Friday, April 15, 2011

Pruned by God through Pain and Suffering

“I am the vine, and my Father is the gardener. . . every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 14:1,2).

Spring has sprung beautifully here in Virginia and I am blessed that I am able to take part in a beginner gardening course. We recently discussed pruning and I was reminded of the above verse. As we studied the benefits of pruning, I realized how God’s pruning tools of trials and suffering are for our benefit.

Pruning redirects growth. I need to grow in directions of joy, contentment, hope, and peace , rather than envy, discouragement, bitterness, or self-pity. Pruning thins out extra branches and strengthens the main branches supporting the tree or plant structure. God may remove certain things in my life to show me that He is enough and my strength comes from Him. Pruning rejuvenates old growth. I sometimes need a fresh reminder that God is in control and has the best plan for my life, regardless of how it seems at the moment. I can adopt new outlooks and methods of coping with problems, remembering I am new creation in Christ. Proper pruning encourages fruit growth. God’s purpose is for me to bear fruit for Him whatever my circumstances, and He gives me the strength and ability to do that if I am attached firmly to Him. Pruning shapes the object. Everything that God brings in to my life has the potential of conforming me more to His image so that I am transformed into His likeness (II Corinthians 3:18).

Interestingly enough, a well-pruned tree or bush which is exposed to severe weather will build up stronger supportive tissue and more flexible limbs than those trees which are not under such stress. God’s Spirit helps us to increase in perseverance and endurance through suffering, so that we will become mature in Him (James 1:2-4).

Improper pruning can destroy a plant. Thankfully our God is not a harsh gardener. Our scars show the cuts of His love and care, and He is shaping us perfectly for eternity.

Prayer: O God, You are the perfect pruner. May I yield to Your pruning methods in my life as You shape me for Your glory. Amen.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Navigating the Maze of Pain and Illness

“You hem me in - behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me”
 (Psalm 139:5).

In Elizabeth George’s book, Loving God with All Your Mind, she uses the word picture of our lives being a maze through which God leads us. I found a picture book with photos of some lovely garden mazes. As I looked at the pictures, I thought of the above verse.

Mazes can be beautiful and enjoyable to walk in. Sometimes there are benches where we can rest and enjoy the scenery. The tall hedges can provide a feeling of safety and security. We may walk with others and enjoy trying different paths to see where they lead. Mazes can also be frustrating however. We may go around in circles or down many dead ends which we thought were the way out. We can feel closed in and trapped rather than protected.

For most of us, our lives are probably a mixture of the two experiences. Right now there are many who are experiencing very difficult times. This part of the maze is not enjoyable and it’s easy to feel that God has abandoned us to wander alone. We may feel trapped by our circumstances with seemingly no end in sight to our struggles. Yet God’s hand is still leading us. Sometimes we reach dead ends where He says “no” or “not now”, but He will turn us around and lead us down a new path. He will provide the benches to rest when we can’t take anymore, and He will bring others alongside us at just the right times.

God created the pattern for our individual mazes of life and He will not let us wander aimlessly without Him. He is with us just as He was with Adam and Eve in the garden – a very real, though unseen, presence. We can be confident that He will help us navigate our paths until we reach the exit to our eternal home.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, You have a plan, purpose, and pattern for my life. Thank You that there is no place where Your Spirit does not surround me (Psalm 139), and You will show me the way I should go (Psalm 143:8). Amen.

Apotheosis - Changed to Reflect God through Our Pain

“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord. . .”
(II Corinthians 3:18).

I first read the word “apotheosis” in an advent devotional last year. It means “changed to reflect God” so that we transform our outlook on everyday situations and experiences into opportunities for God to be revealed. I had expectations of living each day with that outlook, but I must admit I have many failures along with successes.

I recently had a medical procedure done and was hoping I would reflect God through it. I managed to make a positive comment on the cross necklace my nurse was wearing, but soon after that dissolved into tears over pain and problems with the IV’s. Such was the extent of my reflection of God’s glory for the day – certainly no great victory.

The next day however, I was praising God for bringing me through this procedure and thanking Him for all those people who touched my life that day. As I prayed, more and more people came to mind: those who developed this test; those who built the equipment and maintain it; the doctors and nurses who spent countless hours studying to perform this procedure; and those who have researched and developed anesthesia – a tremendous blessing for me. I was amazed at how many people in some way had touched my life that morning.

Years ago I would not have had these thoughts. But God has and is using my pain and illness to broaden my perspective and see His hand in ways I never would have seen otherwise. Did I reflect His glory that day at the hospital? Not the way in which I had hoped. But He is transforming my thoughts and that is a beginning. I am learning to see His goodness and glory in new ways because of my pain. By His grace, I pray that transformation will reflect His glory outwardly more and more, molding me into a living “apotheosis” for Him.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, may I see Your reflection in every aspect of my life, including my pain and suffering, and may I then reflect that glory to others. Amen.