Have you ever thought seriously about growth? Some of you are farmers and gardeners, and I think you have a leg up on the rest of us. You know that growth doesn’t come by accident – you have learned to prepare for it.
A few years ago we moved into a house whose previous owner had a green thumb. He had planted different fruit trees, rose bushes, and a wide variety of other plants. They even seemed to bloom all throughout the year. It was beautiful to look at that first year! We feasted on lots of fruit – especially the apricots—so many that we ended up inviting friends from all over to share in our bounty.
The next year I carefully pruned the apricot tree, according to what a gardener friend told me to do. Yet in the three years since then, the tree hasn’t produced much except blossoms in spring. I am learning about pruning trees, and what it takes to produce fruit.
Just the other day I came back in from a jog. I happened to notice the little pear and apple trees –
which give some pretty tasty fruit – with their long branches from last year. Even though I don’t
know much about the process, I can follow directions from a book a friend lent me. Since we are
in February, I know if I am going to trim the trees it has to be soon. If I wait too long, the opportu-
nity is past, and once the sap begins flowing again in post-winter fashion, it will damage the tree to
prune it. So it’s now or never.
As you can imagine, I am so often reminded of Jesus’ words about pruning, about getting rid of branches and limbs that don’t serve any purpose, and about trimming back the excess, so that the now-healthy tree will produce much more abundantly. Sometimes it seems like I am cutting WAY more than what is just excess! But the experts around me say I need to cut them back severely. Some branches have really gotten thick since last year. Wow – there are even a few I simply can’t cut with my clippers. I have to go fetch a handsaw. But for the good of the tree and its fruit, I have to prune them, regularly and with perseverance.
As we host the youth groups from church for sleepovers, we are thrilled to see the Lord’s work in their lives. On March 15, Elizabeth and a friend will be challenging the girls to see themselves the way God sees them. I’ll spend some time with the boys and ask some similar questions about self-esteem and self confidence. We see this as a golden opportunity to prune off some of the ever-present lies teens hear over and over again.
I have learned that there is a proper way to prune. I need to be consistent and regular. I can’t do it simply when I feel the urge. There are certain times of the year it needs to be done. As Elizabeth and I are in this new season of life called empty nesting, we ask that He trim off what is no longer needed and that He continue to work on us to prepare us for more fruit. The women’s conference that Elizabeth will attend in March, and the church planters’ retreat I’ll attend in April are times we want to subject ourselves to the Master’s tools.
My fruit trees aren’t getting any glory for themselves by producing good fruit. The glory—the fruit—is for me. I take care of the trees so that they serve my purposes. Why, then, is it so hard to understand the concept that I am here to serve God’s purposes? Why do I so often want to live MY way, to please MYSELF? If only I could learn a lesson from the small fig trees in our garden, wouldn’t that be so helpful?
The constant, gentle care in order for a tree to grow in a healthy manner is what prepares it for its natural job. My job isn’t to bear fruit for the tree, but to help it get it ready to bear, in season. How often do I feel my job is to control things? I was recently challenged by a line in a movie – we can’t make it rain. No. But we can prepare the ground and be ready when God chooses to send rain. I think I get a little mixed up on what is my job and what I am supposed to leave in His more-than-capable Hands.
The role of associate pastor that I currently fill is one which requires me to listen, to challenge, to comfort, to teach, to equip, and to accompany. As a matter of fact, there is a lot of pruning involved. As the Lord shows me where to trim, He continues to work on my character and my heart as well. One great joy for me is to come alongside others and help them produce fruit for the Kingdom—not doing all the work myself, but enabling each member in the body of Christ to use his or her gifts to produce fruit for the Master Gardener.
I need to prepare the tree to grow on its own and then step back and admire God’s work. There is a time and a place for my efforts. If I follow the leading God gives, it’ll happen in its time. But I will totally wear myself out running around and trying to do things that aren’t my responsibility. I need to ask Him for wisdom to know the difference between the two.
After 20 years of working in France, what a joy it is to see the fruit He has produced! We recently spent time with a young couple with three little boys. The wife was a little girl in the church in Firminy, where we worked from 1983-85 . We were encouraged to see this couple's love for Christ.
On a visit with Christopher in Montpellier, we had the great blessing of interacting with dear friends there, rejoicing to see the growth in individuals and in the Pompiganane church. One great joy was sharing with a newly engaged couple. Elizabeth and I had each spent lots of time with these young people, encouraging them in their faith, long before they were a couple.
On March 16, three teens will be baptized, one of whom is Christopher’s close friend, ‘F’, for whom you’ve been praying. We rejoice with her in her choice. Chris and Jordan (the Varak’s son) regularly shared their faith with her, and when she accepted Christ, she began a series of studies with Elizabeth. I see many similarities in this story – watering a small plant, protecting it, and then the pruning process to prepare this young tree to produce fruit. This young lady is a high school senior and hopes to be a doctor. Who knows how much fruit the Lord will cause to grow in and through her life? Do pray for her as she shares her testimony on the 16th. Her parents who are unchurched will be attending.
The weekend of April 4-6, the local chorale in which I sing will be giving several performances. I’ve enjoyed getting to know many of the members and having the opportunity to share my faith with quite a few who are very curious! I’d especially appreciate prayers for J and M. I also enjoy my evenings watching soccer games with our neighbor who lost his wife to cancer last year.
A healthy tree grows. That is natural, just as it is for a person. Sometimes I come away from my trees with bloodied knuckles and cramped muscles. I wonder how I am different when the Lord prunes me. Do I offer as much resistance as my trees? How many habits have taken root since this time last year, and now I don’t want to let go of them? How much of my growth is really fruit-producing, as opposed to just being taken with myself?
Elizabeth has another manuscript deadline at the end of May, and we covet your prayers that God would inspire her to write books that cause people to question their relationship with Him. This new book won’t be coming out until early 2009, but the editing and printing process take nearly 12 months. These novels seem to be a tool the Lord is using to help people in His pruning process .
Recently she was invited to speak to another book club, putting her in touch with a group of older French women who enjoyed reading one of her books in English. As Elizabeth discussed the novel with them, many commented that in France, writing so openly about faith is unheard of. Even speaking about one’s faith is taboo. Yet, they asked her question after question in such a way that, as Elizabeth said, “I just had to share the Gospel with them!” They listened as she told of our Savior’s love and forgiveness.
Please pray for Chris’ final semester in the French system, as it leads up to the all-important Bac in June—the comprehensive high school exit exam. This is a very challenging semester with studies and baseball. He continues to seek opportunities to share and love people into God’s kingdom in his sports’ center.
Chris has chosen Covenant as the college he wants to attend, and we are excited about his choice. We believe it is a wonderful garden where he will be able to deepen and strengthen his roots, and with the added blessing that Andrew is already there. Andrew continues to blossom and bear all kinds of fruit in his university setting.
Since both of the boys will be in the States, we are making plans for an extended furlough (early July 2008-early January 2009), using Lookout Mountain as a home base (thanks to the generosity of a friend providing a furnished house!). We’ll actually be living only 5 minutes from Covenant College. We are asking the Lord to guide us in ways that will better prepare us for roles He wants us to play in our church here in France. Yes, we will be returning to France! We’ll give you more details about this furlough as the time draws nearer.
All this talk of pruning brings to mind the idea of abiding in Christ. As a tree depends on its root system and the rain and sunshine to grow, even so we are reminded of how dependant we are on God’s grace for spiritual growth. He knows what we need, and is more than willing to prepare us to bear fruit, if only we’ll give Him a free hand in our lives. As we learn more about abiding, we have His promise to faithfully transform us in Christ’s image. We thank the Lord for the years He’s given us in France, and we are humbled and thankful for your prayers, which have made this possible. May the Lord guide us as we seek to abide in Him, accept His pruning in our lives and bear good fruit for His glory.
Walking alongside with you in the pruning process,
Paul (for all of us)
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