There is a pernicious heresy today that we might term “the Gospel of wealth” or “the Gospel of success.” This false teaching assures its adherents that if we believe enough (and tithe enough) God will shower material blessings upon us. The flipside, of course, is that should any personal tragedy befall us, it’s either because of our own failure in faith or giving. This “Gospel” is most lucrative for those who preach it. Though it is erroneous, it is slightly better than the equally false notion that a life in God is a life on the Cross. Many fear giving the reigns to God because they believe Calvary is the only destination he knows. We might call this “the Gospel of disaster.” While no one would ever preach such a thing, it is surprising how many people believe it.
Of course God wants our success. He wants us to flourish: “whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.” Jesus came that we “might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10). He is not looking to make us miserable. He loves us, and that means he ardently desires our happiness. At the same time, he knows that our happiness does not finally reside in this world. Over and over again, we are counseled to “seek what is above” (Col 3:1), and not to “work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life” (Jn 6:27). We find this difficult. We are easily attached to things below as if they were the things above, as if they were eternal. So some pruning is necessary. Every good branch the Father “prunes so that it bears more fruit.”
Our life in Christ might be summed up as a succession of growth-spurts and prunings. We expand and are then cut back, so that we might expand again. But there is one constant in this rollercoaster of grace that we have to get right: “remain in me.” Whether we are growing in Jesus, or being cut back by the Father, it is essential that we remain grafted to the true vine. Whatever is being cut away from our life, however deep and seemingly devastating the pruning might be, it is crucial that we not lose our place in Christ. If we cling too tightly to what is being taken away from us, if our hearts follow the twigs and leaves the Father severs, then we too are “thrown out like a branch and whither.” Therefore, whatever happens, and whatever wisdom we might depend upon, this is the essential counsel: “remain in my love.” Doing so, we can always look forward to a new harvest.