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The "Axe" of Mercy

The idea of discipline is not popular today. We want things the easy way. But in His might and wisdom, God prunes those He loves so they can be more fruitful.

"This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples" (John 15:8).

My grandparents had two large cherry trees in their Okanagan valley backyard. What I remember most about those trees is climbing them, eating their delicious fruit, and stepping on rotting cherries under the dark canopy of leaves. They also had lovely blossoms in the springtime. I do not know the reason why those trees were there, but chances are they were not meant solely as a play apparatus: the trees had a different purpose. At a minimum, a cherry tree is supposed to produce cherries. In this way, more cherry trees are created and life continues.

Many things affect the end result of cherry fruit production in both quality and quantity: the environment, genetics, insects and animals. Yet, all things being equal, the largest factor is a wise gardener. It is the gardener who can add water during a drought, or ensure nutrient-rich soil, or prune the tree "so that it will be even more fruitful."

Pruning, from a limited perspective, would be condemned as useless destruction. But from a more patient viewpoint, the many benefits of pruning come to light. Removing and thinning dead or dying branches allows more light and air, which prevents disease and decay and promotes a healthier, more vibrant tree-which results in more fruit.

Now let us speak plainly: God, in His might and wisdom, prunes those He loves so they will be more fruitful disciples. How are we like trees or vines? Is it possible we have decaying remnants of our old self? Can more room be made for the light of life? Does God, the gardener, conceive our potential and work towards it? If God were to prune us, what would He use?

Typically, God uses any combination of circumstances and people. For the analogy to continue, since the actual act of pruning is not a pleasant one, times when God prunes us will be tough. But it is here the writer of Hebrews speaks to us:

'My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son.' Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? (Hebrews 12:5b-7).

The idea of discipline is not a popular one today. We certainly want things the easy way. The blessings of God, the abundant life-they are ours for the asking at the flip of an amplifier switch on Sunday mornings. God, the Great Electric Circuit in the sky, is ready to juice us up whenever we want to plug in. At least, that's how a lot of us live, segregating our Christianity from the rest of our lives. This style of Christianity can make us feel good, but it does not make us very good disciples. We need God's discipline to point us in the right direction: "Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. 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" (Hebrews 12:10-11).

We see that in the tough times, the hard times, the times of rebuke, when we feel like a limb is being chopped off, God has a vision. Collectively, the people and situations God brings our way could be called His "axe of mercy." God looks at our knots of selfishness and thinks, "I know just the tool to get rid of that." With the loving hands of a Gardener who sees our potential, God hews the unsightly, the unnecessary, the unholy parts of us. Then, when someone comes to us with a need, we can reach out and help, providing shade for a weary soul in a scorched land.

When we are being pruned and disciplined, God is at work. His ultimate purpose—at times unseen by us—is to bring Him glory, showing that we are His disciples. Our fruit, thanks to His pruning, is a bountiful harvest of righteousness, peace and His mercy extended to others.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 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 (John 15:1-2).

Stephen Krymusa, B.Th., B.Sc. (Comp.Sci.) lives and works in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with his wife Sheri-Lee and their son Benjamen.

Originally published in Testimony, January 2007.




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