By Mark Dance
As COVID season slowly winds down, I’m assessing the condition of my own heart, soul, mind, and strength.
I’m asking God to show me the true condition of my life and ministry so that He can prune out anything that’s unfruitful.
My interest in personal pruning was inspired by a recent post by Dr. Hance Dilbeck, who’s the Executive Director of Oklahoma Baptists:
I hope we will have wisdom to embrace this interruption of our lives as a pruning, not just a pause…Some of what was cut from your life should stay cut. Some of what has been cut from your church should stay cut. If this spring was merely a pause, all we got out of it was a little rest.”
Jesus taught that our Father is like a vineyard owner who removes disconnected, unfruitful branches and prunes the connected, fruitful ones (John 15:1-8).
I want to invite you to join me in a personal pruning exercise that boils down to two questions I’m asking God and myself during this season.
WHAT SHOULD I REMOVE?
What fruitless thing has been cut out of your life by COVID-19 that you don’t want to see again? Here’s a glimpse of my list so far:
I love beautiful pictures and videos like everybody else, but the temptation to wander off into gray areas became too distracting for me.
When and if Instagram has a better filtering system, I may reconsider returning to it someday.
We moved to Tulsa in January and never got around to subscribing to a cable service. We got used to catching news updates on YouTube or Facebook.
Perhaps a pandemic is a great opportunity to binge-watch TV, but we have surprisingly not missed the programs we once thought were so important.
Sheltering at home turned into snacking at home, which turned into some unwanted pounds.
I asked my disciplined wife for help, so she hid my Pop-Tarts and stocked our shelves and frig with much smarter options. We also started jogging 3-4 miles every other day.
WHAT SHOULD I IMPROVE?
Although pruning is sometimes painful, it’s not punitive. In John 15, we see that our Father’s motive is to help us become more fruitful.
Pruning toward fruitfulness is a reward for those who remain consistently connected to Jesus.
I’ve been asking God to prune my life to become more fruitful, and here is what He’s shown me so far:
My journaling has been a joke for years. I always love the payoff, but consistency has eluded me.
This spring, my desire to write out my thoughts and prayers has been rekindled because journaling helps me to abide in Christ.
I have no desire to turn back to mediocrity after this pandemic has passed.
Although I read the Bible every day, I struggle with sticking to a singular Bible reading plan. The same is true for the stacks of books I want to read.
My goal is to develop a realistic reading plan before summer and stick to it through the end of the calendar year.
“Cleave” means “to pursue hard.” Janet and I haven’t stopped dating since our first date, but I never want us to coast.
Your ministry will never be stronger than your marriage, so when the COVID coast is clear again, pursue your spouse as you did before your wedding.
Our kids are adults and live in another state. Although we missed seeing them this spring, our lives weren’t disrupted as much as those who’ve been sequestered with kids every day.
I guess that you have made quite a few happy memories, but probably need a break from each other.
As you gradually resume your work routine away from home, be intentional about staying connected to your children.
Consider this COVID reset as an opportunity to take your parenting to another level going forward.
What I’ve missed the most this spring are my friends and church family.
I hit the ground running in January, then spoke at five marriage conferences and two churches in February, so I’m not complaining about a break from preaching.
However, this pandemic has paused our pursuit of finding a church family and friends in Oklahoma. The online experience does not replace life-on-life relationships that everyone needs.
You can use this same pruning exercise to assess your ministry, but I’d suggest you go through it personally first.
Self-assessments are only as helpful as we are willing to be honest to ourselves about ourselves. So what needs to be pruned from your life right now?
MARK DANCE (@markdance) speaks at churches, conferences, and retreats—often with his wife Janet. Mark has contributed to several books and offers weekly encouragement at MarkDance.net. He’s currently serving as director of pastoral development for the Oklahoma Baptist Convention.