Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hard to Get

Rich Mullins died in a car crash in 1997. His last CD was a collection of songs that were no more than demos, called, The Jesus Record. I’ve been listening to it with great benefit. His first song, Hard to Get is one of the best expressions of honesty and faith in the face of intense struggle that I’ve ever heard. This is where I am today.

You who live in heaven,
Hear the prayers of those of us who live on earth;
Who are afraid of being left by those we love,
And who get hardened in the hurt;

Do you remember when You lived down here, where we all scrape,
To find the faith to ask for daily bread?
Did You forget about us, after You had flown away?
Well, I memorized every word You said...

Still I'm so scared, I'm holding my breath;
While You're up there, just playing hard to get...

You who live in radiance,
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in skin;
We have a love that's not as patient as Yours was,
Still, we do love now and then;

Did You ever know loneliness?
Did You ever know need?
Do You remember just how long a night can get?
When You are barely holding on,
And Your friends fall asleep;
And don't see the blood that's running in Your sweat...

Will those who mourn be left uncomforted,
While You're up there, just playing hard to get?

And I know You bore our sorrows,
And I know You feel our pain;
And I know that it would not hurt any less,
Even if it could be explained...

And I know that I am only lashing out,
At the One who loves me most;
And after I have figured this somehow,
What I really need to know......

Is if You who live in eternity,
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in time;
We can't see what's ahead,
And we cannot get free from what we've left behind;
I'm reeling from these voices that keep screamin' in my ears,
All these words of shame and doubt, blame and regret;

I can't see how You're leading me,
Unless You've led me here;
To where I'm lost enough to let myself be led...

And so You've been here all along, I guess;
It's just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Beagle Lessons in a Life of Faith

I didn’t want to take her. As she lay there, I weighed the pros and cons of taking our recalcitrant Beagle (Daisy) for a walk. I don’t know if all Beagles are this way, but she’s very difficult on a leash. Once she gets outdoors, her nose takes over and drives her, clearly triggering her hunting instincts. She’s smart but very stubborn. Finally, I decided that the perpetual chubbiness that we share was enough to merit a walk for both of us.

As we walked I sensed the Lord wanting to speak to me. I felt like Daisy and I had much in common, far more than I would like to admit. Like her I fight against the “leash” of God’s providential limits on my life, easily wandering off into trouble. If Daisy weren’t on a leash, her nose would cause her to wander until she was thoroughly lost and likely in trouble (i.e., from cars). Her choke chain serves to warn her of the dangers of wandering. The leash and chain help her to get back on the path. So too, when I’m listening to the Father and embracing my limits, so I remain on the path with him. Sowing and reaping trouble in my mind, body and relationships also warns me that I’m straying away in some fashion.

On my walks, the sidewalk serves as a symbol for the “path of righteousness” that God is guiding me on. When Daisy walks beside me the leash can be loosely comfortable, requiring the least amount of effort for both of us. On the path, we walk together, instead of walking two divergent ways. When she wants to go her own way, she fights against the leash until she gets tired; only then does she walk on the sidewalk beside me without too much effort.

The Lord gently reminded me that my stubbornness in sin far outweighs Daisy’s, giving me a new appreciation for His patience and a renewed patience towards Daisy! Recently the consequences of my wandering have been manifested in my back, with unexplained pain and spasms. It has been a wake up call for me to “get back on the path" with God and stop living so independently from Him. As I’ve tried to live more interactively with him throughout the day (and not just at certain “devotional times”) and pour out my heart to him, I’ve begun to see glimpses of what His “easy yoke” can be like as I walk with-God on the path instead of going my own way. May the Lord continue to use Daisy to soften and turn my stubborn will into submission to His wisdom and strength.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Humility of Prayer

I’ve been dealing with a couple of lower back strains the past two weeks. This has caused me to reflect on what burdens I am carrying, as stress and anxiety have historically shown themselves to be big factors in my overall health.

As I try to pour out my heart to God, I was struck this morning by this verse:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV).

What struck me (my "duh?” moment) was the link between humility and casting all our anxieties upon God. Of course, it makes sense that the humble person knows he or she cannot be independent of God! And the reverse is true too, that the proud choose not to share the load with God. I often attribute my lack of turning to God to my fear, my abandonment issues, my orphan false self, etc. I know now to also attribute it to my stinking arrogance.

Another reminder to return to the humility of childlikeness, as children know both how to be dependent and how to ask for things!

Jesus, help me.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Dark Night of Pruning

John 15:1-11 (ESV)

“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. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”


How we respond to difficult and painful circumstances in life often reveals our hearts. God uses these experiences to prune us in order that we may bear more and better fruit. The process of “pruning” that the Father does (as described by Jesus in this passage) is not a pleasant experience! The Father prunes us in ways that are sometimes shallow, sometimes deep. The deeper pruning seasons I would put in the category of the “Dark Night of the Soul,” where there are deep wounds cut upon the branch, and fruitfulness lies dormant for a good long while. I saw myself in this passage today, having been deeply pruned over the last 10 years (and counting), without much sign of stopping.

Here are some facts about pruning from Susan C. French, Extension Technician and Bonnie Lee Appleton, Extension Horticulturist, Virginia Tech ( I have inserted a few thoughts on application throughout.

Pruning is a regular part of plant maintenance involving the selective removal of specific plant parts. . . . Pruning wounds plants.

Why Prune?

1) To improve the appearance or health of a plant. Prompt removal of diseased, damaged, or dead plant parts speeds the formation of callus tissue, and sometimes limits the spread of insects and disease. For trees, pruning a dense canopy permits better air circulation and sunlight penetration. To avoid future problems, remove crossing branches that rub or interfere with each other, and those that form narrow crotches.

[Here we are reminded that God is pursuing what is best for us in all things. He is relentless in his efforts to make us fit for life in his kingdom.]

2) To control the size of a plant. Pruning reduces the size of a plant so that it remains in better proportion with your landscape. Pruning can also decrease shade, prevent interference with utility lines, and allow better access for pest control.

[He must increase, we must decrease. Pruning definitely “reduces” us, keeps us human in helping us to embrace our limits.]

3) To prevent personal injury or property damage. Remove dead or hazardously low limbs to make underlying areas safer. Corrective pruning also reduces wind resistance in trees. Prune shrubs with thorny branches back from walkways and other well-traveled areas. Have trained or certified arborists handle any pruning work in the crowns of large trees.

[We are pruned so that our “parts” have strength to them, and won’t give way when the slightest wind of testing comes. Our weaker parts easily injure others.]

4) To train young plants. Train main scaffold branches (those that form the structure of the canopy) to produce stronger and more vigorous trees. You'll find it easier to shape branches with hand pruners when a plant is young than to prune larger branches later. Pruning often begins with young plants for bonsai, topiary, espalier, or other types of special plant training.

[Shoots that are hardened into habits are much more difficult to prune and much more painful. How much better it is to submit to God’s pruning early on rather than when great damage has been done! This also implies that other younger plants are leaning on us for support in the Christian community.]

5) To influence fruiting and flowering. Proper pruning of flower buds encourages early vegetative growth. You can also use selective pruning to stimulate flowering in some species, and to help produce larger (though fewer) fruits in others.

[God’s pruning stimulates our growth and fruitfulness in Him. The pain and injury of pruning drives us back in desperation to the source of life, the Vine of Jesus]

6) To rejuvenate old trees and shrubs. As trees and shrubs mature, their forms may become unattractive. Pruning can restore vigor, and enhance the appearance of these plants.

[Pruning keeps us childlike – joyful, dependent, full of wonder. How sad the older life that no longer responds to God’s shears! By his grace may we remain pliable and prun-able.]


God desires our hearts; he makes us and redeems us in order to have intimate relationship with us, to abide in and with us. He invites us to commune with his three-in-one self, and in this rich community to find our true selves.

We are pruned so that we can abide in this reality, the ultimate reality of the love of God. He cuts away everything that hinders this abiding (see St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul for more on this). John Coe offers this helpful summary of the general purpose of Dark Nights, and we can see how well it fits with the biblical idea of pruning:

1) Development of Spiritual Hunger and Purging of the Heart (Deut. 8:1-5)

2) Union with God in Love as the power for change in the spiritual life (Eph 3:16-19) (taken from his excellent Spiritual Formation lectures on

Our efforts to delay or resist the gardener will only result in more painful pruning, so let’s seek to surrender more freely and fully to the hands of the gardener, which sometimes feel like the hands of a brutal surgeon. When the pain is great, we have his word to remind us of his heart – that he loves us so much that he died (ultimate self-pruning?!) to bring us back to him. He knows it is difficult to abide when we are being pruned, so he gives us his Spirit and Word along with community to help us.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.