Welcome to Part 5 of Arise and Shine. Today, Anna is introducing us to the Sword of Life – the living and abiding Word of God. Bettie and Anna look forward to sharing the chapters for this new part with you soon, which we will add to the bottom of this post.
Jesus – our sword of life – is given to us to train us in righteousness, slice through the enemy’s accusations and make us One in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He teaches us to see with the eyes of heaven and to judge situations in His wisdom and discernment, loving others as He loves us.
Exodus 28: 29 – 30 (ESV) So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the Lord. And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart, when he goes in before the Lord. Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the Lord regularly.
More than just bearing the judgment for our sins upon His heart, as the High Priest once did, He took those sins upon Him fully, going to the Cross to annul the charges against us and to take up residence in our hearts. All, so that we might learn and be empowered – through His moment by moment revelations of the Word – to join Him in His suffering, laying down our lives for each other, to see His Kingdom come.
So, now, we don’t have to physically go to a High Priest for guidance: that High Priest lives inside of us.
Numbers 27:21 (ESV) And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the Lord. At his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he and all the people of Israel with him, the whole congregation.”
Ephesians 6:17 (ESV) and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,
Hebrews 4:12 (ESV) For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
But how does this sword “[pierce] to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and [discern] the thoughts and intentions of the heart”? Once, as I walked in the forest, God stilled my heart to notice how the pruning of trees can help us better understand the sword’s function in our lives.
Have you ever stood looking up at a tall tree and seen a circle etched into the trunk or a kind of circular bump, where a branch was once cut off? That is a tree wound.
Yes, even trees carry wounds. Next time you are near one, place your hands on the callus: the wound that has healed, but can still be seen and felt.
WHAT DOES A WOUND LOOK LIKE?
As children and as adults, we go through much wounding, just like these trees. Strangely, wounding a tree, by cutting its branches, helps to keep it healthy and strong. A good Gardener will cut off weaker and dying branches, so they don’t snap in a storm and fall on our heads. But He also cuts off or prunes back healthy branches, so the tree becomes stronger, and does not become top-heavy.
Jesus tells us that He is our good Gardener. So, like the good Gardener, He also cuts off weak and dying branches, and even prunes back healthy branches to make our hearts stronger in Him. In His Word, He puts it like this:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.5 “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. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.John 15: 1 – 8 (NIV)
So, strangely, by cutting and wounding the tree, or vine, Jesus is healing it. And interestingly, God’s Word also tells us that it is by Christ’s stripes (His wounding) that we (His Body) are healed. Do you, like I, see how in that wounding God is in fact inviting us to join Him in His suffering, to carry each other’s burdens and so fulfill the law of love toward each other. Or as Paul puts it:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,Colossians 1:24 (ESV)
And yet, even in that burden He invites us to carry, He also beautifully reminds us that He is the Vine and we are the branches. So, when that wounding comes, through His pruning, He longs for us to remember that He has already carried our sin and pain, and the sins of others toward us and their pain, to the Cross, so that we, and they, don’t have to carry its weight. He invites us into the light yoke of His love, as He teaches us, through the pain of the pruning, to abide in Him.
You see, that tree, or vine, is the Body of Christ. It is all of us, His children (branches), learning to grow and flourish in the role God has ordained for us, with Christ at our head. God teaches us, through His pruning, to let the mind of Christ – His thoughts and plans – richly dwell in us and determine our thoughts, plans, actions and speech. For, He knows that then we will produce fruit that abides in love (Jesus and life) and not fear (the enemy and death).
Sometimes this cutting away can feel like a punishment, but actually it is a sign that Jesus cares deeply for us. Sometimes, it may look like He is only cutting good things out of our life or slowing us down, right when everything is starting to take off. But He is in fact rooting us more deeply in Himself. For, as He cuts off and prunes back branches in our lives, He only does so, so that what we produce abides (remains eternally), flourishes and is completed in Him.
Through it all, He stops us from abiding in pride and fear, and from living from our own strength. He doesn’t want us taking over responsibilities that are His alone to carry, because He knows that in doing so, we will become weary of doing good and lose heart. So, He wields His Sword of Life to hem us in and lead us back out into a spacious place in Him.
Through His loving gardening of our hearts and lives, Jesus is awakening more and more of the new and soft heart of love in us. And that new heart beating inside of us is patient and kind; it does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude; it does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Because that heart of love is Jesus inside of us.
GROWING IN GOD’S LOVE WHEN WE ARE HURTING
Jesus carried our sin disease, so that He could not just show us sympathy, but empathy. So that in coming to our aid, He could do so intimately knowing what we are going through as human beings and what we need most in each moment to heal and be made whole. After all, He tells us that we love Him because He first loved us. So, it’s as He opens our own hearts to His love that we can love others well.
In His Word, Jesus reminds us, that we – His people – are perishing because of our lack of vision. When people hurt us or our loved ones, we can see the hurt (sin) they are doing, but unlike Jesus, we cannot see what is at the root of their actions. We cannot see into their hearts and, therefore, do not feel the compassion, Jesus feels for them.
But when Jesus took upon Him our sin and walked to the Cross to break the curse of sin upon us, He did so weeping for the very ones crucifying Him. Why? Because He did not look with His physical, perishing eyes. He looked with His spiritual, eternal eyes of life.
Jesus carried our sin and the sin of those hurting us, to the Cross. He annulled every single charge against us and those hurting us, so that now, where the law tells us to accuse and condemn each other, He can help us to instead seek His face, that His love and grace may flow out of us. So that He can extend the mercy He showed us at the Cross to others through us.
But we cannot do this if we look at each other using our human vision. We need Christ’s eternal, enduring, moment – by – moment vision to know how to respond, when others sin against us or our loved ones. As His Word puts it, it is in recognizing Christ, through our personal relationship with Him that we are given everything we need, piece by piece, for life and godliness to flow out of us and bless others that others may know the glory and the valor of Christ.
And what Jesus has to say about one person in their sin, is not always what He has to say in regard to another – even where two people appear to be caught in the same exact sin. Just look at how Jesus treated Zacchaeus and how He treated the money lenders in the Temple.
In the case of sinful Zacchaeus, who was longing for love and acceptance, He invited Himself over for dinner. In the case of the sinful money lenders, who were using God’s house to steal from the poor, He angrily overturned their tables and chased them out of the Temple. Jesus saw into each of their hearts and knew what was needed most in the moment.
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,Isaiah 11:4 (ESV)
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE IN THE STRUGGLE
But can I tell you a secret? I often forget that God wants to help me, when my own heart or body is hurting. Instead of coming to Jesus in my weakness and need, I try to “fix” the situation in my own fleshly “wisdom” – even sometimes believing I am following God’s will. I start trying to do the “right thing”, rather than inviting Jesus to show me the right Way, by revealing His Word to me, through the Holy Spirit. Then, I wonder why I am feeling so tired, so angry, so full of grief or so grumpy.
But praise God, He is so very patient and merciful to us through our life-long process of learning to abide in Him. And He longs for us to understand that it is His responsibility to train us and others in righteousness and not our own.
This is where His sword of life comes in. As Jesus puts it in His Word:
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.Matthew 10: 34 – 39 (ESV)
He in fact uses this sword to separate us from each other, so that He can put us back together in Himself. Having been human Himself, He knows the temptation we face to idolize each other and yet, unlike us, He didn’t do so. He remained rooted in the Father’s love for Him, which enabled Him to do hard things in great love. But knowing our flesh, He also knows the best antidote: death and resurrection:
For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.2 Corinthians 4:11 (ESV)
And that’s where that pruning comes in. He cuts off the branches (people) that aren’t bearing any abiding fruit in our lives and He prunes back the branches (people) in our lives that are bearing abiding fruit in our lives, so that we may become even more fruitful, as God releases their responsibility more and more to grow our dependence on Him, rather than on people.
As He removes people from our lives that are not bearing any fruit, it is also His Way of opening our eyes to see what we could not see, when they were still present in our lives. By separating us, He also heals the division in our own hearts, a division often rooted in the sins of idol worship and/or pride.
But through this cutting off, He also makes room for new relationships. For, that sword of life does not just take away people, but it also cuts through the accusations of the enemy. And in so doing it awakens us to the Spirit’s leading to follow our Savior “outside the camp” to places and people we would have otherwise never have gone.
Through His Sword of Life, Christ awakens us to the power of salvation flowing in and out of us, as we learn to live more and more by faith and not physical sight. It’s then we begin to recognize Jesus all around us, offering Him food and drink, visiting Him in prison, as we begin to break bread with those we would have previously been too distracted to even notice or too prideful to sit amongst.
Proverbs 18:21 (NIV) The tongue has the power of life and death,
and those who love it will eat its fruit.
For, as Jesus reminds us (Matthew 25:40, ESV): “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ And His brothers are all around us – it just takes the spiritual eyes of Jesus to see that, as He opens our eyes to the personal, generational and family Promises contained in His Word. He knows who are His own and yet, sometimes we can be too blinded by looking at what we can physically see to recognize the heart of Jesus waiting to be awakened in those set before us.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.Ecclesiastes 3:11 (ESV)
Other times, people may actually be continuing to bear fruit in our lives – the fruit of love, perserverance, self-control and kindness for example – as we continue to abide in His Word through the pain of their rebellion. In that case, the LORD may prune back the relationship, ensuring that we are given the space to grow in our relationship with Him first and foremost, so that we may also grow in God’s love and understanding for them, as He loves us.
Or He may prune back healthy relationships that are bearing much fruit in our lives, to grow our dependence upon Him above man. An example I can think of is Corrie ten Boom’s time in an isolation cell, when she was arrested by the Nazi occupiers of the Netherlands. I remember reading somewhere that Tante Corrie spoke of that time as a time God awakened her heart to an intimate relationship with Him.
What she had learnt from her parents’ and others’ example and the Word they sowed into her heart came alive in her, as she repeatedly cried out to God and He met her in such kindness and compassion, in a really personal and intimate way. Little did she know how she would later need that strong bond through the horrors of the concentration camp, and after losing her whole immediate family by 1946.
In the loss of her whole family, the sword of life (the Word of God) became ever more precious to her because she knew her God to be faithful to His every Promise to her. She had tried and tested His Word through the fires of affliction and He had shone forth as gold in and through her and others. She knew without a doubt that her earthly loss was her heavenly gain and the knowledge of the cloud of witnesses cheering her on no doubt spurred her on greatly.
Then, often shortly before taking us to heaven, He may prune back our relationships through illness for example, so that what He has sown through us on earth may be broken open unto new life in His Spirit, in multiplied ways. I watched that unfold in my mother’s final days and after her departure for heaven.
And I read about it in The Five Silent Years of Corrie ten Boom, by Pamela Rosewell Moore. As Corrie was room-bound by her multiple strokes, and her speech was taken from her, her spiritual discernment became sharper than ever, noticeable through her intercession. Additionally, the videos taken of her shortly before her illness went out into the world, touching and awakening so many souls to the Good News – and they still do today.
But not only that, as her earthly tent perished God gave her the glimpse of His glory she had prayed for. He gave her the privilege of joining Him in His suffering, as she experienced damage to her brain that locked her up in her perishing body, just like the intellectually disabled she had ministered to as a young woman, so many years earlier. But He also gave her the joy of being set free to soar in the Spirit, as she was overcome by the peace of her LORD that overflowed into the lives of those around her, caring for her.
JESUS IS ALWAYS SPEAKING, EVEN IN THE SILENCE
But what if we have called out to God and He seems real silent? When my wounds hurt real bad as a little girl, I remember thinking: “God mustn’t love me, like He does others. He hasn’t answered my deepest cries, nor seen my many tears.”
Maybe you know that feeling of abandonment – of feeling all alone in your pain- also. As a little girl, I thought God was ignoring me, in my crying out because the situation that hurt my heart the most didn’t go away. Fear – the enemy – told me God had abandoned me and yet love – God – was always there. When I thought I was waiting for God to act – He was in fact waiting on me to take His hand, so that He could show me what He saw with His spiritual seeing.
If I had done so, I could have received His pruning. I could have recognized that He was wanting to exchange my faith and trust in man and self, for a newborn faith and trust in Him alone. But beautifully, even as I let go of my faith and trust in Him, He didn’t let go of me. He continued to labor in and through me, until in His timing, when He had set me where He wanted me, He opened my eyes to see by faith and not by sight.
I thought God stayed silent to my many pleas. But now I know, He never ever stopped loving me or speaking to or singing over me: even the twenty plus years I turned my back on Him, as I hardened my heart in sin.
When all I could see was nothing changing in my circumstances in response to my many tear-filled prayers, He was working still. In my heart and in my loved ones’ hearts, until He then began to unveil His beautiful and much bigger answer to us all, more than twenty years later. An answer filled with a full measure of love, compassion and mercy that only God could give each and every one of us – and others through us. He perfected His power in our weakness and is continuing to do so – using what the enemy meant for evil, for good.
JESUS INVITES US TO COME, JUST AS WE ARE
Will you join me this week in taking time to cry out to God, to tell Him all about your pain, and all that scares or worries you through the pruning of His sword of life? And will you join me in also taking the time to listen for His answer and His precious, cleansing convictions?
A PRAYER FOR TODAY
Can I pray for us all today?
Father, when we are hurting from all the pruning, will You please remind us that You are for us and not against us? Will You remind us that You – love Himself – are here to hold us and that it is by Your stripes that we are healed.
Help us to come to You with our pain. Help us to release the pain and receive Your comfort. Thank You that when we call on You, You always answer us. For, You are the God who is with us and never ever forsakes us, or our loved ones. Slice through the accusations of the enemy that we might slow down to hear Your call and to recognize Your invitation to take Your hand that You might show us what You see.
Help us to recognize and draw near to You in each other. We long to join You in Your death and resurrection to shine our light brightly into this dark and aching world. Cleanse our eyes, oh LORD and open our ears.
Thank You that You are the Lord who comforts Zion and all who belong to her, through Christ Jesus. Thank You that You are He, who comforts all our waste places and our wilderness like Eden, our desert like the garden of the Lord; thank You that joy and gladness will yet be found in each one of us, thanksgiving and the sound of singing (Isaiah 51:3, Galatians 3:29).
Oh Father, thank You that You are not ashamed of us in our weakness or in our sin. When we become weary, will You help us to come to You afresh, just as we are? Will you help us to receive Your love, through the pruning of Your mighty Sword of Life, Your living and abiding Word.
We also invite You to uncover any hidden wounds in us and to comfort us in our pain. We invite You to convict us of our sins and to wash them away. We invite You to help us love and forgive others freely and without expecting anything in return. Show us the goodness You are growing in us through every pruning. Help us to continually humble ourselves under Your mighty hand.
When we forget You are with us and for us and begin to live in our own strength, will You bring hymns and Scriptures to our mind and heart that convict us of the truth? Empower us, as you did Tante Corrie, and my Mum, to release all that is perishing into Your mighty hands, that we might gain You – all that is unfading and eternal – in return.
Thank You precious Jesus for who You are: always true, always good and always faithful to us. In Your Name we pray this now, Amen.