We are beginning to come out the other end of the Corona Virus Shutdown.
It has been a season of enforced pruning where some normal activities have been:
Cut from our lives due to restrictions/cancellations and
Squeezed out of our lives due to added responsibilities.
But if we just spring back to our pre-shutdown lives, we will miss an opportunity for spiritual growth and greater fruitfulness.
So now is the time for us to do some important spiritual reflection.
We can learn from the teaching and example of Jesus
Jesus taught that pruning is a spiritual process that leads to greater fruitfulness:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." John 15:1-2
In these verses, Jesus was drawing on the annual life cycle of grapevines. Each year there is new growth that produces new bunches of grapes. After the grapes are harvested the branches are pruned back to the vine so they are barely visible. After a season of abiding in the vine, the branches spring forth in new growth and fruitfulness.
Jesus also modelled greater fruitfulness from his shutdown
After his baptism, Jesus was sent by the Holy Spirit into the desert for 40 days. During that time he was cut off from all of the normal activities of his life:
preparing and eating of food
interacting with people
engaging in his life work/calling
At the end of the 40 days, Jesus was tempted by Satan. But he responded by personally affirming spiritual truths that were the foundation of an immensely fruitful public ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1-14).
Jesus had eaten bread all of his life. After 40 days of not eating bread, Satan tempted him to meet his God-given physical need by relying on himself. He resisted the temptation and affirmed the deeper truth that in whatever physical way his needs might be met, they are ultimately met by God and His word.
Jesus was a person who had related to other people all his life. Like us, he would have received love and acceptance from those close to him. After 40 days of solitude, Satan tempted him to force His heavenly Father to demonstrate his love for him by rescuing him after jumping off the temple. Confident of his identity as God's son and sure of his love, he rejected the temptation to put God to the test.
Jesus's life work was to reconcile people to God and bring them into the Kingdom. After 40 days of inactivity, Satan offered Jesus a shortcut to Kingdom rule through worshipping him. He resisted the temptation and affirmed that worshipping and serving God (by implication in God's way) is the ultimate calling and proper focus of ambition.
After his shutdown, Jesus went on to a public ministry that:
included miraculously providing bread for thousands of people.
was free of approval-seeking showy deeds but full of self-denying significant deeds like washing his disciples' feet and enduring the shame of the cross.
defeated Satan, provided atonement for sin and made the Kingdom accessible to people even to this day.
Copying Jesus for Positive Pruning:
Jesus came out of his shutdown into fruitfulness. To gain similar benefits from your shutdown, here is a simple process to follow:
(You can go through this by yourself but you may find it helpful to discuss it with another person.)
an activity that has been cut or squeezed from your life.
how you have responded to that pruning
- have you been stressed, relieved, happy, sad, ambivalent.....
on the reason for your response.
How might you have been relying on that activity to:
- provide your sense of identity/self-worth?
- fulfil deeper needs for provision, approval and purpose?
with God as your ultimate and direct provider
- Your deepest, most important, and most secure identity is that you are a child of God
- God is the ultimate provider of your needs, sense of acceptance, and life purpose
whether God might be prompting you to:
- resume the activity as before
- resume the activity with modifications
- leave the activity behind
Commit to a simple achievable plan trusting in God for fruitfulness.
- You are a child of God
- God and not the activity is your provider
- You can contribute to that activity (or a different activity) in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit
Repeat this process for different activities.
Examples of how you might use this process
Identify: I haven't been able to go to Sunday Services.
Observe: I have been sad that I haven't been able to see my friends and worship just isn't the same on a zoom call.
Reflect: I realise that these services have been an important source of connection to the community and have been an important source of nourishment for my spiritual life.
Connect: Thank you God that you are always with me and I am part of your worldwide family even when we are physically isolated. Thank you that you know what I need to sustain my spiritual life. Please help me to experience your presence with me more deeply and frequently especially when I am by myself. Please show me how I can receive nourishment from you in fresh ways in addition to Sunday services.
Discern: God, how do you want me to engage with our Sunday Services when they resume? I get the sense that you may be calling me to pray more intentionally for each service and that I should listen to you for promptings about who to talk with during morning tea after each service.
I am going to stick Jesus' words from Matt 28:20 'I am with you always to the very end of the age' on my bathroom mirror.
I am going to ask my pastor to recommend a daily devotional resource for me to use.
I am going to aim to get to the building 10 minutes early for each service so I can sit quietly in the pew and pray for the service and listen to God for who He wants me to talk with afterwards.
I am going to ask my small group leader to pray for me about these plans.
Identify: The opportunity to work from home has had its benefits and its downsides.
Observe: I have enjoyed the fact that I don't have to commute to work each day, but I am worried about whether the company will see my job as surplus to requirements.
Reflect: I realise that the daily commute has been unproductive at best and stressful at worst. I am worried that if I lose my job I won't be able to provide for my family.
Thank you, God, that when I am surrounded by cars on the freeway, I can connect with You and receive fresh grace and peace from You. Thank you, God, for the ways you have provided for me and my family in the past. Help me to see that you are bigger and more powerful than any economic downturn.
Please help me understand that my commute could be a precious time of connection with you. Please help me seek first your kingdom in my work life as well as in my church life and trust you to provide for everything else.
God, how can I reconfigure my daily commute and change my approach to my work?
I get the sense that You would like me to lay aside the things that normally fill my mind during my commute to focus on you
I get the sense that my work is part of my ministry and that you want me to engage with that work 'in your name' (ie on Your behalf and with Your resources)
I am going to turn off the radio and listen to worship music for the first half of my drive to work and then just wait quietly before God during the second half of my drive.
As I walk from the car park to my workplace I am going to commit the day's work to you. I am going to ask for Your energy to help me work well, for Your wisdom to help solve the problems we face, and Your discernment so I can encourage my co-workers who may benefit from some encouragement.
I am going to tell my spouse about these plans and ask them to pray for me and check in with me about how I am going with them.
You could also go through this process for your family, small group, missional community, ministry and even your whole church.