I sit and ponder my deepest thoughts in my sunroom each morning. My intention is to be still and wait on the Lord, but if He isn’t engaging, I often get distracted by the view. It’s winter and the landscape is gray and stark, and, somehow, vulnerable. Because the trees are bare, I can see several branches that have broken during recent weather events, and they hang at unnatural angles to the tree. Kind of useless, but still attached, for now. I also spot the trunk of a tree that has lost its hold on life and is nestled in the middle of a copse of tall oak trees; its existence reduced to a stump about 30 or 40 feet high. I feel the stirring of the Holy Spirit and I understand that this scene is a reflection of my soul…
…And we start to have a conversation.
With this fresh perspective, I take another look through the windows and see that the vast majority of trees are splendid and healthy, reaching far into the sky and patiently waiting for the inevitable arrival of Spring. I see promise and opportunity and longevity.
But He says with urgency, “Don’t do that! Don’t look ahead to the Spring and the new growth of foliage that will, once again, hide the damage and death in your heart. Search yourself and figure out what needs to be pruned and thrown into the fire because it’s no longer productive or is wasting precious resources. And you didn’t even notice all the dormant vines running up and down the strong, secure trees; but when they come alive, they will draw off your energy and attach themselves to your stature. A new season is, indeed, coming, and it will be very active. Don’t carry this debris forward, it will impede your progress and your purpose.”
I commit to earnestly pray about it and ask Him to bring me revelation.
Then, He says, “Uproot the dead tree trunk and completely remove it – it’s a stumbling block for you.”
I find this a bit confusing because it’s merely a stump. It no longer competes with the other trees for room to grow or nutrition from the soil or the sun. It’s a non-entity. You can’t even accuse it of being a problematic intrusion because it’s completely obscured most of the year and will eventually just fall over and be consumed by insects and decay.
But He insists, “It’s an Asherah pole and must be destroyed by willful force. As long as it remains standing, it provides a foothold for temptation.”
Then He gives me a vision of several birds flying around the tall stump and taking turns resting on the top. Hawks, owls, vultures – all birds of prey. It makes me feel very unsettled and I, once again, ask Him for more revelation. But He is silent.
For the last two years I have been keenly aware that God has been working me through some sort of transition. I’m not completely sure if He is fine tuning my purpose or getting my heart and head ready for something new and even more challenging. But I do know that there has been a lot of emphasis on strengthening my character and my faith. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed very much of it. If I’m to be completely honest, it has been a time of dwelling in the desert and walking in repetitive circles.
And I have been the problem.
I have opened my heart and prayed many, many times for my Father to lighten my load a little. To release me from some of the stress, obligations, responsibilities, and health concerns. I have called out to Jesus for healing and peace, and I have cried out to the Holy Spirit to pour into me and make His presence known, but I have still felt lonely for Them. All the while, I have complained about not having fun with Them instead of listening to Their wisdom, and I have not enjoyed the ways They are working in my life because I was focusing on what They weren’t doing. And, perhaps the most embarrassing confession – I have been trying to work a lot of this out for myself – as usual.
God is so patient, and so kind.
In the last few weeks, I have felt an excitement growing in my spirit because I know He is calling me out of my wilderness and fully back into my purpose. He has been increasing my awareness of His will over my life – and that is so helpful!
Last week, I was walking around, having a light discussion with the Lord and I casually slipped in another request for rest. The Holy Spirit abruptly – and rather sternly – asked if I was saying that I wanted a break from reading the Word. I immediately told Him that wasn’t at all what I was saying! So, He asked if I was saying that I no longer wanted to be obedient to the Father. I was both shocked and frustrated, and I thought, “Whoa! This is really going sideways! I just want things to be a little easier!”
Then the Holy Spirit said, “You were not created for an easy life.”
It was the spiritual slap in the face that I desperately needed. I felt a strange surge of joy burst forth from the dusty ground as though a stone had been rolled away from a well that had been capped. I knew I was finally coming back into alignment with my Father, my Savior, and my Helper. Since this declaration was spoken over me, I’ve been living in a new state of clarity.
So, I was ready for the discussion about the trees, and I was prepared for whatever revelation I would be granted. It only took a few hours of pressing in before I understood that my Asherah pole was “Envy.” It had tempted me to want the less demanding lifestyle of others. It had invited me to be resentful of what God had called me to do. So, instead of walking down a path that had been made straight for me, I walked along side of it, tripping over obstacles and stepping into holes.
I felt good, if not a little overwhelmed, about this big reveal. The Holy Spirit was pleased with my conviction to cut the sucker down, but He put up His invisible hands and said, “Wait. You need to uncover the root and tear it out of the ground.”
I returned to my divinely assisted self-analysis, and when the fog was lifted, I was astonished to discover an intricate network of “Entitlement” tightly anchoring the pole. It had enticed me to allow the enemy to sow harmful lies under the surface of soil that was meant for a glorious reaping. Lies about what I deserved for my good and faithful service. Lies about my right to expect God to act in certain ways. All manner of lies that nibbled away at my humility. Tears of regret and repentance.
Cheers of deliverance and freedom!
And, wonder of wonders, the Holy Spirit, responding to the childish desires of my heart, has resumed playing my favorite game of Lost and Found. A couple of weekends ago, LeeAnn and I were serving in the baptismal pools at the conclusion of the Christ Fellowship Church Women’s Conference. As we rushed to change into our dunking attire and get to our serving stations, I bent over to place my earrings inside my bag, and I had immediate knowledge that one of the earrings would be lost. I even looked around on the floor later when we retrieved our stuff to go home. The next morning when I unpacked all my belongings, sure enough, there was only one earring at the bottom of the bag. I prayed for its return and kept expecting it to pop up like usual. But, as the week moved on and it didn’t show up, I planned to call the church to see if it had been found so I could collect it there. I told LeeAnn on Thursday that I had lost the earring and was going to call the church the next day. She said there was no need for that because the earring was at her house on the island. It had just appeared there and when she questioned everyone about who put it there, they all denied knowing anything about it! Game on! A few days later, another item that had been lost for about a week was just sitting on my sewing table waiting for me. I’m well aware that the Holy Spirit has incredibly important things to do, so when He takes the time to pay special attention to me, I know He is ministering to my heart.
Friends, I want to remind you that in the hard times when you struggle to feel close to God and communication with Him is difficult, He is not the one who has turned away. You don’t have to reject Him to feel separated from Him, you just have to lose your focus or your direction. And when the light is shining from behind you, all you see ahead are the shadows that you cast. Trust the Holy Spirit to help you clean up the landscape and clear out what is torn, broken, and dead. Whether you are in the storm now or it was a month ago or a lifetime ago, He will illuminate where the trouble is hiding and give you the resolve necessary to swing the ax. He is a mighty force of power and a generous source of courage. He is for you.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 … Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
John 15:1-2 “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[a] so that it will be even more fruitful.