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Quotations I love: John Stott on pruning

Lynne Baab • Tuesday May 4 2021

Quotations I love: John Stott on pruning

The setting is the Urbana Missionary Conference, and John Stott is speaking daily about the Upper Room Discourse, John 13 to 17. I am a university student who travelled from the Pacific Northwest to Illinois during my Christmas vacation. I sit in that huge arena on the campus at Urbana, captivated by John Stott’s teaching. His exposition of the material in John 14 and 16 about the Holy Spirit completely changes my perspective on the Holy Spirit. Now I understand that the Holy Spirit is not some esoteric, mysterious force, but instead a person who I already know. The Holy Spirit is simply Jesus with us, comforting, guiding, and empowering us.

I’m even more engaged with the vine and the branches in John 15. That picture of abiding, a deep and peaceful connection between the vine and the branches, evokes a profound longing in me. I love the way John Stott describes that connection, and as I listen I am praying and pondering how to nurture that connection with God.

And I love the notion of fruitfulness. Already, after only two years as a committed Christian, I can see some wonderful fruit from God in my life. I am definitely more loving towards others (to my total surprise), and I have experienced God’s unexpected peace numerous times. I’m a leader of the student Christian group at my campus, and I experience God’s guidance in meetings with the other leaders. Sometimes, when I get frustrated with the other leaders, I also experience patience that can only come from God.

But wait. John Stott moves on to talk about the role of the Gardener, who prunes the branches and cuts out the dead wood, so that the vines will bear more fruit (John 15:1-6). Then he says the words that will stick with me for decades:

“The serious Christian prays to be pruned.”

What? More fruit – which I have really enjoyed experiencing in my life – depends on pruning? I have to be willing to be pruned? Not only willing, but so eager for it that I pray for it?

No, no, no. I am not excited about pruning. I am not eager to experience pain, sadness, grief, loss – whatever form pruning will take. I simply cannot wrap my mind around Stott’s words.

Two years after I hear John Stott speak, I am in falling in love with my friend Dave. Six months later, we are married, and three years after that, I get pregnant with our older son. In my pregnancy, I am deeply depressed, and depression comes and goes for another 16 years until I begin taking megadoses of B vitamins. I have an unusual B vitamin deficiency that causes depression and was triggered by my pregnancy. My body protected the unborn baby by giving my vitamin B stores to him.

Dave says that before the 16 years of depression I was cocky. Yes, I got super frustrated with the other leaders of the campus Christian group because I knew I was right about so many things. Dave says the years of depression gave me empathy. He says those years changed the trajectory of my ministry, and my whole way of being/talking/writing/serving now has a vulnerability and kindness that is inviting to others. He sees a lot of fruit that has been borne in my life because of those hard years that functioned like pruning.

I have a lot of questions about the hard things in our lives. Are all forms of suffering pruning? Do they function as pruning only if we are open to God’s work in and through them? How much are we responsible to be open to God’s pruning, and how much pruning will God do whether we want it or not, as long as we are trying to walk faithfully with Jesus? All I know is that Dave sees God’s fruit in my life from the hard years, and I rely on Dave’s perception, even as I have tears in my eyes writing this because of how challenging those years were.

John Stott would have been 100 years old last week. His teaching on John 13-17 laid a foundation in my life that I have always been grateful for. His humility and rigor in approaching the Bible was a strong model for me as a young adult, another significant foundation for my faith. Later I learned that his humility also fed his deep commitment to listening, one of my big topics (and a commitment that is likely a fruit of my years of depression). And John Stott loved birds and nature, writing a beautiful book about how he heard God speak through Creation, another one of my great joys. I am so grateful for the model of his humility in a world where glitter, gloss, and swagger so often predominate.

Thank you, loving God, for the people who shaped us. Thank you for your hand in our lives, in and through the events that you bring to us. Thank you for fruit. Thank you for John Stott’s model of humility and submission to you. We do pray for your pruning, but we also pray for your mercy in the pruning. We are such fragile, broken beings, and we long to fully live into our roles as your children.

Next week: try softer. Illustration by Dave Baab: cabbage trees in Te Anau, New Zealand. I love getting new subscribers. Sign up below to receive an email when I post on this blog.

Three of my articles that resonate with John Stott’s teaching on John 13-17 and his passion for listening as a significant skill for mission:

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