Was it only a year ago I started looking forward to the new decade? I pictured 2020 as a year of growth and change. In the spring, I was planning to go on a mission trip with my youth group and was excited for the opportunity to serve God and grow closer to my friends through that experience.
The beginning of March felt like I was running on a treadmill. On top of mission trip prep, which involved writing and translating my testimony into Spanish, there was still schoolwork to do. I couldn’t fall behind in the excitement of planning.
Then, without warning, the treadmill stopped and the mission trip was canceled along with every other event on the calendar for the foreseeable future. I thought there must have been some mistake. Why would God cancel a mission trip? Didn’t He want me to go?
2020 has been a year of growth and change, but certainly not in the way I expected. I thought I was going to grow closer to God by going on this trip, not by staying at home. But God has met me during this time like never before.
Through nearly nine months of unpredictability, His continued faithfulness given my faith far more growth than a one-week mission trip probably would have. God never answered my question of “why?” But He has given me a new perspective.
What is discipline, really?
In the blurring together of days that was quarantine, I was reading Hebrews 12. It’s a strangely encouraging chapter for its topic, discipline. It says that when God disciplines us, He is accepting us as His children.
I found hope in verse 11: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (NIV)
It’s important to realize that this passage is not talking about punishment. Some people don’t understand the distinction between punishment and discipline. Discipline is a corrective used to teach. It might feel painful, but discipline ultimately promises to produce a harvest of righteousness and peace.
Pruning for growth
The harvest imagery reminded me of something. When I was younger and learning about gardening, I remember being confused about why you prune a plant. Wouldn’t that hurt it?
The reasons you prune a plant are to cut away dead spots, to shape it, and to rejuvenate the plant as a whole.
If we are plants in God’s garden, we go through these processes too. The process of sanctification cuts away the deadness and shapes us by what we learn in the Bible. God also prunes us for rejuvenation.
The pruning for rejuvenation method is when you cut the branches off a plant such as a fruit tree to encourage it to focus on growing fewer branches with better fruit instead of lots of branches with so-so fruit.
Rejuvenation pruning strengthens the plant as a whole because it directs its nutrient supply into its already existing fruit. The most interesting thing about this type of pruning is that the branches will grow back as the tree naturally grows and learns how to nourish all of its crop.
God pruned me for rejuvenation this year and as a result, I am able to focus on deeper friendships and improving my writing. I’m very thankful for both of those things!
“Do more, be better” or “the one thing”
I try to do it all sometimes. There’s a little voice that drives me, saying “Do more, be better. You aren’t doing enough and therefore you aren’t enough.”
Jesus tells us the opposite. In Luke 10:41, He said to Martha, a very busy and hardworking woman, “Martha, Martha, you are busy and worried about many things, but only one thing is needed.”
I have a to-do list like a CVS receipt and I often worry about the things that need to be done and if I’ll have time to do them. I’m a lot like Martha, but Jesus says only one thing is needed.
Maybe you’re like this too, filled to the brim with ambitions, dreams, hopes, and goals. Are those crowding out the one thing? Are they taking time away from your relationship with God?
Do you rush headlong into dreams and future plans? Stop for a moment and think. How are you doing right now, emotionally and spiritually? Are you neglecting areas of your life, such as your relationship with Jesus, for those goals?
For me, the mission trip was an ambition. I was looking for growth. I wanted the mission trip to fix me up into the girl I thought God wanted me to be. My motivations were completely out of line with His heart. He knew I needed rest, not work. Less, not more. So He took it away.
God was not punishing me. Instead He was loving me by disciplining me, caring for me by cutting away my dreams and plans. The pruning wasn’t pleasant, but He knew it was what I needed. He knew that instead of going on this mission trip I needed to come to my knees and deal with some past hurt in my life.
I feel so loved by God. He knew what I needed, to go back to my roots and remember where my help comes from.
Dear Rose, don’t despise God’s pruning. Missed opportunities are not failure and canceled plans are not a punishment. I encourage you today to go back to your roots and trust that God is pruning you for His glory and your good.
Emily Bianchini is a church kid. Her passion is writing to other church kids about owning their faith. When she’s not writing, Emily loves spending time in God’s creation — she likes hiking, but she dislikes trails and prefers to blaze her own.