Weren’t we out of food the last time I was here?”  “I wish I had a better way to get away from the heat.”  “This was the worst possible time of the year to lose air conditioning.”  “I hate that every time I take a shower, I get all sweaty again right afterwards.”

Again, it is often hard to see what is separating us from God. But God can! In the midst of feeling sorry for myself, I decided that I was going to be forced to stop and grab something to eat for myself at a fast food place on the way to work. Pitiful, right? That is exactly what I did; I went to Wendy’s and got a chicken sandwich for a dollar, and was on my way. For some reason though, I was compelled to take an exit off the interstate that I normally avoid. After taking this exit, I came to a stoplight where a homeless man was standing. He had a cardboard sign that said “HOMELESS (anything will help).” As I read this sign through the already-rolled-down windows (the car’s air conditioning had been broken much longer than the house), I looked down and saw the Wendy’s bag. Inside that bag was the product of all my self-pity, all of my pride, all of my self-designated “entitlement”.

Here I was with a vehicle that I was graciously allowed to borrow, that I would drive to work and then back to a house that is paid off, where I would sleep that night in my own bed…in my own room.  And here is this guy, who is standing in the SAME heat that I’m “suffering” through. He has no car, no home, no food, and no place to sleep. God had shown me the darkness in my heart and I couldn’t let the moment pass without doing something about it. I was conveniently stopped right next to this man, so I motioned him over and gave him this meager $1.00 sandwich that would have been my supper. I didn’t even have to think about it. It was like some hidden part of me had gained life and growth, taking control of everything.

I saw him graciously take it, and heard him thank me. It wasn’t much at all, but this was a man who needed it infinitely more than I did. And he was thankful for anything that anyone would give him. Who knows how long he had been standing there watching people like me pass him by. This man is a CHILD OF GOD.

I realized how prideful I had become. I realized how ridiculous it was that I hadn’t seen it before. I realized how much of my life I wasted being prideful when I could have used that time serving others in humility. I realized that I should have also given him a bottle of water, or at least told him that God loved him for his heart and didn’t care about his circumstances. More than anything, I realized how blessed I am to even be considered part of God’s family.

There are well over 7 BILLION people in the world and I am the least important one of all. The most important ones are those in need, the ones who have nothing, the ones who have no one. The most important ones are the ones who don’t know the God of Love who saved my live and nurtures me every day.

My purpose is not to show you what a decent person I am (because I’m not) or to try to make you think more of me. My purpose is not to encourage judgment of anyone. It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s all about God. He cuts off everything in our lives that is useless or unproductive. He burns away everything that tries to separate us from Him. He rips away everything that my sinful nature is tempted to hold on to. God showed me what He would have done, and it hurt. But it would have hurt much more in the long run if my pride had continued to take over. It would have killed off all my humility, all my love, all my joy. The only way to remove this cancer from my life–to prevent it from killing me–was for God to operate on me, cutting away the disease.

My purpose is all about God. It’s about showing the love that He has and the good that He does. I have deep within me the desire to tell everyone what He has done for me. I have the desire to tell everyone what He can do for you. If exposing the darkness in my life will get that message across, then I am happy. Because of what God does for me, I can live more like Jesus. Believe me, I am not like Jesus on my own; it is something that God has grown in me. If you read John 15:5, you will see that we can do nothing  on our own. We can’t get the glory for any of it because everything good and perfect comes from Jesus; we can produce nothing good in our lives. Therefore, in order to grow good fruit in our lives, we must attach ourselves to the Source of all good fruit. In Him is true, full, everlasting life.

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