Once my husband, Bob, and I enjoyed having several gorgeous red and yellow hibiscus plants growing in our front yard. But we neglected to prune them, and they looked like a bramble bush with branches going every direction. 

Then one day neighbor boys attacked my prized but scraggly hibiscus plants! They broke off branches to use as pretend swords when I wasn’t watching. After they were through, trash and broken foliage littered the lawn in front of my townhouse.

I assumed they had destroyed the plant since broken sticks shorn of their leaves ruined their former beauty. But one morning a breathtaking sight greeted me. A huge bouquet of red hibiscus flowers cascaded down from the top of the plant. The bountiful crop of larger-than-ever blooms proclaimed they had flourished not despite of mistreatment, but because of the “abuse.”

This experience reminds me of a Bible verse. “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away;[ and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2 NKJ).

I see in this simple story a parable of the Christian life. Just as plants need pruning to reach their full potential, so God needs to prune His children’s lives so the fruit of His Spirit can grow within them.

God loves us so much that He will prune His children even if it hurts, and even if it seems He is harming us, but we are not in a position to judge. We need to remember He is God and we aren’t!

True faith does not demand explanations from the Lord. We may ask, but He does not have to tell us.  In the meantime, our part is to walk by faith.

Just as I thought the neighbor boys had ruined my plants, but instead they had unintentionally rejuvenated them. So God uses cutting experiences to make our lives more fruitful.

Our temporary happiness or comfort is not the point. Through Christ, we may always overflow with deep and lasting joy—independent of circumstances. 

To be fruitful in Christ, I need to rest in Him, trusting Him to bear the fruit through me.

So if you’re a child of God, cooperate with the divine Gardener’s handwork instead of fighting against him. Who can tell what Jesus will do in your life if you yield to Him?

 

Hibiscus flowers bloom crimson and yellow,

   Billowy trumpets proclaim their Creator’s work.

They remind me not to strain and strive,

   But to rest in Him from Whom all beauty flows.

So effortless their loveliness appears;

   So persistent their blossoms renew.

Silent witnesses of God’s touch.

   They seem to whisper low:

If He cares for us,

   how much more does He watch over you?

One afternoon a number of years ago in August my husband, Bob, and I with our sheltie, Mac, traveled to Manzanita Lake in northern California. My sister had told us about the wildlife there. As an artist, I was eager to photograph deer and other animals we encountered. 

While sitting at our campsite under a canopy of pine trees, noisy stellar jays adorned with perky top knots fluttered through the overhead branches. We threw pieces of our dog’s food on the ground, and the bright blue birds swooped down and plucked the kibbles up if the pieces landed far enough away from us. 

Suddenly a golden mantle ground squirrel that looked like an overgrown chipmunk popped out of his hole. He scurried toward the food and stuffed himself with the tasty treats. He got to the pieces before the jays did by coming closer to our feet than they were brave enough to do. 

They squawked as though to say, “Hey, that’s our grub. Leave it alone.”

He paid no attention but kept cramming kibbles in his mouth until his cheeks looked like they were about to burst. When he could jam no more in, he turned around, ran back to his burrow, and disappeared.

After he left, the noisy jays swooped down and gorged themselves until the squirrel returned and chased them away. They flapped their wings and scolded him for confiscating food they believed was theirs.

The golden mantle ground squirrel had a goal. He was storing kibbles away for the winter when he would hibernate and later awake to eat his stored cache of food. 

I believe the squirrel has a lesson for us. I’m not talking about storing away physical food, although at times that can be a good idea. No, I’m talking about hiding away in our hearts spiritual food that will sustain us as we face whatever trouble may come into our lives.

Many years ago, I started hiding away spiritual food by memorizing Bible verses. I found it handy to write them on index cards with the verse on one side and reference on the other. With these precious promises memorized, God speaks to me. 

For example, when I wake up, Psalm 118:24 often comes to mind.  “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” The best defense against discouragement is praising God.

When perplexing problems come up, I can claim James 1:5. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”  

If I want to complain, I need to remember Philippians 4:4. “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.”

When fearful, 2 Timothy 1:7 comforts me. “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” The apostle Paul wrote this verse when he was in prison awaiting execution by beheading. 

When I’m tempted to say angry words, I need to remember Proverbs 15:15. “A soft answer turns away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.”

When I feel guilty about sins I have committed, I remember 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

When I think of death, 2 Corinthians 5:8 soothes my soul. “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”

Are you hiding away spiritual provision for your times of need? Consider buying a pack of index cards, and as you read through the Bible, note those promises and commands that seem to jump out at you. Then copy them. Place your memory verses within easy reach and keep repeating them. After a while, they will sink deep into your heart, nourish your soul, and prepare you for the winters in your life.

 

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“Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.” Psalm 51:12

 

One morning as I glanced at the clouds from the kitchen window, I noticed with delight that the bougainvillea I assumed was dead had blossomed again.

What a surprise to welcome back the purplish-red flowers peeking at me as though to say, “I’m still here.” Grasshoppers unknowingly imported from a hibiscus I purchased had swarmed over my lovely plant and ate the foliage. It was in an awkward spot to spray with bug killer or to pick off the insects one by one. And with my allergies, I was reluctant to use pesticides, so I gave up and stopped watering what remained of the once vibrant flowering shrub—only bare branches. But a downpour of rain from recent storms soaked it, and it pushed out new growth again after many months of lying dormant. I had missed the cheerful blossoms and was so glad they had returned.

There beyond my kitchen window was a lesson just for me and maybe you too. Sometimes I feel like that bougainvillea whenever I focus on my circumstances instead of on the Lord. When I rush ahead of Him and do things on my own, grasshoppers of discouragement, worry, and fear invade my life. I too dry up after opening the door to these enemies. When God points out I’ve let peace-devourers inside me, I turn back to Jesus and ask Him to forgive and restore me to close fellowship. Then I can once again please Him and enjoy the life-giving water of His Spirit and Word.

Has your life ever seemed as though it was about to dry up? God’s living water can revive you—no matter where you are in life or what you’ve done. Just turn to Him with repentance and ask Him to restore the joy of His salvation.

Dear Lord, please help me keep my eyes on You instead of on my circumstances.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Go Deeper — Keep looking to Jesus instead of your troubles.