Spring speaks a different dialogue in the country. Its native tongue is the same: warmer days, sudden gusts of air like angels are breezing through, robes caught on branches then tugging free, chattersome birds competing for best lung and limb, dogs sunbathing and scratching their backs on the few stiff sprigs of dead grass leftover by winter. Though Spring bears such similarities every year, it still surprises and delights the delight-able. I want in the worst way to remain one of those.
Our area of the country experienced the worst drought in its history last Spring, Summer, and early Fall. Though we’ve had the enormous relief of winter rains, they tell us that this unwelcome desert-shroud has not lifted from us yet and will blanket us in our hot flashes for another half a year. We hope they are wrong.
The question for people of faith is not “Will I experience drought?” It’s “When will I experience drought?” And, when we do, how we will respond. Will we, for all practical purposes, die a needless spiritual death or will we strengthen what remains, plant something new in Jesus’ Name, and dig our roots deeper toward the stream?
Here are a few thoughts about God’s lessons in cutting away that which is dead and finding new life.
1. The cutting away is painful but it can relieve considerable angst. Sometimes knowing for certain what is dead is better than wondering. It is pointless to keep trying to resuscitate things God has killed…or permitted to die. I’m not talking about unspeakably sacred treasures like people. I’m talking about things.< Like plans, works, efforts, castles, methods, accomplishments, goals, aspirations, positions, tenures, results. Sometimes God uses a fresh Spring to say, “That was a good thing. And it had some good life. But now it is dead. Let’s chop it down and use it for firewood. You’re wearing yourself out giving it CPR. It’s dead. Have a one-day memorial service and move on. You don’t have to understand why. I bring to life. I kill. I understand the cycle. You don’t. But, if it’s any encouragement, you will.”
There comes a time when it’s finally time to stop forcing things that don’t work. You know me better than to think I mean marriages. We’re talking things here. God alone can perform a resurrection and, notice, He usually chooses in His sovereign wisdom to keep dead things dead once they’re dead here on earth. That’s not so bad when you consider that we’re heading somewhere where nothing will die but death.
2. The cutting away of the dead is to make room for the living. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He takes away.” That thing we keep beating our bloody fists on is not bearing fruit. It’s taking up space where something else needs planting. Something that needs nurturing. Something that needs exposing to the sun. It’s in the way.
Crack. Break. Thud. Another one. Good grief. How many will there be?
Spring talks on…
3. Sometimes only a few limbs are dead. The tree is alive but it’s suffering, trying to hold onto dead weight. Let it go. Scoot out from under it and let it fall. And the rest of the tree will flourish again. You do not equal “it.” Stop defining yourself by what’s past. The Holy Spirit penned it this way in John 15: “Every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” The purpose for this massive cutting away of what is dead is to make room for what is alive. It is for our health. Not for our end.
“Abide in Me, and I in you,” He says.
4. Some limbs are alive – barely – but they’re too strangled to sip from the tree. “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” Catch the nuance in Galatians 3:3 – “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” I’ve tried that before. Have you? The limb is choking on a stubborn clot of flesh. Cough up the human means to a divine end, spit it as far as you can, and drink of the Tree of Life.
“Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,” says the Lord of hosts. (Zech. 4:6)
5. Not every loss of something old is a crying shame. Just because it’s been there long and large doesn’t mean that it should stay. Keith’s parents lost a really big tree in the drought. A painful one. A prime oak that loomed over their front yard like a giant flexing its muscles on twenty massive arms. In the tree-man’s own words, “That was a near perfect tree. Perfectly shaped.
Sometimes things get to live a really long and wonderful life before they die. But perish the thought that, in their honor, we’d keep calling something alive that has long since breathed its last. If it is not cut down, it could tumble down and cause ten times the destruction. Traditional and eternal are not synonymous. Sometimes they coexist. Sometimes they conflict.
6. So much is alive. Sometimes only a cutting-away of what is dead can improve our view. In the words of Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (KJV) Most of the trees down the dirt road we share with our neighbors survived the drought. There is a birthing of every shade of green around us. Forest green, hunter green, apple green (minus the apple), sea green (minus the sea), lime green (minus the lime), shamrock green (do three-leaf clovers count?), and pine green (pines enough to count). But I’m partial. If I tilt my head the other way, it all just looks plain green. But after the ugliest drought to ever hit our area, nothing is more gorgeous than green.
7. Not every dying thing is meant to be dead. If we are so distracted by what has died that we cannot see what is alive, we could risk losing the living. “Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die.” (Revelation 3:2) Hear that one more time: Strengthen what remains! It is still there on purpose. Nothing is haphazard here in the landscape of God. Nothing is as random as it seems. Though you thought less of it, look at its strength: it survived the worst drought in your history! Though you were parched, it stuck its tongue out at the drought and licked the dew. Thank God for it and tend to it before it dies from the quiet cancer of neglect.
8. Bare ground is not necessarily barren ground. Maybe it’s time to plant something brand new. Like a Redbud. The difference between growing a tad older and just plain getting-old can be the willingness to plant something brand new.
Listen to Jeremiah’s prophetic words in Jeremiah 17:5-8:
5 This is what the LORD says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the LORD.
6 That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.
7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.
8 They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”
Feeling a tad dry? Go deeper. Trust God. Do NOT fear. The drought will pass and, even though the mightiest trees around you may wither or fall, you may cease for a while to have fun, but you will not cease to bear fruit. I don’t know about you but, if for a little while life’s not fun then, Lord help me, at least let there be fruit!
“They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.” Isaiah 61:3 NIV
Adapted from “In the Wake of Drought, What Remains” by Beth Moore, Living Proof Ministries.