Audio Version

Growing Pains

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruitJohn 15:2

Growth is hard. Growth is painful. 

Let’s talk about the process for a minute.

As I write, I’m looking out the window of my quarantine office, in what used to be my daughter’s bedroom. Her bed and some of her old furniture are here. Her wedding dress and what we cleaned out from the junk drawer in our kitchen are here. The trophies and books that my son cleaned out from his own shelter-in-place room renovation are here. A bunch of random clothes—including some of my old suits and old coaching shirts–are here. I’m working from a card table and there’s a makeshift bookcase with a bunch of my books. 

Out of this chaos, I can see a tree budding. What looked dead all winter and up to a few days ago, now has little green buds. I could stare at that tree for hours and not see any growth happening, but if I came back a week later there would be measurable growth. 

Spiritual growth works that way, too. Jesus tells us we are like trees who bear fruit. Paul identifies the indicators of spiritual health as the fruit of the Spirit. 

We can deep dive into Galatians 5 and what the fruit actually is later. 

But for now, let’s think about the process of spiritual growth being botanical. In other words, how is spiritual growth like the growth of tree?

Here are a few to think about. Let each one sink in for a minute.

  1.  You can’t see spiritual growth as it’s actually happening. It’s usually so slow that you can really only see the effects of the growth.  
  2. Sometimes it looks from the outside like the tree is dead, but growth is really happening on the inside.
  3. Growth doesn’t always occur at the same pace. Growth happens in seasons.
  4. Growth requires pruning.

I really like the first three on the list. They remind me to have patience and grace with others and with myself. They remind me that my eyes and my time table aren’t God’s eyes and His time table.

But pruning is hard. 

I’m no botanist. I’ve killed most of the things I’ve tried to grow. I’ve turned perennials into annuals on more than one occasion. But here’s what I do know. You have to cut something off before it’s actually dead. Just pulling off a few dead leaves and twigs won’t get the job done.  You have to cut now for maximum growth later.

Cutting requires faith. Let’s think hard about that for a minute. Sometimes in the church we slap on a verse or two to our pain and call that faith. Maybe you know the drill. It goes something like this. 

I’m going through a painful experience. I go to Romans 8:28 and conclude that “all things work together for good.” I remind myself that God is in control. I stop feeling sorry for myself. And I try harder to trust in his sovereignty. 

Now, that’s not all bad. Sometimes my thinking and my feeling get mixed up. Sometimes I know that I need God’s word to realign my thinking. Absolutely. 

But here’s what God is teaching me. Pruning is not a solo operation. I need the Holy Spirit in every step of the process—to show me where to cut, to help me think right about my situation through the clarity of His Word, and to comfort me in my pain by reminding me that I am a child of God.

The Holy Spirit says, “It’s time to let go of this.” Maybe it’s a sin that’s really obvious and destructive. Maybe it’s a role or responsibility that’s no longer yours to carry. Maybe it’s an unrealistic expectation of yourself or somebody else that will never be met. 

Cut here. Now, let Me give you what you need, God says. Now, there’s room for Me. Abide in me. You are not alone. I will be your comforter. I will give you what you need. 

For Reflection

What in your life right now is hard and painful? What needs cut out to make room for God?

Prayer Starter

Holy Spirit, help me to see what I don’t now see. Give me the Comfort and the Help that only You can provide.

For More

Read John 15:1-17.