I’ve been praying for beloveds in an extended season of unfruitfulness… Feeling barren, empty, without purpose or fulfillment.
These seasons, no matter how long or short they are, can feel like lifetimes. Indeed, they were almost lifetimes for many of our Biblical heroes. Do you find yourself there?
I have been there. For many years, I felt like I would never come into a place where things just… line up! Where beautiful life springs up out of the ground.
But as I stand from the season I am in today, I can tell you that not a moment was wasted in those dark unfruitful times. And, I can look back over my shoulder and examine all that God has done, all He continues to do… And I am unceasingly grateful for every second spent in the dark and empty spaces.
WHY? What is God doing in seasons of barrenness, fruitlessness, emptiness, and loss?
Here are a few ideas of what God might be up to in the deep soil of your soul or the outstretched branches of your life…
- HE IS PRUNING.
A good Vinedresser (gardener) will prune a healthy, fruitful tree, cutting off certain branches for a specific purpose. When a branch is cut, the tree will send nutrients to pool at the cut in order to heal it and spur on new growth. When God has cut something from your life (something that was good!), often – in your grief, sadness, loss, and pain, divine resources are being pooled into that specific area for a new calling to be born, one that will grow to bear more fruit than it was otherwise capable of.
Humble response: When we stop reaching for what was lost, and brave the dreaded empty space, we make room for divine resources to pool there. In time, the nutrients will do their work. Trust that God will spring up something new when the work of the nutrients is finished.
(Could Paul have been embracing seasons of good healthy pruning during his years of imprisonment? He could no longer serve, travel, and preach the way he had been. But as he leaned in to the Lord, into the silence and inactivity, God pooled divine resources into his spirit and it resulted in many of the inspired letters that continue to impact our lives today thousands of years later.)
2. HE IS WORKING OUT CIRCUMSTANCES beyond your ability to see or perceive in the natural.
Humble response: It is so hard to relinquish control. But God’s ways are higher than yours. There is something bigger going on than just you… God wants to use your life as a blessing to many!! Give your life to a kingdom that is bigger than just you… Entrust your life to Him. He knows the time. “My times are in your hand” (Psalm 31:15).
(Joseph is such an honored man in the Church and the Scriptures, but his life was one of suffering and confusion. Why would God speak the words He spoke only to then abandon him to a life of slavery, imprisonment, and betrayal? Joseph did not have answers, but somewhere in his spirit had discerned the season… He knew that somehow God was at work in the Sovereign way that only God can know and understand. Sure enough, all of the circumstances in Joseph’s life were divinely orchestrated to sustain the very existence of God’s people – and ultimately the redemption plan for all mankind.)
3. HE IS REVEALING HIMSELF to you in a new way, wooing your heart to Himself in a way that you have yet to recognize.
Humble response: Try to lift your eyes off of whatever is going on in the immediate circumstances of your life, and in the deep feelings at work in your heart. Learn to have eyes that see beyond the natural, beyond your feelings into heaven itself. Let God show you more of Himself as He woos you into deeper relationship with Him. He is the deepest desire of our souls and place of true wholeness and satisfaction.
(We can see this happening in the heart of David through the Psalms, as he waited for decades, hiding in caves, running for his life, before God promoted him to be king over Israel. So much of how I know the Lord today is a result of David leaning into the Lord’s personal revelation in seasons of unfruitfulness, barrenness, and loss. God was writing the Psalms on the heart of David to direct the worship of His people for generation after generation and more to come…)
4. HE IS HEALING YOU!
Sometimes, we are crying out for healing, comfort, satisfaction, and strength – but it is our wounds that keep us from experiencing these things. Our wounds are healed in the Lord’s presence, but if we’re too busy and don’t spend extended amounts of time in His Presence and Word (“He sent his Word and healed them” Psalm 107:20), then how can He heal them? To someone, He might be saying, “Sit still and let me in there!”
Humble response: Run into the Mighty Fortress of our God, the hidden refuge that is His presence. Let His Word wash over you in those wounded places and be healed. It takes time to be healed. It means entering the flow of those dark rivers at work beneath the surface of your life, then bringing God and His truth into them, sometimes wrestling through the two opposing streams as they clash together in your soul… But ultimately, give way to the Living water, and freedom will arise. “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God” Psalm 46:4)
5. HE IS PREPARING YOU, forcing your roots to dig deeper into God’s WORD, teaching you to hold fast to His PRESENCE, so you can weather the storm ahead. He knows what’s coming!
Humble response: Sit in His Word. Be still and know that He is God. Soak in His promises. Learnt the art of waiting, of qavah qavah (Psalm 40:1). Remember that what He has spoken will come to pass. His Word does not return unto Him void, but will accomplish the purpose for which he sent it (Isaiah 55:11).
6. HE IS BUILDING YOUR CAPACITY as a leader, stretching out your poles, establishing a stronger foundation and belief system (faith structure) that can hold more so you can lead with greater confidence and strength in who you are, what you’re called to do.
Humble response: Do you know what God purposes to do through your life? Does He intend to use you to influence many? If so, you will be broken and stretched in order exist higher and wider beyond your current capacity. There is a sacrifice to a life of influence. Humble yourself, be willing to fail, be broken and stretched, if you are willing to let God make you into a leader.
(All three previously listed may be well represented in the case of Moses in the Midian desert. He wanted to deliver God’s people and was called to deliver God’s people, but the inner structure of his heart, soul, and mind was not capable of bearing the weight and responsibility involved in the task. God graciously and patiently removed Him in order to heal his wounded heart, build his capacity, stretch down his roots, spread wide his tents, prepare the inner structure of his soul and spirit to withstand the great challenges, miracles, and leadership responsibilities that lie ahead. What if Moses didn’t grow and develop in that season? What if he faltered in fear and insecurity and ran away from the might of Pharaoh or the endless criticizing of the people? Who can withstand the stress and pressure of all that he endured – and with no Bible or manual in hand! That season of fruitlessness was necessary for the very beginning of our deliverance that would be fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Through Moses God began His kingdom work on earth and revealed His power and purpose to set His people free!)
7. HE IS DISCIPLINING, as a Father disciplines a child who is on the wrong path. Come back and return to the Lord’s perfect will! Face where you’ve missed the mark and turn back to the path of divine favor and grace.
Humble response: Learn the mercy of God. Trust in His tender heart toward His children. Learn the art of confession and bring your honest, vulnerable self before the throne of grace. Every single one of us lives right there, on our knees, bowed before the throne of grace.
(This one we see in everyone’s life, all through the Scriptures. All of us have sinned, have broken souls, twisted minds, physical ailments, and general weakness! Discipline is the loving way that God leads His sheep to green pastures, to lie beside still waters, and to restore their soul, Psalm 23.)
HONOR THE SEASON (instead of guilt)
I think it’s important that we celebrate seasons of fruitfulness, but also that we honor the seasons of unfruitfulness. We know from Scripture that God is actively in control during these seasons, working in ways that are necessary to bring us along in His will for our life and kingdom advancement…
Still, we seem to feel guilty, look inward and say, “What’s wrong with me? What am I doing wrong?” We can over-emphasize serving as the cure-all, as though working harder at life is enough to save our souls and bear eternal kingdom fruit…
We forget to look upward, to remember that our God is the One in control, and say, “What is this season you have placed me in? What are you doing in me? What do you want to happen in my soul? What do you plan to birth out of me?”
It takes a small amount of co-operation for God to accomplish what He’s trying to accomplish in you. If you won’t look Him in the eye, it’s hard for Him to gain access to your soul.
DON’T LET GUILT ROB YOU OF THE TREASURES GOD HAS PREPARED FOR YOU IN THIS SEASON.
When we respond to these seasons with GUILT, the enemy’s voice of condemnation tends to take over and the work of the Holy Spirit is halted.
But imagine if we could respond to each other in seasons of unfruitfulness with honor that says, “Wow, God is at work in the deep places of your soul. He has hidden treasures, riches stashed away in secret places (Isaiah 45:3) for you to discover that will be a great blessing to the church. We honor you in this season and encourage you to discover all that God has for you there.”
There is a doing to our faith. We must do. Hard work is necessary for a thriving faith and life of fruitfulness.
But so is listening. So is discerning the voice of God and the season He has placed us in.
It matters that we allow God to continue His saving work in our lives, even when we’re “already saved” and serving in His name.
This morning I honor all of you in the church who are struggling under a heavy season of unfruitfulness.
Unless God is calling you to repent, and turn back to the path of His divine will, then you are exactly where you are supposed to be. STOP FEELING GUILTY, AND LISTEN. Dig into the darkness – the darkness is the SOIL in which our roots and capacity grow, and where eternal seeds come to life – and discern the season you are in. There is much to discover there.
“I will give you hidden treasures, riches stashed away in secret places, so you may recognize that I am the Lord, the one who calls you by name, the God of Israel” (Isaiah 45:3).
Trust in the Good Father, the Vinedresser of your soul. He knows who you are. He know where you are. He knows what’s happening in the depths of your soul, mind, body, and spirit, and there is purpose in the here and now.
Honor the season.
Honor your soul.
Honor the seeds within your soul germinating in the darkness.
Honor the Spirit’s work within you, for the great harvest that is to come through you.