Six years have flown by since we moved into our current home. The recent anniversary of our move came with a jolt. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the home we left six years ago: a huge two storey brick and tile on 1.4 acres near the edge of our town. We lived happily there for seven years.
When the time came to leave the hardest thing was saying goodbye to the orchard and the garden. Both the house interior and exterior grounds had been severely neglected and were in a sorry, run down state when we arrived. I am not much of a gardener, but my husband is. Often assisted by our youngest daughter he expended untold hours of hard, sweaty labour on making the grounds both beautiful and productive.
Tiny citrus trees were planted out the back of the house during our first year there. Various varieties of lemon, orange and lime were hunted down and the baby plants lovingly placed into well-prepared ground …… in the middle of a cruel summer in one of the worst droughts our region had seen in many years. Wiser, more experienced heads scoffed at our apparent foolishness for planting in such an unkind season and declared we would lose every one of our little saplings within months.
Whether it was stubbornness or faith I don’t know, but every morning of that summer would see my husband gently hand watering the saplings, tending each one with loving care, willing them to live. Every evening would see me just as determinedly circling our little orchard, blessing, praying and calling forth the hidden life and fruit I knew each one carried.
Gradually a garden arose around us. In place of dry grass, weeds and dead plants, colourful beds of roses, azaleas and gardenias emerged. A verdant, green lawn was nurtured and maintained. And best of all, our citrus orchard flourished, producing sweet, succulent fruit so abundant it was gladly shared with friends and neighbours. Much to the surprise of some, not one of our little saplings succumbed to the drought. The ugly, uninviting grounds that had greeted us a few years earlier had been transformed into a peaceful, lush, life-filled environment, even providing an appropriate venue for our daughter’s wedding.
That lovely transformed garden and the fruitful, healthy orchard we left behind when it became clear God had plans to move us on have been on my mind lately. The developer who bought the old home didn’t dream of juicy orchard fruits or fragrant roses on his dining table. His mind was set instead on dividing the grounds into multiple lots to build profit-producing dwellings for young couples needing their first homes.
The gardens were ripped up by bulldozers, making way for builders’ trucks and materials, and ultimately new houses. The sturdy native trees we planted to border the property were replaced by metal fencing. And our cherished citrus orchard, a waste of good building land, also had to go. In place of attractive gardens and a prolific orchard brick and mortar homes now stand, where people return each night to rest their weariness before tackling the troubles a new day will bring.
We had known this would happen when we left. And there was not a thing we could do about it. You can’t dream, plant, nurture, and bring forth something beautiful and fruitful without experiencing sorrow, sometimes even deep sorrow, when that which you’ve carried in your soul and built with your own labour becomes seemingly annihilated, as if it had never existed in the first place.
Today when I stand on the verandah of this present home of six years I look out on young, thriving new plants that are growing steadily into a beautiful, established garden. And this year we had our first crop of citrus. Sweet juicy oranges sit alongside newly picked lemons and limes on my kitchen bench. A vegetable garden too has been planted and I hear plans are afoot for apple trees. Life is flourishing around me once more, but it didn’t come without cost. The former had to be relinquished so that something even more fruitful and productive could be birthed.
This principal of death before life is one we must wrestle with in our spiritual walk too. Jesus spoke of Himself as the Vine and we as the branches that are pruned in order to bring forth abundant fruit.
‘I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.’ (Jn. 15:1-2).
At another time He gave the example of a wheat kernel that is buried in the ground and subjected to death for a season, so that it might emerge and multiply into a harvest of grain.
‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.’ (Jn.12:24-25).
We pass through seasons in our spiritual lives. There are seasons of pruning, when that which is unproductive, diseased or simply an impediment to the healthy flow of life in us is revealed and removed.
There is another kind of season also where our dreams, hopes and labour suddenly come to naught. It is a season of obscurity, of burial if you like, where all that we have been building, all that we have identified ourselves with sometimes over many years, is brought to death. In such a season we may even see the hard-earned fruit of our labour placed into the hands of someone who has a different vision or purpose.
To our dismay, the pall of death hangs over all we have expended our lives on. What’s more, there is nothing we can do about it. It is taken out of our hands. Furthermore, we seem to be cocooned in a dark, barren place, stripped of all we thought we knew and left with nothing but raw, naked faith that there is a God, that He is good, and He will not leave us alone in this place of burial. Apart from that, we cannot say we know anything, nor can we say we are anything.
Whether we find ourselves in a season of pruning, or a season of death and burial, God’s purpose in us is always Life.
As branches, we are not sent off to be pruned while He waits indifferently. He will never leave or forsake us, but will sustain us during every season. His grace is sufficient for the pruning season.
Nor will He abandon us to the cold, dark soil of our grain season, for He is Lord of both the light and the darkness (Jn. 1:5; Job 12:22). He will do that which is true to His eternal nature of Love and Life, He will complete the work He has begun in us – He will bring forth Life both in us and from us.
Both the Vine season and the Grain season are integral to our Christ-following journey if we are to be reduced and Christ is to increase (Jn. 3:30). Perhaps you have already discovered this. But these are not the only seasons we will encounter on this journey. The branch is pruned only in preparation for the coming season of Fruitfulness. The grain is buried into death only in preparation for the coming season of Resurrection Life.
God’s purpose is always Life. He cannot be otherwise. Life must bring forth life. His intention and plan for us is always fruitfulness. Where Life is present, fruit must be evident.
This principle of death before life is something Jesus’ first disciples had to experience also. All that they had worked towards, envisaged, talked about, planned for, hoped and dreamt came to a thundering crash at Calvary. It was a shocking, sudden and brutal end to their expectations. It tested their faith to the utmost and nearly broke their spirits. Only a handful of disciples, one male and several female, could even bear to witness the crucifixion (Mark 15:40-41, Matthew 27:55-56, Jn. 19:25-26).
Those first disciples experienced a crushing to their very core, yet, revived by the same Spirit who raised Christ from death, emerged to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6).
Christ-less religion conditions us to call many things ‘life’ that are not Life, to settle for far less than the vibrant, thriving Christ-Life which is the lifeblood of the true Body of Christ.
Religion produces undernourished, tasteless fruit instead of the abundant, Life-filled fruit that is pleasing to our Father. Religion will attempt to rescue us from the pruning shears and snatch us from the Cross of Christ. Religion is death masquerading as Life. And religion will never allow us to emerge from the grave as overcomers fit to reproduce the resurrection Life of Christ.
Choose Life, even if the way to Life is through the valley of death. You will never be left in the grave.
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016 and beyond. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.