A number of years ago a friend with a giant green thumb gave us a Crown of Thorns plant. Those familiar with such plants know they can grow prolifically. Such is the case especially when they are pruned. If you have pruned one you know they "bleed" profusely and immediately a white, milky substance spills from the wound. Pruning necessitates intentional "wounding" to strengthen. and enliven the plant. You are also aware that when you prune them, they come back markedly more healthy and full than before. That's the point.
A few days ago as I was journaling with Jesus, he told me we must be "pruned to carry this (church planting) task or it will crush us." He said he is "making our faith able to carry the weight of this enormous mission." He added that if our "faith is not strong no matter the pressure, (we) will buckle under the weight of this work." I don't know about church planters 35 years younger, but what he said holds very true for us, even in the first year of our mission in Northampton.
Last week I also read an internet article about the "10 'T's' of Church Planting." One of the "T's" was "Trials." The author's point was that as with Paul's thorn suffered in the course of his planting churches around the Mediterranean, church planters will experience many trials, some of them severe. If fact, he said we should expect them, and perhaps for the duration. Hmmm.
Yesterday, I posted a new discussion topic on the imagine/northampton group Facebook page entitled, "How is God "Pruning" You These Days?" In it I listed a series of questions for people to reflect on and write about if they so chose. I think people should invite God's pruning to ensure they are fit for the weight of the mission He wants them to carry (by his grace, and with him, of course).
Here is how I answered two of them:
1. Where is he challenging you to grow especially in faith, trust and selfless love?
Jesus is continually challenging me to trust him with our financial well-being and whether our needs will be met. I am being sorely tested in this area. We have been in ministry for over 20 years, so we know the continual need to trust him here. What seems different is he is requiring a more tenacious trust as he has not provided deep financial resources to the church. Most church planting consultants would say we might be dangerously underfunded. Nevertheless, he has met our need as we have it, but not until it is required to be met.
Such tenacity requires a more vigorous and stubborn faith. He is challenging me there with "Will you believe I will care for you right up to the precipice where it all looks like it will be a disaster if something doesn't happen and right away?" Not easy, I will tell you and we are seasoned veterans. I still have more to learn here as well, especially about the freedom to keep stayed on him when the pressure rises and the fear tries to settle in.
Thirdly, God continues to show me the depth of my selfishness and attention to the unholy trinity: me, myself and I. I relish inordinately the freedom to do as I please when I please. I can be a wanderer if I am not careful. I seem to like serving me. I am a repeat customer.
I need to shun self with a passion.
To the contrary, he wants me to be more available for his use no matter if it is inconvenient or indelicate. Loving people has a substantial cost because they will often define the terms for you. I need to be pruned to be agreeable to their terms and ready to take make the most of them for the Kingdom and thus their blessing.
The point is death to self is not a hobby for me to dabble in. From God's eyes, it is freedom that he can use. So he continues to invite me to a pruning.
2. Where is he gradually "nudging" you toward an area of persistent fear?
Jesus wants me to be more more "present" to talk to strangers about him in Northampton. He wants me to be more available for that purpose. I have always struggled with this essential Kingdom skill. My fear is irrational, but persistent. Where I live in the city Jesus "confronts" me everyday with such people. My flesh wants me to stay anonymous, independent, and invisible. My flesh is sinful and deceitful. I know His pruning will open my heart to people who need to experience him in me, even through something as simple as a conversation or small act of kindness.
I know that his pruning must continue as we move deeper into the imagine/northampton mission in the weeks and months ahead. It is necessary for us to be malleable enough in his hands to make any real Kingdom difference in Northampton. I want to be able to carry all the weight he wants to entrust me with, but I desperately need his enabling grace to be at all up to the task.
So may I submit to his pruning with courage.
May I be eager to be made fit.
May I not shrink back from his hand as he makes me able to carry the weight I must.