"Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” – Matthew 19:21 (ESV)
When you follow God, whether or not you are bearing good fruit for Jesus, you are going to be pruned by God. Pruning is defined as to "cut off or cut back parts of for better shape or more fruitful growth." God always uses pruning to cut away things or people from our lives that do not serve us in our walk with Him; and this pruning is always intended for our spiritual growth. It's painful, it doesn't feel good, we don't like to be pruned, and often times we resist the pruning much longer than we should in order to save ourselves pain; only to find that we have made the cut unnecessarily deeper than it would have been, if not for our own resistance. So, today, as we think about the inevitability of spiritual pruning, I want to share with you just a short reflection on what God has asked me to give up to follow Him, and ask you to reflect on some of the things that have been pruned away from your own life in exchange for a deeper walk with Jesus Christ.
My career was probably one of the first things God cut from my life in the spiritual pruning process and it happened quite quickly in my deep spiritual walk with Him (my "serious" spiritual walk). I think this was because of two really important reasons. The first, was because God had called me to a life of ministry and He was serious about it, He didn't want me tied up in something else that would take away my time. The second, I believe, was because I was just getting ready to walk into my career when He called me back. I was less than a year away from finishing Graduate School and had already begun to apply for jobs that would propel me head first into the life that God wanted me to leave behind. I also think this is why God thought it might be easier to cut this from my life first. It was new and fresh and not so much a part of my day-to-day yet (though I had gone to years of school for such a specific career and threw myself into being the best I could be at it). It was not something that would be experientially missed like many of the things God decided to prune later on. It was compassion on God's part to pull my career away first. It was still hard though, it was still painful and lonely at times, and I have been ridiculed and hated for it, but being able to throw my whole self into my ministry for God has helped me grow in my knowledge of Him and grow closer to Him than I had ever been before (which is necessary for my path).
This might seem weird because we should all just strive to speak well with uplifting words that honor God at all times. But, here's the thing... I really liked to swear. Ridiculous, I know, but it is true. I like the passion behind it, and in a life where I have always struggled to make something my own, my language really let me be me. Yet, God knew that He could not send me out to share His word without being a good representative for Him; so, He cut out the bad language. Don't get me wrong, I don't feel offended when I encounter it now; I don't feel shy or embarrassed by the language I no longer share with others. I love people who swear, and I love people who don't equally; I would never chastise anyone just because God has shown me a new way. I simply have been called to something different and that is okay. God had a purpose in pruning and using my mouth and in doing so, I have found more ways to communicate His word to the world! It wasn't easy though, it was probably one of the most frustrating times of my life and I felt like I couldn't get anything right at times; but, God kept pruning me and now I have grown more fruitful.
This has probably been the hardest thing God has pruned from my life. It was definitely where I resisted the most and ended up, in return, bleeding much more than I should have. I love all of my friends, past, present, and those I will have in the future. I am naturally shy, so a large group of pals is not something I have ever known, but the friends I have had, I have loved fiercely and so when God called me to prune some of them from my life, including my best friend of nearly fifteen years, I really struggled. I shook and cried at the thought. I tried to rationalize and compartmentalize; but it seemed like as I did, they just got further and further from me. God worked at it, through my stubbornness, to help me see that these people whom I loved, whom HE loved, could not follow me into my next phase of life. It hurt, and it still hurts at times though it is getting easier every single day by God's grace. I have been my loneliest in this season of pruning and have also felt my closest to God. Sometimes it made me want to give up, curl into a ball, and stay there until the darkness swallowed me up. There were many times when I wanted to run back to those people and give up everything just for their friendship, but I knew that God had other plans. And God is so good, He really does understand the pain! He has sent me so many people, so many friends from different places I never could have imagined. He has helped me to love strangers better in this time and has brought me back to people I had lost before. He is such a faithful God, He has continually shown me that if I allow Him to prune, life will be more full and authentic than ever before.
We can't always see what God is doing as we follow into on our faith walk. When He begins to prune us, we might feel the pain of loss, loneliness, and confusion. But Jesus promises in John 15:2 (ESV),"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 fruit" and His word always reigns true. What have you given up to follow God?