Continuing the horticultural theme we started recently with ‘re-potting‘, today we’re going to think about pruning. All of us who are mission workers will be no stranger to sudden losses in our ministry. Whether we are being evacuated, losing a work permit, finding a key supporter withdraws funding, losing a key colleague or having a ministry closed down by our agency, we all know what it is to find our plans thwarted.
The feelings of doubt, anger, loss and confusion that can go with such events can be reminiscent of the grieving we feel at the sudden death of a loved one. We had no time to say goodbye, prepare ourselves for the change in our lives, or to celebrate the successes. It’s suddenly all gone, and we’re left with a gaping hole where there once was certainty and stability.
In addition to these feelings there may also be a sense that God has let us down. He called us to do this, so why would he allow it to be stopped? Why didn’t he answer our prayers? And if we feel like this, we may also feel guilty that we have such feelings, because we know we’re supposed to have faith and trust God in all things.
Reading the Psalms can help us at a time like this, as many of them are written by people in similar situations, grappling with the injustice of the world and the apparent invisibility of God when most needed. The writers work hard to reconcile the truth that they know about God with the world they see around them which doesn’t always reflect that truth.
It can also help us to think of these situations as times of pruning, although we often don’t recognise God’s intentional hand in them until many years after. The farmer growing a vine has learned from experience that he has to ‘be cruel to be kind’, and that hard pruning leads to more, and better, fruit. The farmer will be cutting off some of the strongest, most vigorous growth, in order to prevent it producing too many leaves and twigs. We all know the result: more fruit.
But the individual branches probably don’t know this. They’re probably thinking “Ouch” and wondering why that branch which was growing so long has been so brutally lopped off. Their favourite bits are now missing. Some of their most lovely green leaves have gone. But they don’t know what the farmer is planning, and what great plans he has for them to produce much fruit.
So when your fruitful ministry has been suddenly stopped in its tracks, as well as grieving (which is healthy) and stopping to consider what happens next, pause also to reflect on how God is redirecting your fruitfulness to bring even more glory to him.
Blog post first published on syzygy.org.uk on 11 September 2017.