Ultimate Joy

Posts Tagged ‘crown of glory

My brown thumb deeply saddens me. I love flowers. Sweet are the moments spent in gardens and parks. The fragrant smell of nature ignites a passion in my soul and fills my heart to bursting mostly because I lack the gardening skills to keep plants alive.

So standing in the middle of a southern California vineyard last week almost brought me to tears. The earthy smell of the grapes, the lovely shades of the green vines, yet the order in the rows of vines all combined to remind me of the richness of God’s grace. And of course, made me remember John 5:15, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”DSCN2467

One reason I make a lousy gardener is I hate to prune. I don’t mind cutting away the dead shoots or blooms past their prime. However, it seems mean to cut off healthy growth. It is difficult to snip away a lovely flower even knowing in the end it will make a much healthier plant.

Pruning, which means to cleanse, removes the unhealthy part of the plant, but also eliminates the cobwebs, dried leaves and fungus that can collect on a plant. It is difficult, not only in the garden, but in real life. The Master Gardener uses circumstances in our lives as tools to trim, snip and prune us. It hurts to undergo the process. But I’ve learned if I don’t cooperate, I become self-absorbed, greedy, unloving, angry – a person who has lost track of the bigger picture of becoming a beautiful bouquet.

I learned in the vineyard that day a vine left to itself produces what are called “sucker shoots.” Sucker shoots will never bear fruit because they suck away the life-giving sap on its way from the vine to the branch. They will grow leaves abundantly, but they will greatly reduce the quantity and quality of fruit the true branches can bear. To give off the heady fragrance of a woman sold out to God requires pruning the areas in my life that are not producing fruit.

When I am feeling weak, drained, weary or unproductive, it is time to pray asking God where the sucker roots in my life are sapping my strength. Removing them is usually a very unpleasant process because I cling to my opinion of how life should be. I grab desperately to the things I feel are important. But in order to bear fruit, I must stay attached to the Vine.

Cooperating with the Master Gardener’s process means leaving those things behind in order to become more firmly rooted in Him. A vine cannot prune itself or another. The job of shaping me is God’s alone. If I surrender to His plan for my life, there will always be growing pains. At the same time, with God embedded in me the future seems less scary. Even though I’m imperfectly making these God-directed changes, fumbling and relearning the lessons He wants me to learn, I submit. Because I am firmly convinced His pruning is changing my life into a beautiful bouquet.

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I admit it:  I’m an Olympic junkie.  For two weeks during the Vancouver Olympics, I sat transfixed in front of my television set watching sports that I only watch once every four years.  (Can you say “skeleton?”)

The human interest stories capture my attention.  The skater, Joannie Rochettte, who skated to a bronze medal despite her mother’s death a few days before the competition started.  The Georgian team performing admirably even after a team member’s tragic death.  Or the American bobsled team, who won gold at the hands of a driver suffering such severe eye trouble that he brought along his own eye doctor!

Every athlete participating in the Olympics has disciplined their bodies and mind.  Careful exercise routines and diets are laid out for them by their coaches.  They spend hours and hours practicing; beating response from their bodies because events are won or lost by fractions of a second or less than a point.

That dedication never fails to nudge me to be more dedicated, more faithful to God.  The Olympic athletes train years upon years, putting in hundreds of hours for the chance to shine on the world stage, to possibly win gold, silver or bronze.  But there is another reward even greater than those medals and I cringe in horror at the times when I realize I rarely match the time these athletes practice for a shiny piece of metal.

In II Timothy 4:7-8, Paul explains our reward.  He writes, “I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge – will award me on that day – not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearing.”

Paul knows, just like the Olympians, that he has been in a battle, not against the clock or each other, but against Satan.  We are at war, but we also know the outcome.  God wins, Satan loses.

But what about us?  Sharing in God’s victory, we will receive the crown of righteousness if we remain faithful like Paul.  But do I work as hard as an Olympic athlete?  Do I pray daily?  Do I open my Bible and study it every day?  Do I always treat others with care and compassion?

Sadly, I have to say no to all of those questions.  Does that mean my crown of righteousness means less than an Olympic gold medal?  Definitely not!  It is just so easy to put off heavenly pursuits because the prize is unseen.  Yet, they seem so little to ask given the majestic glory of God’s heavenly kingdom.  Every day, I must remind myself that God will crown me with righteousness for what I exhibited here on earth.

The choices we make every day exercise our will the same way a treadmill exercises our muscles.  They determine whether we grow spiritually strong or remain spiritually weak.

I pray each evening that I can give a positive response to one very simple question:  “What have I done today that will make heaven different?”