Pruning

I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.  John 15:1-2

Recently I was given a copy of Andrew Murray’s devotional book entitled “Abiding in Christ”.  There are 31 brief chapters full of Murray’s rich reflections on the John 15:1-12 passage.  I’m not sure why I had never come across this book before since it was originally published in 1895!

In the past few weeks I have tried to read a chapter a day. Funny how sometimes real life provides reinforcement for the things God is emphasizing to me.

A few weeks earlier I had severely pruned a house plant that had become unusually tall. It started as a desk plant for my husband’s office probably 15 years ago.  This “Money Tree” was moved to our home nearly two years ago when my husband’s company relocated to a new building and there was no room in his office for this plant.

plant whole

The Money Tree occupied this corner in our home until we needed to move it to paint the room.  I researched on line how to prune this type of plant to make moving easier, and found that it was advised to prune only halfway down the plant, which is what I did, leaving the shortest stem whole.

For several weeks, the plant showed no new growth.  In fact, my daughter suggested I toss it out.  Then, last week we noticed little tiny green buds, and soon new growth popped out all over!   We were so excited!

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plant growth

plant growth whole

A gardener has two choices when fruit is not prolific, or not even evident in a plant; the plant can be pruned to see if more will come forth, or it can be pulled out.  I’m sure gardeners can explain scientifically why it is that a plant will do what ours did after it is pruned.  Pruning seems like the more desirable option.

In our lives, pruning feels like death at times.  It feels like loss.  It is painful.  Life as we know it has abruptly stopped.  This is where I was when I broke my leg almost exactly a year ago.  Life was reduced down to managing swelling and pain; then submitting to surgery in which  a plate and 8 screws were applied.  11 weeks of sitting on the couch or in a wheelchair followed after surgery.  Ambulation was difficult as I could put no weight on that leg.  I needed assistance to do the most basic things we all take for granted. All my plans were scrapped.

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So in my next blog post, I will be picking up my series, Scraps of Life, to continue that journey with you, focusing on the new growth that has come from this pruning.

Reflection

Perhaps you are in a season of pruning as well.  You are waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Are you experiencing pain, loss, frustration, anger, confusion, sorrow?  I invite you to view this season not as a waste, and not the end of the story.  Instead, see it as a time to go inward with God.  What does God want to reveal to you, and grow in you?

 

Awake O Sleeper!

What a few weeks it’s been!

Once again I have not been able to continue my blog series “Scraps of Life”.  Instead, I have been helping my parents in Canada, as my mom prepared and moved to a nursing home there last week.  It’s a lovely Christian facility and she needs their care.  We are also supporting my dad as this change is hard on him.

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Me with my mom on her first day in the nursing home.

me in ND

After a week in the winter north land, I found spring had sprung in my yard when I returned to Kansas.  I enjoyed working in the sunshine yesterday, fertilizing, cleaning up debree in the yard, and loving that the pansies wintered over in my greenhouse so well!

It turned out that on the first day of spring, as I went around to see what plants were beginning to recover from winter, and which ones weren’t, the words “Wake up oh sleeper” came to mind.

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Spirea bushes are pretty sleepy yet.

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Rose bush barely waking up.

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Daffodils ready to bloom.

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Hydrangea is leafing out.

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Glorious pansies!

“Awake, Oh sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light!” Ephesians 5:14

Reflection:

Spend a little time thinking about ways in which God might be inviting you to “awake”.  Where do you need Christ to give you light? Talk with God about what you notice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part 9: Hear My Cry. Doug & the Slugs, Music from a Sick Man’s Bedroom

Song Eight: Hear My Cry (by Doug)

Man-of-Prayer_Brainerd

Hear my cry, oh God.

Listen to my prayer, from the depths of my soul.

From the end of the earth,

My soul cries out when my heart is faint. When my heart is faint.

 

Chorus: Lord, lead me to a rock that is higher than I.

For you are my refuge.

Oh a strong tower against the enemy.

Let me dwell in thy tent forever.

 

For God, my soul waits.

I wait alone, in the silence of the morning.

My spirit is, whisper of my Lord,

as in the sunny of the morning breeze.  Of the morning wind.

  

From the ends of the earth, I call to you, and you answer my prayer.

You answer my prayer. You answer my prayer.

 

Listen to Doug’s recording of this Hear My Cry by clicking on the arrow below.  Allow some time for it to load.

 

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Doug with his accompanist at his Master’s Vocal Recital, Vermillion, SD

In mid-June of 1998 we learned that there was nothing medically that could be done for Doug.  Such horribly hard news to recieve.  Some weeks later, when his body went into a coma, I read the prayer Jesus prayed in the garden on the night he was betrayed. Jesus demonstrated great trust in the plan of His Heavenly Father, but it wasn’t without struggle.

Doug, his family, as well as his church family, prayed all during Doug’s illness, imploring God to heal him.  We did not want to give up hope for physical healing.

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Doug worked with his dad, Peter Friesen, at Winkler Bible Institute.

There is the idea of a “Prayer of Indifference” that come from the 2000 plus years of Christian tradition.  It sounds wrong at first, but it means praying to be free from the desires that hold us back from saying yes to God and His will and purposes. Another way to think of this prayer is to pray to relinquish control, leave the results in God’s hands, asking to be “indifferent” to the results.  This is what faith allows us to do, but it can be a struggle to take refuge in God alone. In this song, Doug declares, “you Lord are my refuge.”

That is what Jesus was able to do, but first he wrestled with God in the Garden right before He was arrested, tried, and crucified.  He cried out saying, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me”. Eventually,  Jesus came to the place where He was able to say, “not my will but thine be done.” (Matt. 26:39 NIV) This kind of prayer can only be uttered by those who are fully confident of God’s neverending love for them.

This is where I came to as Doug lay in a semi-coma.  With sorrow…”Lord, your will be done. If healing isn’t going to happen, please let Doug’s suffering end.”

Reflection 

This song reflects the deep longings and feelings that come with these kinds of prayers for help.  Do not hesitate to pray these types of prayers yourself or for someone you know.  Jesus did. Jesus then expressed faith in God with his final prayer of “not my will but yours be done”.

During a time of prayer God gave Doug tremendous peace in the last days of his conscious life. The fear of death was gone. He was trusting in God’s loving care. Consider pouring out your heart to God about your concerns.

If you are able, consider the prayer below by Richard Foster, a “Prayer of Relinquishment” as he calls it.

Prayer of Relinquishment, by Richard Foster

Today, O Lord, I yield myself to You.
May Your will be my delight today.
May You have perfect sway in me.
May your love be the pattern of my living.
I surrender to You my hopes, my dreams, my ambitions.
Do with them what You will, when You will, as You will.
I place into Your loving care my family, my friends, my future.
Care for them with a care that I can never give.
I release into Your hands my need to control, my craving for status, my fear of obscurity.
Eradicate the evil, purify the good, and establish Your Kingdom on earth.
For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part 7: Lament. Doug & the Slugs, Music from a Sick Man’s Bedroom

Song Six, Lam. 3:22 & 23

 Chorus:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.

His mercies never come to an end.

They are new every morning.

Great is thy faithfulness.

 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,

To the soul that seeks him.

It is good that one should wait quietly.

For the salvation of the Lord.

 Let us test and examine our ways,

And return to the Lord.

For the Lord, He is our mighty fortress.

Let us always praise His name.

You can listen to Lam. 3:22-23 by clicking on the arrow below. Allow some time for the song to load.

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Doug and the author singing at our sister’s wedding.

 This song is based on words from Lamentation 3:22-23:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

One begins to read these verses a little differently when serious health issues stop us in our tracks; particularly when healing is not guaranteed, and death is a very real possibility.

One can feel consumed – consumed with fear, anxiety, anger, depression, helplessness, hopelessness.  Because, let’s face it, even though as Christians we read in scripture that we have the hope of eternal life after death, that Jesus went to “prepare a place for us” in heaven, that when this earthly tent wears out we have a “heavenly” one, we don’t really focus on that much in our lives.  In fact, we don’t really think we will die, particularly when we are in our early 30’s and life is busy with raising small children, working and serving the Lord.

Life-threatening illness tests our faith – do we really believe this stuff?  If so, how do we live in this new reality we are facing?  Time and time again we are told in scripture to look to the Lord, seek His face, take our eyes off of the things of this earth and on to Christ.  Does he not care for us?  Is he not filled with compassion for us?  Does he not know we are weak and helpless?

A lament is a prayer of complaint – letting God know what is going on and how we feel about it.  We see many in the Psalms and of course in the book of Lamentations. In fact this passage from Lamentations chapter 3 comes after several chapters of lamenting the difficult and painful conditions of life the Israelites were enduring in captivity. I learned during Doug’s illness that God is not afraid of our questions or our overwhelming emotions.  He invites us to bring them to Him.

There are several movements in prayers of lament:

  • An honest description of the problem.
  • A request for God to act on our behalf and remedy the problem.
  • Confession of Trust. Remembering what God has done in the past and confessing trust in God for the present.
  • Vow of Praise. Praising God in anticipation of God’s new redemption action in the future.

Theological Reflection is at the heart of Lament.  When we experience loss and hard times, it can feel like God is absent. We no longer feel at home with God as our normal life experience has changed. We feel that we are “cast into a foreign land.”  We become consumed by our emotions and wonder if God is really who we thought He was.

These verses in Lamentations that Doug chose to focus on in this song are a good representation of the last movement in the prayer of lament; the Vow of Praise.  I am wondering if at this point, Doug had worked through the other movements of lament, and landed at praise.

Reflection

 Are you facing the biggest test of faith you’ve ever faced?  Are you concerned for someone else? Consider writing your own prayer of lament.  Don’t give up on God.  Seek His face each morning – great is His faithfulness.

What is a Christian Spiritual Director?

Have you ever wished for a spiritual companion?  Someone to come alongside and listen to your questions about God and support you as you explore your relationship with Him? Christian spiritual direction is just that – meeting confidentially one-on-one with someone who is a little further along in their journey with God.  This person is biblically grounded and has been trained to accompany individuals as they share about their spiritual journey, helping them notice God’s presence and activity along the way, as well as offering personal reactions and responses.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In a formal, non-directive prayerful method, spiritual directors invite directees to discover a relationship with God through Christ and grow deeper in prayer and in living their calling as a follower of Christ. Spiritual Direction is actually a spiritual practice that has a long history in Christianity.

My interest in spiritual direction grew out of my own personal “crisis of faith” experiences.  While I grew up in a Christian home, accepted Christ’s offer of salvation at a young age, attended church, Christian high school and Bible College, and was deeply involved in lay ministry within the church as a married woman and mother of two young daughters, I found myself at times, confused about what God was allowing in my life, angry with God, grieving a loss, and at times burned out on my church busyness.  I traveled through the majority of these experiences on my own, without a spiritual director to assist me.  My turning points came as God brought to mind certain scripture, and I found myself turning to God’s Word to find answers, eventually, finding God Himself.  I realized that I was trying to live the Christian life in my own strength, instead of submitting my life to Christ and letting His life flow through me. I must confess this was a very slow process, as I often let myself get too busy to spend regular time with God. I often wonder if I could have traveled through these experiences quicker with a spiritual director.

God has been and continues to be re-forming my desires to long for what He longs for, and in doing that, He has led me to begin to see a vision of the church as a “hospital for souls”. What if, in the church, we could learn to care for the souls of others? What if, in our small groups, we learn to compassionately listen to others in the presence of the Holy Spirit, prayerfully discerning what God would desire for that person, stirring up a passion for God, as well as “stirring each other to love and good deeds.” What could happen?

I am currently meeting once a month for individual spiritual direction, and find my spiritual director’s warm, accepting, gentle presence so helpful as I explore with her what is happening in my life and in my life with God. I have experienced group spiritual direction and witnessed God help participants realize a decision they need to make, a truth about themselves, encouragement for a difficult situation, restoration of a fractured marriage relationship.

God has impressed on me the fact that none of us are “experts” when it comes to the spiritual journey!  We may have heard that we need to have a “relationship with Jesus” but we often don’t really know how to do that. We may have walked with God for years when something devastating happens in our lives, and we wonder where God is. We may lose the feeling of God’s presence after having felt close to Him, and wonder what happened.  Wherever we are in our journey with God, God invites us to go deeper. A spiritual director can be that spiritual companion who journeys with us during these difficult and confusing times.

God ministers to us at the point of our need as we spend time with Him and calls us to join Him in His ministry of revealing who He is to others. For me, that calling has been encouraging others through spiritual direction.  It gives me great joy to journey with others in anticipation as together we watch how God moves us forward in our spiritual journey with Him.

 

Spiritual Practice: Lament

“Truly this is my hope and my only comfort – to fly to you in any trouble, to trust steadfastly in you, to call inwardly upon you, to abide patiently your coming and your heavenly consolations.” — From The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas á Kempis

Lament is a spiritual practice of prayer for when our spiritual journey with God is at a wall. The Wall is a stage in the life of faith described in the book The Critical Journey, by Janet O. Hagberg and Robert A. Guelich

The Wall is often precipitated by a life or faith crisis that turns our world upside down and for the first time, our faith doesn’t seem to work. Our experience of life and our beliefs aren’t matching up. We have more questions than answers. However, sometimes this stage is entered into gradually. Being at The Wall can lead to uncertainty about God, everything we thought we knew about the life of faith, shame, fear, and an urge to give up. It can be a dark and lonely time, and God seems absent.

Historical Christian writer St. John of the Cross (1542-1592), a Catholic monk who spent his life in the service of Catholic Reform, described this experience of God’s absence as The Dark Night of the Soul.

Contemporary writer Lee Beach, in his article “A Spirituality of Exile: Responding to God’s Absence”, describes the sense of God’s absence as feeling like being in a spiritual exile.

A few Biblical individuals who experienced a deep sense of loss and absence of God’s presence are Job, Naomi, and the Israelites when in Babylonian exile.

What we see in the life of the Biblical examples mentioned, as well as from St. John of the Cross, is that these individuals responded to God in a variety of ways.

Job grieved and lamented to his friends, who provided poor counsel. Eventually he approached God with his questions.  God responded. (Book of Job)

Naomi and her family moved away from the land of Israel to care for their own needs rather than rely on God when famine struck the promised land. After some years went by, which included many severe losses, Naomi’s return to the land of Israel represents her return to God, even as she recognizes her bitterness. Eventually she sees God’s care for her and her joy is restored. (Book of Ruth)

The Israelites when in exile, cry out to God in lament, mourning their losses, asking for God’s help. At times they even blame God for turning against them and allowing them to be overcome and taken into captivity. Yet they keep calling out to God to save them, and eventually recognize their sin. 70 years later, God restores their land to them. Examples of lamentes can be found in Lamentations, Psalms 44, 74, 89, 89, 102, 106, 137.

Through his own experience, St. John of the Cross invites us to consider that God is doing something new, inviting us to go deeper and to not turn away when His presence seems gone.  God is transforming us in a way we would not step into on our own.

Most of these individuals moved towards God in a new way, bringing their questions, confusion and pain to God. While they felt abandoned by God, they didn’t give up on God. In fact, their lament shows their determination to speak with God about their situation and question God about his action or lack thereof in regards to their plight.

When at Wall, the language of lament as found in scripture offers a paradigm for engaging with God in the midst of our experience of His seeming absence. This language of lament is one of struggle, doubt, frustration with God, and wrestling with where God is in the midst of painful experiences.

There are a couple of movements in the lament prayers of the Israelites as described by Beach that can help us as we approach God in our times of spiritual exile, Dark Night of the Soul, or Wall experience:

  • An honest description of the problem.
  • A request for God to act on our behalf and remedy the problem.
  • Confession of Trust. Remembering what God has done in the past and confessing trust in God for the present.
  • Vow of Praise. Praising God in anticipation of God’s new redemption action in the future.

Theological Reflection, or meditating on who God is and what He has done, is at the heart of Lament.  When we sense God’s absence it can seem like an exilic experience. We no longer feel at home with God as our normal life experience has changed. Rather, we feel that we are “cast into a foreign land.”

If this is where you are, let this experience be an impetus for prayer. Prayer and worship is how we make sense of our life. I invite you to write your own laments as described above, and follow the example of Job, Naomi, the Israelites in exile, and St. John of the Cross, by continuing to call out to God. He is a God who is far away and also very near. Some examples to work from are Psalm 13, 86, 142, Lamentations 3.