This year hasn’t really been all we had hoped so far, has it? We’ve just ticked over to the second half of the year and most of the world is living in limbo; some things are open, some things are closed, and some things are somewhere in between. No doubt your life is a mix of these states.
If you are a believer in the risen Jesus and God’s Word to us that we carry in our Bibles, you are by extension a believer in a Sovereign and all-powerful God where nothing happens within His creation that He has not decreed or allowed to proceed. He either said it or sanctioned it. He either actioned or allowed it. Now, just because you believe in a God like this, doesn’t mean you always understand why He is proclaiming or giving permission (Romans 11.34).
So this is all happening, that we cannot deny. We know that God has a plan and a purpose behind it all whether we see it or not, and we know that for those who love Him, all things, both good and bad, work together for ultimate good (Romans 8.28). So, let me make a suggestion, just think;
Could part of this season be a shaking, stirring, and sifting of God’s people?
Jesus said in John 15 that “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.” (v.2). Sadly, we’ve seen people fall away from engaging with church this last four months. Maybe that was you, maybe that is you, maybe not. Aside from numbers, statistics, and metrics, we’ve seen people be lethargic to connect, commune, and communicate with one another. Yes, there is a committed core of people who have risen to the challenge, but, for many, John 15.2 seems to be happening in real time.
The sad reality of this is then expanded on in v.6 wherein Jesus says “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.” Maybe you know some of those who have seriously disengaged this last four months, some of those who when the tree has been shaken have fallen away. Maybe that was you for a period. The second half of v.6 stands as strong motivation to hold on to the tree when it’s being shaken.
Sadly though, we’ve seen those with a Friday-only-faith drift away, wither away, and slowly back away from the encouraging, edifying, and equipping covering that being part of a church of God’s people provides. This hurts. As those who know the Word, this hurts because you know, in essence, what they are choosing by removing themselves. Yes, this last four months has been altogether odd and strange. Yes, this has certainly not been ‘normal’. However, there are enough people who have risen to the challenge and clung to the tree to show that it is possible, and that whether we are experiencing lows or highs, plenty or hunger, that as individuals and as a community we can survive and thrive in all circumstances through the root and vine that strengthens us (Philippians 4.11-13).
What do we do with all this then? Well, as Paul writes to the Romans about the Gentiles being grafted into the family of God’s people (11.11-31), so we ought to try and emulate this in our earthly station. No doubt you know some who have slowly slipped away from the fellowship of one-another this last few months. We hold to the unshakeable hope that if they do not continue in their unbelief, [they] will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again (v.23).
In this season of uncertainty, of change, and of shaking, stirring, and sifting, our task as believers is threefold;
- Let us see this season as one of pruning and let us be ready for the season of new growth that necessarily follows (John 15.2). Perspective is paramount. Endurance is essential. Don’t be left behind.
- Hold fast to the vine from which life comes. Apart from this vine, we can do nothing (John 15.5). The tree is being shaken. Hold on. We will never Philippians 4.11-13 if we are alone.
- Reach out to those who, in all appearances, have fallen away from the branch or removed themselves from the root (John 15.2, cf. Hebrews 10.23-25).