Grow Up Part 3: Pruning

You can't step forward if you remain in the same spot. Sometimes good things need to be cut out of your life to make room for something even better. 

Grow Up Part 3: Pruning

Do you know what Grow Up in the faith means? Growing up in the faith, or maturing spiritually is about becoming more like Jesus in attitude and action. When we read the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we get a glimpse of this man. Jesus was about doing His Father’s will and loving on others. Our definition of love for others is treating everyone with respect seeking to meet their need often at the cost of personal sacrifice. What we mean by doing the Father’s Will is keeping His commands and His commands all deal with respecting Him and loving others. To Grow up is to become more like Jesus.

We have been considering behaviors that will allow us to grow up. In Part One we learned that God wants us to fall in love with Him and not His gifts and benefits He bestows on those who do. We learned that suffering strips all the perks away and we are left with the question: Will I still Love the Lord my God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength even when God does not bless me with what I want? It’s a question that the mature answer with a yes.

In Part two the scripture revealed three enemies that will stop you from maturing in the faith. You must starve out of your life wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, and wanting to appear important. Feeding these enemies results in no growth; in spiritual stagnation. Starving egoism is getting rid of worldly pursuits. Remember worldly is everything in our culture that is opposed to God’s will.

Today in Part three we are going to tackle a tougher issue. That issue deals with pruning. Pruning involves cutting out the good, removing the healthy, to allow vibrant growth.

The text we are using in this series is
Hebrews 6:1-3 (NIV)
Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.

The elementary teachings are foundational.  The incarnating, dying, resurrecting God who takes the sins of His creation into Himself and atones for them, that through faith in Jesus, we claim His sacrifice as our own, having repented of our misdeeds, our sins, we adjudge our sins to be forgiven on account of Christ and our right relationship with God restored. Not only do you need to have personally experienced the results of actualizing these elementary teachings in your life, teachings you should be able to articulate.

1 Peter 3:15 (MSG)
Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you're living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy.

To grow up in the faith, to become more like Jesus, we must build upon this foundation, not rest upon it. To rest upon it will result in perpetual spiritual infancy.

Now we must change our metaphors from builders to Gardeners. Jesus is teaching we who are his followers and says:

John 15:1-2 (MSG)
"I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn't bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more.

Pruning for the skillful gardener involves cutting off live, healthy portions of a plant, which will result in reshaping the growth of the plant. Sherri has placed flowering plants in our back yard. I catch her every now and then with special gardening shears cutting away bits and pieces of what I think are perfectly fine looking plants. Sometimes I have thought wow, you’ve cut a lot out because now I have to pick all that pruned foliage off the lawn. Of course in the privacy of my own thinking, I have questioned her methods then only to be surprised at the plant growing thicker and producing even more flowers than before.

Pruning is cutting out what is not detrimental to enhance further growth. There is a danger in pruning; I have been guilty of it in the garden, cutting too much. If you cut too much in the wrong season the plant dies. The good news here is that God is the one who does the pruning. My tendency is to cut too much, to be too severe, so I must submit to God and allow Him to prune off what is good, in order that I might have the best.

This little lesson in horticulture applies to our spiritual lives. To grow up spiritually, to become more like Jesus in attitude and action, pruning is necessary. There are legitimate pleasures in your life that need to be cut out to make room for new spiritual growth.
Ravi Zacharias writes that an illegitimate pleasure is “Any pleasure that jeopardizes the sacred right of another person.” [ ] Basically an illegitimate pleasure is taken at the expense of another which is breaking the law of love. It is disrespecting a person, not meeting their need, but using them to meet one’s own need.  In Part 2 of the series we listed three enemies that need to be starved out of our lives: “wanting your own way,” “wanting everything for yourself,” and “wanting to appear important.” The reason they need to be starved out is that they always lead to illegitimate pleasure.

Susan Wesley, mother of John Wesley might suggest to us that an illegitimate pleasure is anything that “weakens your reasoning, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God or takes away your relish for
spiritual things in short if anything increases the power and authority of the [egoism] over the spirit that to you become sin however good in itself.” 

Before we define what a legitimate pleasure is you need to know that valid Christian pleasures can become inappropriate behavior. A legitimate pleasure can become an illegitimate pleasure when overindulged. For example I like Pizza. I like my crust thick and I haven’t met a meat topping I haven’t liked, heavy on the cheese and light on the sauce. Now 2 slices of this Pizza is a legitimate pleasure for me. But if I eat the whole pie, not only might I be accused of gluttony, but it’s bad for my health and if the practice is continued is going to create all kinds of unwanted problems. If a legitimate pleasure becomes an illegitimate pleasure you know you need to get rid of it because it hinders, if not ends, your ability to grow up. That’s one of the elementary teachings of the faith you should already be practicing

When it comes to pruning though we aren’t cutting out the illegitimate, we are removing legitimate pleasures in our life to make room for God to do something new in us.

Legitimate pleasures, according to Ravi is: “Anything that refreshes you without distracting you from, diminishing or destroy your final goal in life…”  In an interview Ravi said this about legitimate pleasures: “The pleasure of good music, good entertainment, an exciting sports game—our bodies are meant to be exercised and to be exhilarated in legitimate ways.  I think pleasure comes in many different ways. [ ]

“Pleasure comes in many different ways.” What you find refreshing, what you find that renews you are most likely different than what trips my trigger.  If I would make a list of specific pleasures that are acceptable and unacceptable we would be back to elementary teachings of the faith. Most likely that list would be the things I consider to be right or wrong: Mike’s manmade rules to conform you to his image.

Col 2:20-23 (MSG)
So, then, if with Christ you've put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it? "Don't touch this! Don't taste that! Don't go near this!" Do you think things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention? Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the illusion of being pious and humble and ascetic. But they're just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important.

Those who are immature need guidance, the mature have acquired enough wisdom to discern what is okay and what is not when it comes to fulfilling their calling in the Kingdom.

There are legitimate pleasures in your life that need to be cut out to make room for new spiritual growth. The good news is that you are not the Gardner. We are not called to prune ourselves. Jesus said the Father prunes.

Our task as we grow up is to submit to this pruning. In Ravi Zacharias definition of legitimate pleasures, he mentions your final goal in life. A question for the mature is what is your final goal in life?

Jesus revealed His final goal to His disciples:

John 6:38 (MSG)
I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.

What is your final goal?

The Apostle Paul wrote what I think is his final goal:

Philippians 3:8-11 (NIV)
 “…that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

What is your final goal?

Maybe your final goal is found in the writings of the Apostle Peter:

1 Peter 2:9-10 (MSG)
But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God's instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.

What is your final goal?

To answer that question from your heart it has to be revealed to you by God. It’s an answer that cannot be spoon fed to you. It’s a question for the maturing in faith. The answer is found in times of contemplation. It is in your times of contemplation that the Holy Spirit will reveal to you what your life is all about. No one can do that for you.

When you know your final goal, then you can submit to God every legitimate pleasure for His inspection. The Holy Spirit will reveal to you what good thing needs to be cut out of your life to make room for the new thing God desires to grow in you.

To step forward you need to leave the place you’ve been standing. God’s pruning of your legitimate pleasures allows you to take that step forward, maturing you in the faith, making you more like Jesus.

To grow up you must leave the good behind to attain the better. This requires contemplation, knowing what your final goal in life is, then allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal to you what needs to be cut out so that you can fulfill your goal, and finally submit to God’s pruning, sacrificing the good, for God’s best.

James 1:21 (MSG)
In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.

The Cut  by Jason Gray

Psalm 119:67-77

My heart is laid
Under Your blade
As you carve out Your image in me
You cut to the core
But still you want more
As you carefully, tenderly ravage me

And You peel back the bark
And tear me apart
To get to the heart
Of what matters most 
I’m cold and I’m scared
As your love lays me bare
But in the shaping of my soul
The cut makes me whole

Mingling here
Your blood and my tears
As You whittle my kingdom away
But I see that you suffer, too
In making me new
For the blade of Love, it cuts both ways

As You peel back the bark
And tear me apart
To get to the heart
Of what matters most 
I’m cold and I’m scared
As your love lays me bare
But in the shaping of my soul
The cut makes me whole

Hidden inside the grain
Beneath the pride and pain
Is the shape of the man 
You meant me to be
Who with every cut now you try to set free

Come Now Set Me Free
You peel back the bark
And tear me apart
To get to the heart
Of what matters most 
I’m cold and I’m scared
As your love lays me bare
And Every day you strip me away.

…With everyday
You strip more away
And You peel back the bark
And tear me apart
To get to the heart
Of what matters most 
I’m cold and I’m scared
As your love lays me bare
But in the shaping of my soul
The blade must take it’s toll
So God give me strength to know
That the cut makes me whole
The cut makes me whole 


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