“Even things of great value should be given up if they are leading a person to sin.”
~English Standard Version Study Bible
Commentary on Matthew 5:29-30
Ouch! That stings a little.
I might stubbornly hold on for a minute or two to (what I think of as) “real” sin when God convicts me. These are things such as losing my temper with my children or watching TV shows or movies that don’t bring Him glory. Then there are things that are easy for me to agree are outright sins – murder, abortion, adultery, worshiping another god…
But I don’t want to agree with Him, and I dig my heels in when He convicts me of something I don’t see as “real” sin. When He begins to show me that I have to let go of something because it is distracting me from fulfilling His purpose for me.
You see, that is sin, too. Anything that separates me from God is sin. Anything that does not bring God glory is sin. Anything I want more than I want Him is sin.
And that’s harder to swallow.
If something causes me to sin, I have to get rid of it. If God says something has to go, it has to go. If He points me in a direction, and I refuse to go, I’m being disobedient. And disobedience is sin.
I’ve known for several years that God said no to my photography business. But taking pictures wasn’t a “real” sin. I wasn’t getting drunk or cheating on my husband…and I liked photography, and people seemed to like my work, so I pursued it anyway.
But, it’s funny what happens when you do something after God has said no. It might become very difficult and you have to work way too hard; you might begin to hate it when it was something you really liked to begin with, or He might take it away from you altogether.
He will get your attention. He will continue to convict you. Just because you pulled a four-year-old and folded your arms, poked out your lips, stomped your foot, and acted like you didn’t hear Him doesn’t mean that He gives up.
He is God, and He said no. If you move forward anyway, you do so at your own risk and in complete defiance of Him.
“But it’s just photography!” You say. “It’s just something to do for fun.”
True, but I tried to push it beyond that. I tried to act on my own outside of God’s sovereignty. I tried to make it what I wanted it to be.
See, I thought I would be a photographer when Emery went back to school. I had worked up a nice like side business while I was at home with my kids, and I thought I could build it up to the point that it would be my full-time job when it came time to go back to work. I thought I could present it to Bill when he said it was time to go back to work, and he’d let me do that instead.
Long story short, God said no.
It honestly took me several years to let it go. I kept holding on to little bits and pieces of it. I almost completely stopped doing weddings but kept doing regular sessions. Then, I slowed way down on the regular sessions…but in the end, God made it clear. The answer was still no.
Not – “you can do other stuff just not weddings.”
Not – “just do a few sessions a month to make extra money.”
Not – “you can keep working with past clients, just don’t take on new ones.”
Not at all.
Taking pictures wasn’t a sin. Making money wasn’t a sin.
Continuing to do something God told me not to do was a sin.
I finally started to come to grips with the truth of this earlier this year when I attended a women’s retreat and the speakers’ messages centered around John 15:1-11.
Their focus overall was verse 11, but God got a-hold of me with verse 2:
“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, He takes away, and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that is may bear more fruit.”
I was so arrested by that verse the first night of the retreat that I couldn’t leave my seat after the session was over. The speaker taught on other verses from that section, but I was fixated on verse 2.
That night, I studied on my own – reading a commentary on the verse and praying and journaling about it.
The ESV commentary said, “ ‘He prunes’ gives a picture of painful but necessary removal of some interests and activities in order that the remaining branches may bear even more fruit.”
There it was, plainly written on the page.
God wasn’t just “being mean” or saying no just because he could. Taking pictures wasn’t a sin. But it was an interest or activity that needed to go so I could bear more fruit – fruit I wouldn’t bear if my energy and attention was on photography.
The next day at the retreat, another of the speakers focused on verse 2.
I was riveted!
Her name was Lindsay deBuhr, and she used an extended description of grapevines, vineyards, and vine dressers to explain John 15:2.
Among many other eye-opening tidbits about how a vine dresser cares for the vines in his vineyard, Lindsay clarified that pruning was removing clusters of grapes or leaves or branches so the vine could give its energy to the best fruit.
To the untrained eye, the clusters of fruit the vine dresser removes might look perfectly healthy. There might be nothing visibly wrong with the leaves or branches he cuts off the vine.
But the vine dresser knows. (The vine dresser in John 15 is an analogy for God, by the way 😉 ) He knows the difference between good fruit and the best fruit. He knows which leaves are blocking the sunlight from the best fruit. He knows which branches are growing the wrong way.
And He removes them. Then, the vine can focus on the best fruit.
“God removes all things in the believer’s life that would hinder fruit-bearing.”
~Macarthur Study Bible Commentary on John 15:2
Pray this with me:
Father, you are the divine vine dresser. You know the fruit the branches could bear, and you know how to get the branches to bear that fruit. You tend, and you care, and you cultivate, and you prune.
All I can do is submit to the pruning. I am the branch, and I am in the vine, your son, Jesus Christ. I want to abide in Him, and I want to bear fruit. I stretch out my arms, and I lay down my life, and I give it to you. Prune me, Lord. Take out all the stuff getting in the way. Take out all the stuff keeping me from you. Take out all the stuff draining my time. Take out all the stuff that divides my interests. Cut it all out. It may be painful at times, but I’ll abide in the vine, and I’ll remember you are cutting out the sins, the hindrances, the drain…you’re doing this because you know what is best for me.
Most importantly, teach me to come to you first before I even bring this junk into my life in the first place. Teach me to let you make the decisions. Teach me to seek you and to be obedient.