The sound of enthusiastic applause filled the church when Dr. Henry Cloud concluded his message this weekend. He spoke about a struggle common to all of us. He spoke with great wisdom and understanding. We recognized ourselves in the stories and were thankful to find that, as always, the answer to our questions was tucked away in the pages of scripture.
He spoke from the thirteenth chapter of Luke - the parable of the fig tree (13:6-9) - a lesson on "Getting Unstuck." Dr. Cloud provided a recipe whose simple ingredients are: Dig - Fertilize - Year.
Before we can use the recipe there is something we need to understand - the "why" I cannot seem to break the cycle of "try to change - fail - guilt - try harder - fail..." It was this that the Spirit wrote in bold letters across my heart; this that I need to make my own once and for all.
Like the fig tree in the parable, there are things in my life that need to change so that I can produce fruit. I know these things well and struggle to change only to fail over and over again. The man's solution to the problem of the barren fig tree was "Cut it down. It's just taking up space in the garden." (verse 7) It is the voice of judgement - living under the law. Sometimes it is the voices of others. More often it is a far more familiar voice.
"When I fail to live up to my own expectations, I hear my own condemning voice and call it conviction," said Dr. Cloud. I put myself under the law, and in so doing the fruit I produce is anger, guilt, shame and condemnation. I simply cut myself down.
Left in this state, I will repeat that old cycle over and over and over again. However, just like the poor fig tree, I have an advocate. The gardener in the story came to its rescue, "Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I'll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down." (verses 8,9)
Jesus comes to my rescue and stops the voices of condemnation. "Leave her alone," He says. Before I can get better, I need no condemnation, and this is what grace offers me. Grace - from the One who took all my sin and gave me His righteousness.
When I accept grace, I am ready for the recipe: Dig - Fertilize - Year. We dig, with help, to find what is hidden under the surface - the real reason we cannot seem to make the change we know we need to make. Grace comes next, the fertilizer that provides what we cannot do for ourselves. It comes from the hand of a loving Father. Then we need to give ourselves time. It takes time to get better.
There is no need to hurry. We are on a journey - one that is filled with joys and sorrows and circumstances we could never have imagined. It is a journey that takes a lifetime. Jesus takes you by the hand and walks it with you. It is His delight.
"So there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus."
"Who then will condemn us? No one - for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and He is sitting in the place of honor at God's right hand, pleading for us."
Linking to Michelle's: Hear It On Sunday. Use It On Monday.