Sotto voce

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit He taketh away: and every branch in me that beareth fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” (John 15:1-2)

Lowering the boom

I find that there are two ways—when once you’ve known the Lord for a bit—that He deals with us with reference to fruit. And we should always be bearing fruit for the Lord. Take the top passage for instance. Jesus speaks of His followers as branches off the Vine. What’s comforting to know is that even in spite of our lack of yield, we as “branches” are still “in Him”. Now, don’t let that further lull you into complacency. We are “in Him” purely by virtue of our having believed on Him for salvation. He upholds His end of the bargain by recreating our spirit and also reserving our place in Heaven. The idea of a Christian that is dry and unfruitful is not what the Father was aiming at when He sent His Son to redeem humanity. And so Jesus continues: “…that beareth not fruit He (His Father, the “husbandman” of the parable) taketh away.” Jesus promises those believers with fallow hearts a little extra special attention, to put it politely. I find that with all that’s available to us, by-and-large (I’m talking air, food and water, shelter), we have no reason at all to remain unfruitful. I referenced between those parentheses up there, four merely physical things. How many intangibles, though, could we list and then direct to God in thanksgiving if we really put our mind to it? And then put pen to paper. Food for thought. A state of barrenness in the believer warrants the Father’s attention in a different way than you might expect. Even though the person you observe (or you, if you find yourself without fruit during your season) might look to be out of God’s purview, nothing could be further from the truth. He is actively turning up circumstances to bring that person to repentance. This is what the “taketh away” refers to in Jesus’s parable. God is going to deal with you personally. You (they) may not like it when it does show but when all the wind and the fire and the earthquake subside, you will hear His “still small voice.” (see 1 Kings 19:12)

Raising the bar

“Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

But then again, say you’re feeling chastened by your Heavenly Father but you can’t really place the source nor the reason. This is a new one. You’ve been walking (you’re pretty sure) with your hand in His and yet something came along and not blindsided, but rather “gave you pause”. You know your Father well enough (you think) to see His hand in things and you’ve got a bead on your sin and maybe you’re not doing anything outwardly that looks to be worthy of censure. God knows. And while I’m not one to think up a story or narrative to every miserable thing that comes at me, I do know that He allows certain things in order that I would cozy up more to Him and wait. Be quiet. There’s something deeper He’s getting at that to which we heretofore did not have access. Look at Joshua “the high priest” (see Zechariah 3), you would have thought he had it together. But when we stand before the Lord, we realize just how sinful we are without Him. Even in places of beauty and blessing, the Father still aims to bring you closer. And the only way to bear it—and indeed, the only way to bear more fruit—is to wait on Him. If something happened in your life that feels like the chastening of the Lord, ask Him to show you what He’s getting at.

“For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; in returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength…” (Isaiah 30:15; the last line says “but ye would not.” Don’t be like that.)

God doesn’t have to shout. His still, small voice is meant just for you (the literal translation of sotto voce, by the way—something spoken in a low tone for one else to hear but the one spoken to). But if we don’t hear it because we’re too distracted or unwilling, He may well kick up the aforementioned frightening things (wind, fire, earthquake—figuratively) to bring you (or me) to your knees. And also to cause us to either begin to bear fruit or else prune us down in order that we might bear more fruit.

“And [you] shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth [your] fruit in [your] season; [your] leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever [you] doeth shall prosper.” (Psalm 1:3)

The Third Wheel part two

“Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.” (Proverbs 16:3)

I left the counseling session feeling stripped. Not in a bad way, mind you; just disabused from any ways of thinking that were dragging me down, relationally. Isn’t it remarkable how you walk around feeling normal and then you undergo a change in your thought pattern or process and while your personhood comes out intact, you end in seeing your former mindset as thoroughly ineffective? Amazing. Because you don’t see bad thinking, while you’re in it, for what it is. I certainly didn’t know I was harboring some strain of thought (like an evil gear) that would’ve prevented me from meeting the person to whom the Lord would have wanted to introduce me. I brought the handwritten notes the pastor’s wife had taken down during our time together and folded it in quarters and retained them. She illustrated her idea of “clashing” for me and I wanted to really meditate on what she was saying—what I felt God was saying to me, through her. As I absorbed this newfound idea of “clashing”, it came to be symbolized by two gears. But that’s not clashing, is it? If two cars collide, that’s “clashing”. But if two gears (remember, one by itself is not a machine) rotate towards one another, they will continue to rotate and rotate by virtue of their cogs, or “teeth”. And yet I couldn’t see this. The symbolism doesn’t fit as solidly as it should to facilitate smooth cognition. I left the counseling session and shortly thereafter, the church (my friend and I elected start our own small-group thing) but that piece was temporarily broken for me. 

“There is a way that seemeth right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” (Proverbs 16:25)

Going forward, I suppose the lesson learnt here would be that God doesn’t intend for us to run in place. In the case of my parents’ marriage (both of whom are divorced from one another), they did not mesh (symbolically speaking) and as such, things broke. But going forward requires that Third Wheel. And it goes without saying that God’s Spirit would need to be that Spirit within. My cognition has smoothed remarkably in the wake of the experiences at my old church, and I am more than grateful to have encountered the people there and still count them my friends.

“And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and His disciples, to the marriage.” (John 2:1-2)

In case you haven’t noticed, the whole point of this little story of mine is Marriage. If we as couples and as Christian individuals (the latter always precedes the former) do not have the Lord Jesus Christ as both the center and also (symbolically speaking) the third wheel to our transmission, we won’t go anywhere and eventually, we will break down.

The Third Wheel part one

“Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither was their spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.” (Ezekiel 1:20, emphasis mine)

Two gears rotating against one another does not create forward motion. This is obvious, but I wonder. I wonder about the state of my mind sometimes. There has to be a third wheel on the one side (doesn’t matter the size) to create forward motion.

In the Summer of 2012, I had at a friend’s invitation/admonition begun attending another church. I’m not one to “church hop” but I feel the time had come. A strong dryness (how else can I say it?) had pervaded everything about the current church I was attending and so I felt a change was needed. I slowly began integrating and had met with the pastor—nice guy. He filled his schedule week-in and week-out (as most people tend to do) and I was grateful for the time. I felt good about our meeting and so every Sunday, I showed up and met my friend and his wife and we attended service. I came to find in the the ensuing weeks that I knew many of the parishioners; I also met the pastor’s wife and we got along well. She filled her schedule as well with counseling appointments and around that time a series of dreams that had dogged me (not in a bad way) for a number of years bubbled to the surface. Real quick: it’s because they were a narrative and that story over me was about to end. But I wasn’t fully aware of this and so I asked if I could meet with her and discuss this. She agreed, the calendar was marked and I was again grateful. Upon sitting down to our engagement and after small talk and pleasantries, I launched into my story. But rather than get into the theme of my dreams (I had come to intuit their interpretation and as such, didn’t really need help on that line), she pulled out a line I had uttered and that I hadn’t even noticed: “I refuse to marry someone like my mother”. She wanted to zero in on that.

“Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3)

She told me she saw “clashing”. And whether or not the description that came after was made up of exactly the words that created the following picture in my mind or not, I saw in my mind’s eye two wheels (gears) turning towards one another. This symbolized my parents and their (take a look at the scripture above) cross-purposes as to what a family under God’s direction might look like. Now, obviously, two gears—teeth and all—will mesh and rotate and create a simple machine. It goes without saying, obviously, that they are rotating towards one another and that, also, they aren’t going anywhere. Just running in place, as it were. I find this to be an attractive symbolism for one aspect of the marriage relationship. But, as I’ve been reminded many a time with reference to marriage: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33) Even the most perfect, fairy-tale encounter/enmeshing/engagement of two individuals is merely a simple machine, even but a cog (tooth) in God’s plan. It may well encompass all our life and the life of our other. But. God’s always got other things going on. I digress. The two gears! That’s what I saw and like I say, whether it was explained to me just so, or not, the mental picture of two gears came to include the illogic of clashing. What had begun as a simple church-hop (okay) wound down to the very core of my thought process. How can two walk together? And how can two thoughts transmit if the very symbol of cognition wasn’t working correctly? If two gears are rotating in the same direction, and you bring them in and among one another, something is going to break.

“And as Jesus passed by, He saw a man which was blind from his birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, Master who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” (John 9:2-4)

What begun as an unassuming dream-counseling session yielded two unrelated things: firstly, I was effectively able to localize what would have prevented me from getting involved with anyone under the intent of marriage (this realization is worth tomes). Secondly, I had around that time begun thinking about my own mental processes in the shape of a transmission—an innumerable number of gears rotating with the impetus of my spirit (“the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels”). And this session temporarily stopped the two that symbolized (wherever they may be in my mind/brain) my forthcoming marriage.

To be continued.