My favorite tree on our property stands right outside our kitchen, its wide branches in full display out every window. As spring approaches I can often be found pausing mid-dish sudsing, looking attentively for signs of the green buds that will soon explode into fragrant, snowy-white blossoms. My kids giggle at me for the number of times I make trips to the tree to bury my face in those all-too-fleeting blooms.
But every year, as the branches fill out, I’m caught off guard by the way the natural light dims where days earlier a flood of sunlight shone through the empty limbs. And I find myself missing that bright light even as I delight in the outward signs of life and warmth that now fill my view.
Recently it dawned on me that this tree is a reflection of a spiritual reality: in seasons when our “branches” are dormant and bare, the beauty of Christ can still shine brilliantly through our lives.
We know that the Christian life should be abundant with healthy spiritual fruit (Col. 1:9–10; Gal. 5:22). We should always display signs of the life of Christ in us through our attitudes, words, and actions. But, just like in the world we live in, our lives have changing seasons. Sometimes the evidence of God’s life in us is displayed through outward productivity and plenty. Other times we find ourselves in waiting seasons, where outward yield seems to be little, if any. We feel dormant and bare, unable to provide shade, beauty, or sustenance in a physical sense. This might be due to a life change, health struggles, or some other trial or suffering we’re walking through. But just like trees need the winter to prepare for their next season of blossoming and bearing fruit, the Lord knows when we need “winter” seasons in our own lives to rest and prepare for the next season of outward abundance. Both are evidence of His work in us.
Being in the middle of a winter-like season can feel scary, though. When we lack certain outward evidence of spiritual life and vitality, we wonder if the Lord is working in us. The enemy wants to come in and plant lies in our minds that there’s something wrong with us if we’re unable to pour out like we once did or that we’re not of value if our physical capacity is limited. When doors shut on hoped-for opportunities, “hope deferred” again, we begin to doubt God’s purpose for our lives.
But let’s step back a moment. I don’t know about you, but when I witness the lives of those who are in seasons of suffering, waiting, or limitation of some kind—able to do very little for those around them—whose lives are yet filled with the peace, love, and joy of Christ, I think about those bare branches on my favorite tree. The light of Christ still shines so clearly through their lives onto those around them. Their rest in Him reflects hope that goes far beyond physical accomplishments or capability. Their hearts are full of good fruit even if, physically, they are in wintertime. And that’s what truly matters to God.
Paul’s words in Philippians 4:12–13 come to mind:
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (ESV)
God can be trusted with our seasons of plenty and want. He knows when it’s time for us to produce outwardly, and He knows when to allow us to rest. Both are vital for spiritual thriving. Both require trust in Him and obedience to His Word. And both are a reflection to those around us of a life that is thriving in Him.
Here are two things to consider no matter which season God has us in today.
1. God Looks at the Heart
As I mentioned earlier, God cares most about what’s going on in our hearts. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “Humans do not see what the LORD sees, for humans see what is visible, but the LORD sees the heart.” He desires us to thrive in Him in every circumstance, and for the fruit of our inner life to be clearly seen regardless of our circumstances. As we surrender to Him, we can trust that His cultivation of our hearts is for our good and His glory. He’s constantly in the process of tilling, planting, weed-pulling, and pruning in our inner lives by His Spirit within us. And we have the responsibility to cooperate with Him in this process through obedience and surrender to His will. As we do, we can entrust the outward evidence of this heart-tending to Him.
We should also be humble before the Lord as He reveals areas of our lives that are not spiritually healthy. We expect to see bare branches in the winter, but if springtime comes and our hearts show signs of lifelessness or ill-health, that’s cause for concern. In the same way, if our lives are not displaying the fruit of the Spirit but instead are showing the fruit of the flesh (things like anger, malice, bitterness, envy, lust, etc.), there is internal uprooting to be done as the Lord grants repentance of those sins.
Our internal posture should reflect that of the Psalmist:
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my concerns.
See if there is any offensive way in me;
lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23–24)
More than anything, we must remember that spiritual fruitfulness comes from abiding in Christ. Jesus said to His disciples in John 15:4, “Remain in me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me.”
Our job is to cling to Him in love and dependence, and He will take care of the rest.
2. Weakness is an Opportunity
When we’re in seasons that limit us outwardly, whether that’s sickness or financial difficulty or any other circumstance that makes us feel like we have “bare branches,” we can take comfort in 2 Corinthians 12:9–10:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.”
Therefore I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
When the Lord allows weakness in our lives (weakness not due to sin but simply a result of whatever situation we’re facing), we can rejoice that He can and will use it to display His grace and sufficiency as we surrender to Him. Nothing is wasted by the Lord in accomplishing His will in our lives and the lives of those around us.
When we are tempted to be discouraged or despair over those aspects of life that bring out our frailty, let’s turn to the Lord instead of turning inward. Let’s ask Him to help us have His perspective on our circumstances rather than depending on our own reasoning. As we lift our eyes to Him, He reminds us of the eternal realities we are privileged to reflect today as His children. We can have hope in the midst of hardship, peace in the midst of suffering, and joy in the midst of sorrow—not because of skin-deep platitudes or motivational mantras, but because Jesus is alive. We don’t live for the happiness of today, but instead for an imperishable reality that we’ll experience in full when we see our Savior face to face. This is what those without hope need to see—the testimony of Christ in us and the reality that He truly changes everything for those who believe.
In Every Season
If you’re in a waiting season where your “branches” feel bare, take heart. The Lord is the faithful Gardener, attentively keeping watch over you. We can fully entrust ourselves into His hands with every change of season. When He prunes a branch—taking away opportunities or allowing us to be stripped of strength—we can rest in knowing that He created us and cares more about our flourishing than we ever could. We can know, without a doubt, that whether we’re in a season of blooming or bareness, God can use it all to display His life in and through us.
Revive Our Hearts has a story. For more than twenty years, God has been using the gifts of faithful friends like you to write a story in the lives of women around the world through Revive Our Hearts. If this ministry has made an impact in your life, it’s true: our story is your story too.
When you become a Revive Partner today, you’re joining us in telling the story of freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ to a whole new generation of women who desperately need to encounter God’s truth and love. And that’s a story we never tire of telling.
This post used by permission of Revive Our Hearts. To read more Christ honoring content like this please visit ReviveOurHearts.com.