The second of a three part series on suffering, continuing the story that began in Stripped.

“Contentment is taking pleasure in God’s disposal. This is so when I am well pleased in what God does, in so far as I can see God in it, though, as I said, I may be sensible of the affliction, and may desire that God in his due time would remove it, and may use means to remove it. Yet I am well pleased in so far as God’s hand is in it.”

Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

One of my pastors, Gavin Peacock, regularly reminds me that “God doesn’t waste anything, including any period of your life. He uses it all.” During these recent troubles I’ve found this to be true. I certainly haven’t liked these times of trials. But looking back, I’ve realize how much I’ve grown through them. I now see that, though bitter the taste, I would not choose to trade these events for something easier. They were given to me for a reason. I’m like a child who hates learning how to read, and the Lord is like a wise tutor who says “yes, this is hard, but it is training and you will thank me later.”

As the exhaustion of work and medication trials set in, many of the things I wanted to do had to be put aside. This of course included school and opportunities at work, but also the many ways I could support my church, writing opportunities (my website and requests from others), and other personal creative projects (a new podcast a friend and I mapped out and a series of interviews). I mentioned last time how this experience humbled me, bringing me face to face with my inabilities. But I still felt like I was wasting the resources given to me by God. With frustration I complained, for are we not commanded to bear fruit? Could I not offer something to show for the life I had been given?

I brought this conundrum to Gavin one day. He had me imagine a tree that is producing lush apples. If this tree starts to focus on these apples, channeling all its resources into what they look like and how well they are growing, it will eventually run out nutrients, wither, and die, killing itself along with its fruit. Instead, the tree would be wiser to focus on its roots, digging deep into the good soil, bringing nutrients to the entire tree. Then fruit will then come, unbidden and unlooked for, freely offered to whoever needs it. That truly is the best kind of fruit.

Later, my pastor Clint Humfrey brought to my attention Jesus’ words in John 15:2: “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit [the Father] takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it might bear more fruit.” To the branch who wants to bear fruit, being clipped by sharp shears seems counterintuitive. Compare a wild tree to a freshly pruned tree. Which tree seems healthier? The wild tree appears to be more productive; notice the healthy foliage it grows in every direction and the multitude of branches, complete with small apples. In contrast, the pruned tree looks naked and bare, perhaps even bruised and bloody. But the Farmer knows his trees and through his pruning he is preparing growth that will result in fruit far better than what the tree would bear on its own.

This illustration, brought to me by my pastor from the words Jesus himself, has brought me much comfort. Again and again I’ve told myself “Trust the Farmer, Daniel. Be encouraged by the painful pruning!” “The branch that does bear fruit, he prunes, that it might bear more fruit.” God is pruning because he realizes the tree’s potential. He prunes because He has better plans for that tree, plans that position him in His garden of foliage.

The story continues in Sustained.