I’m at Renaissance on a Sunday night when Pastor Jeff makes this statement, “‘…let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.’ …To deny yourself is to turn your back on self-determination.” God continued the conversation in my own heart: “Self-help hinders intimacy with Me; it’s equivalent to spiritual masturbation.”
Shocker? Not to me. It actually pointed toward a much greater understanding that started with my mom several years back. My mom loved Jesus and loved His church. She lived much of her devotional life praying through the tension that existed between the church she saw in the bible and the church she saw in America. Within the last year of her life God gave her this dream:
While walking up an old country road she came upon a beautiful young woman reclined on the dusty ground, masturbating. So disturbed by the site, she quickly looked away to Jesus. He was standing over the woman with pleasures-forevermore resting in His right hand. She asked Him, “What is this I am seeing?” He replied, “This is my bride, the church, pleasuring herself.”
If the love of God is true for us we can be assured it has been scheduled within our destinies’ encounters of suffering in the deep rural areas of our journey here on earth. In the 15th chapter of John, Jesus gives His disciples insight into their futures. Written throughout their stories and ours will be repeated visitations of pruning from a Vinedresser who is our Father. There will be places on the side of the road called Destiny where everything that has made us successful in Jesus will be cut clean from us. Everything that has been good and effectual and prosperous will be severed, and He will call it an act of His true love.
When the Vinedresser comes, He will cut away the good stuff, the stuff that has been making Him famous through us. I am not talking about the pruning of sins and weaknesses. He forgives our sins and empowers our weaknesses, but He cuts off our fruit. He comes after the stuff that has proven we follow Him (John 15:8). Perfect in wisdom, He cuts away the very fruit the two of us had been enjoying together.
Pruned, we stand naked before the world with nothing to show for our faith. Our dedicated lives will look like foolishness and will feel like punishment. For a time, our scriptural platitudes will stop proving effective in our lives. Familiar resources will run dry. Precious relationships will untie from us, and it will be for all the best reasons. This is a mysterious place of prospering. He prunes us fruitless so we will be ready to bear even greater fruit—the answers to “whatever you ask in My name.
To escalate our experience from challenging to despairing, the One whom we love removes what we love most, His presence. It is at this point we have to be cautioned. The desperation of the pruning season will tempt us to help ourselves right out of it. If we do we will forfeit the greater work. The evil tempter will be waiting to make his move. His plan is to come to this weak and vulnerable place with one goal in mind: to make us unfaithful to the Lover of our soul.
Self-Help Hinders Intimacy
So back to the introduction. Self-help? Equivalent to a spiritual masturbation? It’s simple really. Our world’s self-help philosophies seduce us to manipulate our motives and our environments promising us that we can lay hold of our own gratification. That, my friends, is the masturbation of self-help. It’s within the pruning season we will be relentlessly tempted to turn away from the innermost intimate life we were enjoying in the Vine. We will be tenaciously enticed to stimulate something, anything, to encounter our own worth and secure for ourselves some level of happiness once again.
How can we know a self-help philosophy when we hear it? It is when the wisdom and encouragement we hear in our ears fails to point to Jesus as our source and ultimate gratification. Rather, the reasonings point us back to ourselves as the alpha and omega of our own lives and happiness. In other words, coaching self-interest attracts the selfish ambition already warring within us. We discover justifications of entitlement then draw upon the power of our own determination to perform a work that while it may benefit others, ultimately gratifies ourselves. Self-help can easily look like success at all the wrong things.
The bible relays that in the last days people will be lovers of self, sensual pleasures, and amusement rather than lovers of God (2 Tim 3:2). Our airways buzz with the tireless pursuit of happily-ever-after. This buzz competes for the affection of our souls. Widely celebrated experts on life and success, those who appear good or even godly, work at genius levels of insight to awaken our selfish ambitions. They promise that if we give all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength to the American dream, we can have it. Did you hear it? Did you hear the enticement to become unfaithful? They use the very promises we vowed to God to turn us away from our intricacy woven life in the Vine and divorce ourselves from Him.
Helplessness Is Our Great Reward
Jesus told the story of the Vinedresser to infuse us, the beloved branches, with courage (John 16:1). He doesn’t want us to consider it strange when we lose our fruit. Pruning is a daring act of love our Father performs to safeguard our hearts from independence. God calls pruning our reward for being fruitful, and He puts Himself at risk of being misunderstood by us.
Let’s be honest, pruning hurts. There is no way around it. It is what God calls suffering for righteousness (for all the right reasons). However, if we told another truth we would have to confess our strong aversion to suffering for what is right. This aversion is currently robbing His Bride of the resurrection power she desperately needs to be effective where she lives.
True Love’s answer to our masturbation of self-help is to move in, closer than our skin, and tenderize us with helplessness. Our own natural abilities to avert the suffering will be far removed from us. Our abilities to arouse successes and fruitfulness will fail to gratify us. Every familiar source we’ve drawn from in the past to attain happiness will be emptied from us. Eventually we will find ourselves laid out on the side of our road called Destiny. We will be desperate to “help” ourselves into a happily-ever-after existence that was only intended to build while on earth not climax.
The American church, as an example, seems to be afraid to suffer for what it right. She suffers endlessly for the wrong reasons of sin and sickness, but she will not move into suffering for what is right. She will not follow her Lover in suffering the loss of reputation and comfort when following Him is what is right. She will not suffer the fog of the unreasonable that accompanies the impossible when obeying Him is what is right. She will not suffer personal downsizing and go without when loving Him with her whole life is what is right.
We “self-help” in suffering. We need to remember that Jesus’ Father is our Father. Jesus, as a son, learned obedience through the things He suffered. To love Him is to obey Him and that includes fellowshipping with His sufferings. What do we do with a God who writes suffering into the stories of His own children’s lives for the sake of righteousness?
In the pruning seasons it would be best for us to stop averting and start embracing the helplessness, the loneliness, the emptiness, the disorientation, the loss of reputation, the loss of presence, the loss of hope in a future, the loss of worth, the loss of zeal, the humiliations, and the deep sadness. Pruning is not a time to self-medicate. If we do, we will numb ourselves from the truly intimate encounter of rising again.
Love Stands by Watching
As we attempt the masturbating of self-help, Love is standing by watching. True Love is faithful, and He promised to watch over us always. When the lack of gratification finally exhausts us, His right hand with pleasure-evermore gently extends casting its cooling shadow, and He whispers His most fervent invitation, “abide in Me.”
Andrew Murray said, “The intercourse (in Christ) was not only meant to be unbroken, but most intimate and complete.” Our saving grace? We will feel the compromise. Our past fruitfulness has ruined us for anything less than a full and intimate relationship with Him and Him alone. We have encountered the divine life that intercourses between our life in Him and His life in us. Our helplessness will return us to Him and to the one thing that makes our lives worth living: His pleasure. The masturbation of self-help will be impotent to reproduce the intimate life that we have relished from life in the Vine before.
Why? The love is so much better when two become one.
Going back to the comfort of a risk-free life is a temptation not an option. At our weakest points the enemy of our love will pressure us to drop all we’ve been believing for. He will offer every reasonable reason to quit. He will promise immediate relief from the pruning if we would just drop our ridiculous hopes. Don’t retreat! Refocus, remember what God has said in the seasons of romance, and hold on.
Yes, the pruning will be too hard. Yes, it will take too long. Yes, it will be more than you can handle. It has to be in order for you to penetrate further into His great grace surging through the Vine. Don’t despise your new level of helplessness, it will make it possible for the rooting and grounding of your faith to deepen. Your intimacy with Him will be unhindered and His power will overflow through you more than ever. From this point on you will not be uprooted by the lengthening and widening of the fruit about to blossom in your life.
When you have been tenderized by helplessness and have endured your losses without offense, He will call you My bless-ed (Luke 7:23). And you will call Him my Life.