Like much of the foliage in our area, abundant rain has transformed a bush near our front door into a self-contained jungle. But in recent weeks, it was no longer contained as its vibrant leaves encroached the walkway, slapping me in the face every time I passed by. With leaves the size of LeBron James’ hands, the plant also offers a natural privacy screen for our home, shielding us from the comings-and-goings of the neighbors. I love the plant.
In the 18 months we’ve lived here, I’ve been aghast twice as the landscapers have denuded the Japanese aralia, keeping its height but ravaging the foliage. This time I was determined to get a light trimming without the butcher job, so instead of awaiting fate at the hands of the gardeners, I approached them last week asking if they could just remove the few offending branches. Later that afternoon as we headed out for an appointment, I discovered they had not only removed the protruding leaves but nearly all of the trunk, exposing two new smaller plants about shin-high. I admit it; I was peeved.
In the days since, as I’ve calmed down, I realize how healthy the new growth has become. The obvious biblical illustration is found in John 15, where Jesus discusses the importance of pruning to make way for new life.
“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.” (John 15:2)
But this morning, the Lord led me, instead, to Isaiah 30:15:
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,”In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
In this section of Isaiah the prophet is lamenting the actions of Judah, Israel and the surrounding nations, pleading with them to repent of their sinful ways. The version above, the ESV, uses the word returning and I initially thought Isaiah was referring to a geographical returning. But other versions, including the NIV and NASB, use the word repentance. Isaiah is beseeching the people to return from their wicked ways.
So what, pray tell, do the two verses have in common? To my heart, they are both a call to turn away from something old to something fresh and new.
In recent weeks—as we continue of our pursuit of the Lord and each other—we’ve explored similar messages. Several weeks ago, it was the concept of Jubilee as we heard in the online sermon by Pastor Rich Jones, a Calvary pastor from Oregon. On Easter, several of our people shared redemptive stories of new life through conversions and chocolate crosses. And last Sunday, Marla Eyer helped us to create quiet spaces to hear the voice of the Lord. Tami Ashland talked about the need to create, and protect, voids to give God the room to work. And He worked. In that small space and time, our offerings included simple but powerful picture stories, written words and the Word.
Voids that do not return void.
The prophet Isaiah understood that. In his verse above, we are told of the importance of returning and rest. It’s a two-step process of, first, changing course, and, second, resting. Translation: stop striving. Be quiet. Proper ceasing creates a settled-ness that operates in trust. The result is strength.
In John 15, when the vine grower clips the branches, it causes a retraction, a returning of sorts. Clearing away the deadness creates an environment conducive to growth. Sometimes, even the pretty green stuff needs some shedding, as it’s easy to hide imperfections, including pests that feed on the plant’s flesh. Removing the clutter to allow for focused growth.
Last week I heard grumbling from several people about how fast the year is evaporating. Mother’s Day is around the corner. When life operates in time-warp speed finding time to rest, or prune, can be difficult. But just like the plant outside our door, doing so ultimately gives us the strength and space to foster new growth in preparation for a new season.
Branching out with you,