I have just come back from the Fresh Streams Conference. This is one of the highlights of my year. I get a chance to meet up with friends and colleagues, great teaching and amazing worship. I went with a real sense of expectation that God would speak to me at some point, in some way.
I came back feeling quite disturbed, unsettled, more questions than answers.
Now, before you stop reading, this is not a negative blog nor criticism. Sometimes, I think, God can use that unsettling feeling to speak to us and, perhaps, feeling a little unsettled was something I needed at this moment in time.
One of the main speakers was somebody I have heard a couple of times before. He is someone I respect enormously and I was really looking forward to his key note talks. During his first talk I am sure I heard him say;
The question that God asks of us is, are you growing?
My immediate reaction was to disagree!
I think God does ask questions of us. I believe He asks questions like “do you love me?”, “are you following me?” and “what have you done with my son and those I have entrusted to you?” I had never considered “are you growing?” as the type of question that God would ask of me.
I filed the comment away, decided I must have either misheard or, the speaker mis-spoke. He didn’t quite mean it to “come out that way” – let’s face it, those of us who speak, sometimes come out with things we didn’t quite mean.
However, this thought came tumbling back into my mind later in the week.
It was Thursday morning. I returned to work. I was tired. I had an incredibly busy day and evening ahead. As I headed toward my office, the road was blocked as a team of Tree Surgeons trimmed and brought under control the tree opposite the Church.
I must confess, I sat in the car for a little while and watched them and, as I watched, that unsettled feeling came again and I believe God was speaking to me.
I appreciate that the pruning, trimming and controlling of a tree is very important for the life and future health of the plant concerned. As I watched the men performing their task, it struck me just how brutal their arboreal activity seems to the untrained eye. It was then that God brought to mind a few verses from the book of Job;
At least there is hope for a tree:
If it is cut down, it will sprout again,
and its new shoots will not fail.
Its roots may grow old in the ground
and its stump die in the soil,
yet at the scent of water it will bud
and put forth shoots like a plant.
(Job 14 vs. 7 – 9)
Sometimes, the most significant growth does not happen on the surface, it happens below the surface. The part we cannot see. For me, these words speak of a real hope. Even if all looks dead and finished on the surface, at the move of God’s spirit (scent of water) new life begins to happen. What we need to be is receptive to it and prepared to engage with where God is calling us now;
Are you growing?
Jesus, famously, used the image of the vine and branches (read John 15) and said that unfruitful branches needed to be cut off in order to bear fruit. How prepared, or willing, am I for God to do some pruning in my life?
The truth is, some things I would be quite happy for God to prune but, there are some things I want to hold onto, I want to keep, even if they are unhealthy. However, if I keep them, they could affect the health and growth of the whole.
Are you growing?
I went to look at the tree once work was complete. I found myself wondering if new life could possibly appear on it. As I looked with my untrained eyes I thought the Tree Surgeons know exactly how and where to cut to not kill the tree but to help it grow again.
There are times when I have been through some pretty severe pruning in my life but, I have to trust that God knows what He is doing and, in time, new life will appear.
Are you growing?