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For the past 16 weeks, our ministry staff team working with graduate students met online Monday-Friday every morning from 9:30 AM-10:00 AM. At the most, 12 of us gathered, and we rotated leadership every morning. We took the first 10 minutes to visit and share about our lives. Then, someone led a 10 minute devotion through a passage of scripture of their choice. Finally, we prayed through the topic addressed in the devotion for the last 10 minutes.
Personal updates, promises from scripture, and prayer together: a simple formula that brought so much joy.
I especially loved learning from the older staff members. I learned from their wise insights in scripture. I listened to their mature prayer. I thought about walking with Jesus for the next thirty years as they have. Then, I went about my day.
This prayer group sustained me as I transitioned back in March to online teaching and felt depleted of every resource. The devotion on Jesus feeding the 5000 and multiplying whatever resources we offer Him changed my whole perspective that day. This prayer group helped us all grapple with systemic racism as we prayed through Isaiah’s call to work against oppression along with our staff living in the heart of the protests in Minneapolis. This prayer group prayed me through the end of the semester, through my daughter’s graduation, and through the building of a summer garden. Prayer became the rhythm of the morning and the wisdom for godly living.
I think the early gathering of believers in Acts must have felt this way as they shared their lives and daily prayer. I’m excited to find ways to continue gathering others in prayer like this online, especially if we return to a COVID-19 isolation situation.
This morning, I read 2 Corinthians, and I noted some key phrases that I always overlook or don’t bring into my awareness as I go about my ordinary day. Paul declares some astonishing truths about you and me:
Christ’s comfort overflows out of our lives to others (1:5). We move about our day as agents of profound comfort to hurting people. We are comforters.
We are anointed and have God’s seal of ownership on us (1:21-22). To have an “anointing” represents an extraordinary and powerful identity; it refers to the power, presence, and affirmation of God over your life. We are anointed.
We are triumphantly led and walk about spreading the knowledge of God as a metaphorical fragrance or aroma (2:14-15). We spread the knowledge of God.
We are competent ministers wherever we go (3:6). We are competent.
I think about a different kind of day in which we live as comforting, anointed, knowledge-spreading, competent ministers. Go forth!
I suppose I’ve learned flexibility most of all theses last few months, and I approach the next few months the same way. I’m learning that life can change at any moment. I’m learning that your plans won’t always work out, even the ones you spent so long forming. Flexible living invites an expectation that unknown, uncertain events don’t necessarily threaten you; they instead create opportunities to grow and depend more on God. Flexible living enhances this life of faith. It catalyzes creative moments. I’m amazed at what confined living produced during COVID-19 isolation. I grew a garden. I learned new technologies. I developed relationships.
In practice, flexibility means I build a fall semester syllabus that might move to remote learning at any time. I’ll glean the lessons and the joys while persevering through difficulties. It also means I loosen my hold on what my oldest daughter’s freshman year of college might look like. There are many ways to live a wonderful, abundant life, and just because hers might look vastly different from my own college years, it doesn’t lessen the joy and personal growth she can find right where God has placed her.
Each new morning, I patrol the garden. I’m checking for predators, weeds, pests, and anything that might harm the growing fruit. I know the plants well. I see new leaves and new blossoms. It’s a careful and loving consideration.
As I continue to study John 15 and Father’s role as the Gardener, I think of how cared for we are each day. The Gardener protects, provides, and ensures our fruitfulness. He sees us with careful and loving consideration.
In my garden, I’ve been pruning to create more fruitfulness. It’s counterintuitive that by diminishing your plants, you gain more.
Basil works like this. The more I take, the more it grows. Of course, I have to pick the basil in the right spots to encourage more growth.
I also notice that when I pruned the top of my plumcot sapling, suddenly it grew healthy branches. It began to grow outward in the right directions instead of flimsily growing upward and upward.
Finally, I pruned away the leaves on my ground cherry that seemed diseased in order to protect the rest of the plant and ensure more fruitfulness.
In John 15, we know that God both cuts off branches that bear no fruit, but He also prunes those branches that do bear fruit so they will become more fruitful.
When God takes away something (a relationship, an activity, an ability, an opportunity), we might learn to see how this encourages more fruitfulness and greater spiritual health. It’s not a diminishment. It’s an enhancement. It’s protection. And when He humbles us in some way by blocking our upward path, it’s so we stretch out in the right direction.