Daniel H. Brokke
Pruning and Fruitfulness
I watched horticulturist prune and trim back plants to make them healthier and bear more fruit. He appeared to be nearly destroying the plants. The average person is hesitant to trim back a shrub or plant very far for fear of damaging or killing it. I am not a horticulturist, and therefore, far too “gentle and kind” with my plants.
I recently visited friends who have lived in the same home for more than 50 years. The front of their home was covered and blocked from view by spruce and juniper shrubs and bushes that had been allowed to grow unrestrained and unpruned. They were out of control.
During the last 7 years God did some heavy duty pruning of my life and relationships.
Sailing into the Fog
After more than 24 years in Christian publishing, beginning in production and manufacturing, and then in marketing and sales, and finally in executive management and leadership, I came to a radical change of direction as God lead me out of the world I had known so well. Five years earlier He had given me a mental picture of “sailing into the fog.” The clear and predictable world of the known was replaced by one of uncertainty and discovery. It seemed like God was forcing me to learn to trust Him all over again.
The first few years of life in the fog did not go well. I knew that I was not to go back to the corporate world in which I was so comfortable. However, in my own wisdom I began to figure things out on my own – Oh, I prayed and asked God for guidance, but I also forced ideas, and partnerships, and investments, all in an attempt to do something significant for God. I lost money, strained close friendships, and wasted precious time with each “failed” effort.
Then the pressure of these began to affect our home – God reduced me (pruned) to a very simple approach to life: Pursue loving Him with all my being, love and care for my wife and family, and work hard on what is in front of me. Don’t try to be significant for the Kingdom, just be faithful in what had been entrusted to me. I remember praying, “God, I don’t need to be significant, no one needs to know where I am or what I am doing, and if You have something more for me to do – I leave that to you. I commit to be faithful before You in what is here, right now.” This season of sailing in the fog was also a time of pruning.
God pruned away my ambition and confidence in the flesh. He cut away human vision for significance and greatness, and He refocused me affection on Him. There was a point in this season where He also began to rebuild foundations in my marriage. My wife and I discovered an openness that we had never known – sometimes it was raw with honesty and other times it was vulnerable neediness. But, it did something in our relationship that is beautiful and life-giving. After 32 years of marriage, we are more committed to each other and to living for God than ever. One can only go so long with the face of unity and not the substance. God brought both of those together for us. Little did we know that it was preparation for what He had in mind!
At the same time that our family was going through a pruning process, God was bringing Bethany International through a refining and refocusing season. I truly believe that organizations – businesses, ministries, missions, and churches- need times of pruning for fruitfulness. Bethany had faced many changes in structure, personnel, and operating model through the years. Its mission had not changed but clearly the world in which it served was changing radically. To grow in fruitfulness it also was being shaken and reduced. As I reflected on the “pruning,” it is becoming more evident that what was “lost” stood in the way and resisted what is emerging as fresh vision and growth.
What was pruned away
1. Old systems and structures
In my own life and in the corporate life of Bethany the order and flow of life and work was completely rearranged. All that was security to me was gone and it threw my family into trusting God all over again. Our tendency is to begin to trust in the methods and traditions rather than in God and His provision.
During a planning session shortly after coming to Bethany, I wrote our purpose of SENDING on the right side of a white board and then the primary means of TRAINING on the left – and connected them with two lines. Then around that noted all the means, methods, structures, models, and resources that had for 60 years “organically” grown to support fulfilling our training and sending calling. As we discussed this, I began to erase those things that no longer remained – all that was left was our core “Training—-Sending” purpose. It occurred to us that God had allowed to be pruned away (or had done it Himself) everything on which we had become so dependant. What was left was a campus with buildings with offices, classrooms and beds for more than 500 people. Several large buildings were now empty – literally shut down. This campus was either a huge liability or was a tremendous asset – and endowment – entrusted to us for God’s purposes.
God planted in our spirits a picture of the Bethany campus “filled with young men and women” all training to serve Him in the nations. We also realized that the old systems and structures would not get us there. It would require listening to God, agreeing together, and then doing it. Trusting God in a whole new way to do new things!
2. One generation’s control of the future
It became abundantly clear that we needed to make room for a new generation of leaders. If we are to mobilize and reach a new generation, we must allow a new generation to take up significant leadership. God had His hand on young and very capable men and women among us. If we did not make room for them then they would eventually go somewhere else to pursue the purposes God was forming in their minds and hearts.
From my years in corporate and business leadership, I learned that the zeal and “faith” of young men and women was absolutely necessary for growth. I looked for the “Let’s get it done attitude,” and the “What else can I do to help,” and “Teach me what you know” attitudes. Thirty years ago, I was one of them at 25 years old. The founders of DaySpring Cards made room for me to contribute and lead. There were others who worked for me and surpassed me to higher levels of vision, productivity and growth. Jesus chose young men, barely in their 20’s, to be Apostles and leaders of a movement. He sent the “Helper and Comforter” to be with them always and guide them to the “end of the age.” Not a controlling mentality, but rather an empowering commitment.
Shortly after arriving at Bethany in 2006 we were led to appoint a 27 year old man with great abilities, gifting and anointing to lead Bethany College of Missions. God’s hand was and is on him. Has he made mistakes? Yes. But he is teachable and trustworthy, and he is committed to growing as a man of God and as a member of the Bethany team. His passion, zeal, and vision are reviving the mission’s training program – it is growing and students are meeting God in powerful ways. They are also obeying Jesus’ command to “GO.”
3. Independence and self-reliance
Success can be our biggest enemy of vision and change. In success we can subtly shift faith-in-God to faith-in-our-thinking, our expertise, and our position. Right alongside of success is the emergence of a “we can do it ourselves” kind of mentality. This will always block progress.
The founding generation of Bethany acted in obedience and faith to do what God had put in their hearts – training, sending, and supporting 100 missionaries. They were industrious, risk takers, and willing to do whatever it might require of them. They sold homes, pooled resources, built buildings, prayed and cried out to God for help, and literally gave their all. And God blessed! Those who joined them through the years did so as well. But along the way, as so many of their early initiatives began to succeed in greater measure, this industriousness shifted to a measure of “we can do it ourselves” thinking. Almost an extension of “faith” that goes beyond trust and absolute dependence on God.
A couple of years ago we found ourselves without the flow of resources, lacking the capacity, and absolutely needing God to move on our behalf. Our independence and self-reliance had been pruned away. We began to cry out to God in a new way. And God answered. He first miraculously brought us a relationship with Teen Mania Ministries to train youth for missions, and subsequent to that has brought several other partnerships and alliances that are opening doors we could not have imagined. These are being formed on a shared purpose and vision, and they are being pursued in a spirit of cooperation and camaraderie. They would never happen if we had not been pruned.
One day I asked God, “Did you plan that all we knew would be stripped away so that our opportunity to train this new generation would be greater than in the past?” The reality was that the old model and self-reliance of Bethany could not support the growing picture and vision that has formed in us. Whether He caused it, allowed it, or is just able to redeem our failings, one thing I know is that our God intends to use us where we are to fulfill His purposes in the earth. I am so grateful.
4. Fear of failure and loss
The 12 Israelite spies were sent into the land they had been promised by God. Fear of the giants and nations in the land caused 10 of them to pull back and give a bad report. Fear will do that. God took the 40 years to “prune” out the attitude of unbelief. Finally, when there was a generation that was willing to risk everything, willing to give up the life they had known, and willing to trust God for victory, God appointed Joshua to lead them into the land. The fear of failure and loss had been pruned away and there was willingness to risk all to receive what God had promised.
For Bethany there was a ten year period during which God used two leaders to bring substantial change. During this season the pruning was usually not understood and many times resented, but it prepared Bethany for the courage and faith to move into the future of God’s promise and fruitfulness. As I mentioned early, everything that we had known and trusted in the past was gone and if God didn’t act (or more accurately, if we didn’t move with God) we would not have a future. God literally brought us to a place where our only hope was to lose everything and risk failure to move forward.
5. Our picture of the future
Perspective usually shapes our vision for the future. If we are inward focused, our vision is often inward focused. If we are out and about, seeing new things and interacting with people and works that are beyond our traditional borders, our vision begins to be shaped by that exposure.
While I was personally living in the fog, I often prayed, “God I want your dream for me and our family – what You desire.” He seemed to withhold blessing on my efforts to fulfill the picture I had. The fog persisted. This point of surrender brought a readiness for whatever God had in mind.
This same thing happened at Bethany. As different visions and plans were developed, it seemed that instead of unity there was confusion. This confusion persisted until there was a corporate release of any future – there was even consideration of selling significant portions of the campus. This finally led to a pruning away of our picture of the future and a corporate willingness to embrace God’s idea – whatever it took. When this vision of the campus “filled with young men and women” came forward, there was a strong agreement with our board and unity emerged with our leadership. From this has come a vision of fruitfulness that was beyond our imagination.
When Jesus said, “Whoever will lose his life will find it,” I believe that it is intensely practical. He so much wants to fill us with His dreams and purposes, but ours get in the way. Once we release them…once they are pruned away, He is then free to give us His thoughts.
There is Pain in the Pruning
Pruning – physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual – leaves a mark. A bruising. Like Jacob wrestling with God, there may be a limp. The scars can go very deep but as my dear co-worker Randy reminded us, “The Lord binds up the bruises of his people” (Isaiah 30).
All this pain, hurt, and anger, along with our sin, was put on Jesus at the cross. Our greatest weakness becomes the point where God wants to do a special work of grace. As we nail that bruise to the cross, we put a stake in the ground recognizing the healing work God has done. What a gracious Savior we have, who is interested in our full freedom and release for every good work.
Taking Healing and Freedom to All Nations
Once we know the pruning and healing of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are better equipped to take the message of freedom and healing to all nations. This world is full of strife, hatred and prejudice and consequent spiritual and material poverty. While we were getting ready to go about our daily responsibilities here in our usual habitats, we are also an integral part of a larger family that is spread across every time zone. Why? Because Jesus asked us to. He said for us to “Go!”
We are sojourners here in this world – it is not our home. Eternity has been put in our hearts and we are joint heirs with Christ. As a result, we are committed to the “increase of His government and of peace,” (Isaiah 9) and pursuing the vision of Revelation 7 – seeing people from every tribe and tongue and nation gathered before the Lamb in worship.
Going Deeper – Going Further
Quite frequently I get questions about our future. When it seems to take longer to reach a goal, when we miss a budget, or fall short of a target, and when things aren’t going as hoped or expected it is only natural to ask, “Are we really going to be ok?”
Our future is anchored in a few key realities:
- Love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. It is the first and great commandment. Everything else flows out of this priority.
- Commit to know and do the will of God. We are working with God rather than asking Him to work with us. Our walk of obedience, agreement together, brings greater understanding and effectiveness.
- Work in partnership and unity with the other followers of Jesus Christ. We know that the Lord has promised blessing – he has called us all to be a part of His global community and church.
- Challenges will continue to refine us, to test us, and to prune us. Embrace them. God is committed to long term and increasing fruitfulness in and through our lives. He loves us and therefore disciplines us.
- Persevere in the face of Natural and Spiritual Opposition. Whenever we move in the direction God has for us, there will be resistance. We are called to persevere. Through this we learn to listen intently to the Holy Spirit as He adjusts our direction, saying, “this is the way, walk in it.”
I can say with certainty that when we embrace the pruning of God in our lives, no matter how it comes, we will grow in a depth of understanding of God’s calling and ways. We will be “forced” to trust Him implicitly. And, He will also take us further than we could have dreamed.
Daniel H. Brokke