One experience that visually brings spiritual truths to life for me is gardening. After all, God designed and created the first garden for his first created children when he placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
I’ve always loved flowers – the more colorful the better. I grew up with two sets of farming grandparents, and two exceptional flower-growing grandmothers. I didn’t inherit too many other domestic skills or loves from either of them, but a deep dedication to flower gardening continued through my mother and on to me.
If you’re like me and love to put your hands in the dirt to plant, tend and harvest, you’ve probably also learned and applied many Biblical analogies to your efforts. Every year, I dread pruning roses. Even with gloves, my hands and arms are left scratched and bleeding. Thorns hurt! I had a thought one day that the roses can’t possibly enjoy this any better than I do. They don’t want to be tortured. They’re comfortable just like they are. Nevertheless, it’s job that must be done, and it must be done regularly. Why? If you want productive plants that bloom as beautifully as they were designed to do, you have to eliminate the dead wood, eradicate the harmful disease so it doesn’t destroy the entire plant. You have to cut back growth in the wrong areas to retrain healthier growth, or at least growth in the direction you desire for your landscaping purposes.
In this part of the country, we usually prune roses in early-mid February. One year, between illness, incessant rain and other weekend obligations, it didn’t happen. I waited too late. By the time the calendar turned to April, I still hadn’t pruned. Normally, we’ll have a good first-round of blooms by Mother’s Day. I knew by April it would be too late. In all my years of beautiful roses, this wasn’t one of them. The bushes were leggy and overtaken with each other. They had no shape or form and the few blooms did appear were pitifully small. I had left them on their own and caused more problems than not (and more work for myself in the long run!)
Many types of materials besides roses or plants require a pruning or refining process. Think about metals, gemstones, and wood. They may need to be fired, sanded, smoothed, or even melted to achieve their peak state of usefulness.
Refinement in any form doesn't happen easily or painlessly. Not with metals, gemstones, or wood. Not with the human heart or spirit. For us, being pruned, sanded, or fired doesn’t feel good. It might look like being humbled as our rough edges are smoothed, or walking through a painful season as we learn to stop relying on our own strength or wisdom or control. It can be uncomfortable or miserable, maybe even devastating. The Amplified Bible calls this time a “furnace of affliction” in Isaiah 48:10. No one wants to walk through these hardships. But without seasons of regular pruning or refinement, we would, like the roses, grow in the wrong direction away from our Father. We wouldn't learn His heart. We wouldn't thrive. We wouldn’t become all that He created us to become. We wouldn't know that God is bigger than any and all of our pain. We wouldn’t know that God is better than any other possible outcome or alternative and worth whatever He requires of us. We wouldn’t know that his well of love reaches all the way down into our pit or that His arms of grace and mercy extend to the farthest realm of our pain.
When it hurts, when we don't understand, the only thing we can do is lean in to Him. Our inclination is often to do the opposite. I encourage you to trust Him through the trials, through the fire as He walks through it with you. He is a master designer who has a splendid and positive purpose for each of us (Jeremiah 29:11.) May our lives be more aligned with His purpose and more fruitful than ever as we trust His refining fire.
Take a moment and listen to one of my favorite worship songs of all time, Refiner's Fire.
Indeed, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested and chosen you in the furnace of affliction. ~Isaiah 48:10 (AMP)