Is God Pruning You?

-Pruning Produces More Fruit!

My parents used to grow grapes; and, there were times when they had to cut away the dead branches that produced no grapes! But, they also cut back “living” branches; so, the vine would use it’s resources to produce more “fruit”—GRAPES! In the timeline, of John 15, Jesus is preparing His disciples for life after His death, resurrection & ascension. He begins with these words: “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 does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (vs. 1-2).

-Things To Come!

As you move, through the rest of the chapter, Jesus tells them that 2 things will come after his departure. First, He says there will be defections from inside the faith; or, inside the church body! People, who claimed to be followers of Jesus, will walk away from “the Faith.” They’ll quit! It’s not for them! And, second, Jesus tells them there will be persecution from the outside! Bogus faith inside the church & suffering from the outside! And, He uses the metaphor of a vine, a branch; and, the fruit produced, to illustrate the difference between a true disciple of Jesus and a fraud! Jesus is the Vine! The Father is the Vinedresser! And, there are 2 different kinds of branches here—ONE that bears NO FRUIT! And, the Father REMOVES it! And, the other—that produces FRUIT! And, the Father prunes it so that it produces more fruit!

-Responding To God’s Pruning!

So, here’s the bottom line—It is our RESPONSE to God’s pruning that proves what kind of branch we are! Are you a dead branch that produces no fruit? Or, a living, healthy branch that responds to the painful process, of pruning, by producing more fruit? Let’s talk about some of the points that Jesus makes, about fruitfulness, through His use of the metaphor of the Vine & the branches! First, He clearly indicates that fruitfulness is expected from every genuine disciple of Jesus. In the first 3 verses, of John 15, He says that if you don’t bear fruit, it’s because you’re “not abiding” in the Vine! In other words, you’re NOT “IN CHRIST.” So, what kind of fruit should we expect to see growing in the life of a follower of Jesus? While several passages answer that question; perhaps, none better than Galatians 5.

-The Fruit Of The Spirit!

The Apostle Paul, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, wrote the Church of Galatia to tell them that the indwelling Spirit will produce fruit in their life that looks like this: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (vs. 22-24). That’s some of the low hanging fruit that’s produced by those who belong to Jesus! The Spirit produces it! If you’re a believer, Jesus invested His life in you! And, He expects a “return”— or, FRUIT— from His investment! We’ll come back to this next week!

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The Fruit God Produces In You!

-The Evidence Is The Fruit!

Everyone that is “in Christ” will evidence the fruit of that relationship. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches! So, if you don’t bear fruit it’s because you’re “not abiding in the vine,” He said. So, let’s take some time to consider what kind of fruit is expected to be growing, in our life, if we belong to Him. Besides Galatians 5, which speaks to fruit the indwelling Holy Spirit produces in us, there is also an expectation that our lives would produce the fruit of winning others to Jesus.

-The Fruit Of Disciple-Making!

In John 4, Jesus said: “Do not say, ‘There are yet four months and then comes the harvest. I tell you lift up your eyes and see how the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages and gathers fruit for eternal life so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.” Does your life reveal the fruit of disciple making? Jesus also said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” John 14:15.  So, we would expect to see the fruit of obedience in the life of someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

-The Fruit Of Obedience!

If our faith is genuine, the indwelling Holy Spirit will be at work in us—pointing out all the areas of our lives we still need to line up, in obedience, to the Word of God. In John 15, Jesus refers to The Father as the Vinedresser (v.1); and, He added that God will remove you, from the vine, if there’s no life in you. In v.6 He says you’ll be thrown into the FIRE! Jesus taught the same truth in His parable about the wheat & the tares in Matthew 13. The “tares” LOOKED like wheat; but, they were frauds! They were weeds & at the harvest they’ll be separated from the genuine wheat and burned up. That pictures judgment for everyone who claims to be Jesus’ disciple; but, have no fruit to evidence that claim! Just as the owner, of a vineyard, expects fruit; so, God expects every one of us— who genuinely abide in Christ— to produce fruit! He saved us on account of His great Name & for His great purpose— that He might gather a people, to Himself for all eternity, that belong to Him! Jesus Christ “invested” His life in you; and, He expects a “return” on that investment! Consider what Jesus said!

-Jesus Chose Us!

You did not choose me,” Jesus said, “but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” John 15:16.  It’s fruitfulness, He says, that evidences real faith! If your life is absent, of fruit, you’d do well to examine yourself against the Scriptures to see if you’re faith is the real thing! Please consider Jesus’ words carefully, with all sobriety! This is “life or death” because fruitfulness is always the result of “abiding in Christ.” If there is NO FRUIT of the Spirit; if there is NO FRUIT or passion to “MAKE DISCIPLES”; If there is NO FRUIT of obedience—it may be because you do not abide in Jesus! Nor does He abide in you! The church, here in the west, has made a distinction between a “believer” & a “disciple.” A distinction that’s not endorsed by Scripture! We’ll get into that in next week’s post!

 

The Prayer Of Repentance!

-Once Upon A Time!

The Parable Of The Ducks”— Once upon a time there was a town where only ducks lived. Every Sunday the ducks waddled out of their houses & down Main Street to their Duck Church. They waddled in & squatted down in their proper seats. The Duck Choir would waddle in & take their place. And, the Duck Pastor would waddle forward & open his Duck Bible. And, he’d read to them:  “Ducks! God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! With wings you can mount up & soar like Eagles! No walls can confine you! No fences can hem you in! You have wings, so FLY!” All the ducks would shout, “Amen!” And, then they would all waddle home!

-When Sin Invades!

The moral to the story? Once sin invades our life it cripples our ability to live the Christian life the way God intended for us to it; and, until we repent of our sin, we’ll “waddle” through this life though God has ENABLED us to “FLY” IN CHRIST! Before his ascension, to the throne of Israel— and, for much of his early reign—  King David was a man of moral integrity. But, some where he began to take himself too seriously; and, pride began to crowd out the voice of God’s Spirit, in his life; and, he began to lose his way spiritually. The tragic events leading up to King David’s most memorable sinful gaffe are found in 2 Samuel ch. 11.

-David’s Tragic Gaffe!

It began “..in the spring,” v.1 says, “when kings march out to war.” It was customary for kings to march out to war, with their soldiers, to inspire them! But, David decides to indulge himself at home while his soldiers set up camp in an open field. “…David sent Joab,” the text says, “with his officers and all Israel.  They destroyed the Ammonites & besieged Rabbah, but David remained in Jerusalem.” That decision proved to be a dreadful mistake for David! One evening, while out for a stroll on the roof of his palace, he sees something he never would have been exposed to if he had marched to war with his men. A woman was cleansing herself. She was a beautiful woman, according to v.2; and, David decides he wants her. So, he sends messengers to find out who she was—she was the WIFE of one of his soldiers, Uriah & that should have ended it! She was another man’s wife! But David sent for her & slept with her!

-The Big Cover-Up!

It would just be a 1-night fling for the king; but, she got pregnant! And, then he orchestrated a cover-up that ended in her husband Uriah’s death! But God was displeased with what David had done; so, He sent Nathan, the Prophet, to expose King David’s sin & to inform him that the son, that Uriah’s wife would give birth to, would die. It’s at that point that the Scriptures allow us to peer in on King David to see what a “Prayer of Repentance” looks like! What we learn is that repentant prayer re-opens communication with God that sin had closed! I’m pretty confident that David’s sin didn’t begin here with Uriah’s wife. When the big sin shows up, there’s always a trail of little sins leading up to it. And, David repented of all of it!

 

How Pain Brings Us To Our Knees!

Going On Vacation! Next Post July 17th

-Does God Really Love Us?

We are tempted to ask how it is that God could truly love us if He allows us to suffer through painful experiences. In fact, it is because He loves us that He choreographs pain and suffering into our lives. Let me explain. It is not our natural tendency to seek closer fellowship with God when our lives are filled with blessings attached to this world. No, it is our tendency to stray from God when life is good! We get more comfortable leaning on this world’s blessings for our daily support. So, God— in His Love & Sovereign grace— places a “wake up call”, in the form of a painful experience, in front of us. He shakes us back to reality with something to get our attention re-focused on Him. To force us to our knees in prayer to Him.

-Our Greatest Satisfaction!

He does this because He knows that nothing will ever offer us greater satisfaction than a Spirit-filled relationship with Him.  All of this world’s goods and services are but cheap substitutes for a walk with God. If you follow the narrative, from the first chapter in the book of Acts, you’ll see 120 disciples waiting, in an upper room in Jerusalem, for the promised Holy Spirit. And, in chapter 2, the Spirit comes to indwell and fill the believers so they’d have the supernatural power, of the Spirit, to obey Jesus’ commission to take the gospel to every people group & to disciple them.  Immediately, God begins to use them in His supernatural work as 3000 were saved & became disciples that day! And, then, more and more were added!

-Comfortable & Complacent!

But, as you read the next few chapters, it seems like the church becomes complacent & comfortable with their success and God’s work begins to slow down! So, God, in His Sovereignty, brought persecution! Stephen is stoned! And, then James is killed & Peter is imprisoned. And, it’s this crisis of faith that unsettled them & they returned to their knees in prayer! They were humbled! They got back to Biblical prayer! They expressed their helplessness & total dependence on God’s power to see Peter released from prison! “So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made earnestly to God for him by the church” Acts 12:5.  In the verses that follow, God sends an angel to spring Peter from prison (vs 6-11).

-The Lost Confronted By Answered Prayer!

There’s another prayer principle that God reveals to us by His answered prayer to release Peter from incarceration. God will use a mighty display of His power to confront the lost with their sin! King Herod had imprisoned Peter and assumed he had more power than he actually had! So, God says, “No, Herod, you’re plans to kill Peter won’t work!” Someone once said: “We make our plans & God laughs!” I love that! Don’t lose heart, church! It may appear the world is out of control. But, God hasn’t lost it. In His Sovereign timing He will display His power again & confront the lost with their need for repentance. So, let’s get the bigger picture when we find ourselves in a painful place! Don’t pray that God will take it away! He may be doing a special work in your life or the life of someone watching! Trust His plans!

 

There’s Freedom In God’s Sovereignty!

-Trust Him With Your Pain!

I’ve used my last few posts to take a deeper look at the prayer life of Hannah, from the book of 1 Samuel, chapter 1.  We’ve considered how God used her God-honoring prayers to heal her of her brokenness. She learned to pray with a view toward God’s Sovereignty over every painful situation in life.  I can’t overemphasize how important that was to Hannah’s spiritual formation. Until you can pray —about EVERYTHING— with a view toward God’s Sovereignty; and, with an acceptance —of your PAINFUL circumstances— even when you don’t have the answer to your “WHY” questions, you’ll be susceptible to a bitter heart! You’ll be in danger of turning yourself into God’s judge!

-Motivated By God’s Glory!

Until you can pray with a motivation for God’s glory alone, you’re pain & suffering will eat you up! Let me share, with you, a Facebook post that one of our members shared after hearing this message in church:  “The sovereignty of God is the pillow I lay my head upon. I have finally come to that conclusion; thus, I can sleep at night. God is in control and I can TRUST His decisions for this journey my family and I are on, now. He WILL get us through, and even if things don’t go as planned, if we are TRULY his, one day things will get better, if not in this lifetime, in Heaven… I finally GET God’s SOVEREIGNTY! I GET it,” Can you hear the “freedom” expressed in that statement?

-Trust His Character!

When you finally grasp God’s Sovereignty it’s a doctrine that offers great freedom! In part, because of God’s Character! He reveals Himself, in Scripture, as loving, gracious, merciful and benevolent toward us! Furthermore, He is just and righteous in ALL His ways! We can trust Him! We can trust that His Sovereign entry into the corners of our lives will always, ultimately be for our good & for His Glory! But, you must accept these revelations, of Himself, by faith! Then, let Him be God! Hannah experienced the freedom, of God’s Sovereignty, over all her circumstances. And, because she was motivated to see God glorified —through her circumstances— she could just leave it all in God’s more-than-capable Hands! 1 Samuel 1:18 says, “…Then Hannah went on her way; she ate and no longer looked despondent.”

-Truth Changes Us!

That line was the greatest indicator that she had left her painful circumstances in God’s Hands! Remember, back in v.7, that Hannah had grown so despondent that she wouldn’t eat. Her husband became concerned, “Why won’t you eat?” But, when she submitted to God’s Sovereign plan, “…she ate and no longer looked despondent.” Truth changes us when we believe it! Previously, in her anguish, she had been misread as drunk by Eli, the priest—”…no,” she said, “I am a woman with a broken heart… I’ve been pouring out my heart before the Lord…” v.15,16. Praying, through her pain, had been messy for Hannah. Until the Holy Spirit wrestled with her and calmed her troubled heart. One more lesson, about prayer, from Hannah! She offered praise when God answered! Take a good look at her words in the next chapter, vs. 1-10.

 

What Do Your Prayers Look Like?

-Are You Willing To Get Honest?

Are you willing to take a good hard look at your prayer life? Of what do your prayers consist? Are your prayers consumed with “requests”? Are they filled with requests that God would change your circumstances? Make your life easier? Make more money at your job? Or, are you asking for a new job? What if none of that is God’s will for your life? Have you ever considered that? Have you ever considered that, for reasons beyond your ability to even comprehend, that it might not be God’s will to heal someone you’re praying for? Have you ever considered, that in God’s eternal plans for His glory & your good, that it might not be His will for you to get the job you’ve always wanted?

-The Proper Motive For Prayer!

The only proper motive, for prayer, is God’s will! In Jesus’ model prayer, he taught His disciples to pray, “…your kingdom come.  YOUR WILL be done on earth as it is in heaven…” Matthew 6:10.  Perhaps the implication is that rather than praying for God to change our circumstances, we ought to pray that God would use the circumstances to change us! Not until after Jesus taught the disciples to pray for God’s will does He turn His attention to praying for our own individual needs. Only after submitting to God’s will, in prayer, does He teach them to pray, “…give us today our daily bread” Matthew 6:11. There is so much we could say about the simplicity of that prayer request! Just give us what we need TODAY! That’s it! Don’t borrow tomorrow’s trouble! Just ask for the Father’s provision TODAY; and, leave it there!

-God Already Knows What We Need!

Earlier, in the same text, Jesus had said:  “When you pray, don’t babble like the idolaters, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him” ch. 6:7.  Don’t babble lengthy prayers about your needs, Jesus said, because the Father already knows! Then, Jesus turns His attention to praying for others. Again, this is a MODEL prayer! “When you pray, pray LIKE THIS…” He said.  “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” He said,  ch. 6:12.  In other words, pray that God would forgive you in the SAME WAY that you forgive others! Be so thankful for the Father’s forgiveness that you forgive others in the same way that He forgave you— TOTALLY! COMPLETELY!

-God’s Absolute Forgiveness!

There is nothing anyone has ever done to you that could ever be compared to the quantity & level of depravity that you’ve sinned against God! And, yet, He forgave you! It’s not until we are truly thankful, for His absolute forgiveness, that we are truly able to forgive others! After He’s finished teaching the disciples how to pray, He shared these disturbing words with them:  “For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well.  But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing” ch. 6:14-15. In essence, He’s telling them to take a hard look at themselves! If they’re unable to forgive others, it’s evidence that they may never have been forgiven themselves!

Prayer Is Not Counseling God!

-We Don’t Know What’s Best!

I’m afraid that many people treat prayer as their opportunity to counsel God on certain matters! We ought never pray like we’re trying to convince God that we know what’s best— As if the eternal all-wise God, who knows the end from the beginning & everything in between, needs our advice for anything! His eternal plans, for creation, were already laid out before the world began! The writer, of Acts, reminds us that  “The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things” Acts 17:24-27.

-God Doesn’t Need Our Counsel!

When it comes to prayer, let’s get one thing straight:  GOD DOESN’T NEED ANYTHING… INCLUDING OUR COUNSEL! He didn’t create us because of some deficiency, hoping that we could fix Him! There’s a clear, underlying message in Jesus’ response to His disciples question, “Lord, teach us to pray!” God doesn’t need us! We need Him! According to Jesus’ response, in Matthew 6, prayer is to be “GOD-CENTERED.” “Pray like this,” He says; and, He begins with the “Father.” Not with us! By the way He didn’t tell them to memorize it & repeat it mindlessly— “Our Father, who art in heaven…blah, blah, blah.” But, “…pray LIKE THIS…” He said. This is “how” we’re supposed to pray! It’s Jesus’ model prayer!

-Don’t Try Twisting God’s Arm!

Rather than making prayer our attempt to twist God’s arm over something we want Him to do, prayer should begin with a focus on God, the Father! Start your conversation, with the Creator of the universe, by honoring Him for His character! Praise Him for who He is! Don’t rush into His presence like your schedule is what matters— “Here’s my grocery list of needs, God! Will You go shopping for me?” Show Him reverence when you pray! You’re entering the throne room of Heaven! God transcends so far above anything on your agenda! There’s an order here! You’re kingdom 1st, Father! Our greatest desire should be that God’s name is hallowed, admired & cherished! And, He’s “our” Father too, Jesus says. Never get over that great Doctrine of Adoption— that God has birthed us into His family!

-We Become His Children!

Though we were born children of wrath, because of our sin, He adopts us into His family in Christ! We’re FAMILY! Depend on Him like He’s family because HE IS! We’re brothers, sisters, and joint-heirs with Jesus Himself! And, then, Jesus models prayer by moving from the Father’s  character to His “KINGDOM”— “YOUR kingdom come. YOUR will be done on EARTH as it is in HEAVEN” Matthew 6:10. So, pray like this, Jesus says— Pray for the Father’s KINGDOM & for His WILL!  If we’re praying like Jesus taught us to pray, our primary concern will be for the Father’s Glory! For the advancement of His kingdom! Our prayers will be “GOD-CENTERED.”  Take note of the things you pray for! Are your prayers motivated by your dreams & goals; or, by God’s eternal kingdom & His will & plans?  Mature believers pray for God’s will above their own!