The Pruning Process

I started out with good intentions today, I was going to be efficient and productive, I was going to finish my Sunday school lesson and then I was going to write my newsletter. Then my computer crashed and I lost all of my lesson notes from this week. It was so utterly demotivating that I found myself at a standstill in my creative writing process. Fortunately I’ve been working on this newsletter in some fashion for a number of weeks now so I wasn’t completely brought to my knees by a computer crash.

A couple of months ago God began a pruning process within me, to be fair the process probably began much earlier but I was not really ready to go where it ultimately led to it until a couple of months ago. For most of my life I have identified myself as a gamer, it has been a part of who I am. There are a lot of things that attracted me to the gaming lifestyle but I was always drawn in by the story; I’m a sucker for a good story, so an object that could not only tell a good story but engage me and even make me an integral part of the story produced an incredible excitement within me. Two months ago I began to feel the unmistakable call that I was to give up my PS4, to eliminate it from my home completely. I wrestled with this a great deal because I never identified this lifestyle as “sin” so why was I being called to give it up. I finally came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter if what I was doing was wrong, God was calling me to do something different.

Even though I was being obedient I was still reluctant to rid myself of my investment, nevertheless I did, and I did so immediately. It has been an interesting experience ever since; I can only liken it to that of an addict suffering from withdrawals. I had to guard myself when walking through the mall; as I passed the Gamestop I saw a promotional poster for a game that I had been interested in prior to my decision and my heart stirred within me, I craved it, I wanted it, the story was drawing me in, I wanted to know how it began, how it ended. When I looked away I was almost felt short of breath. It was then that I began to realize how attached to it I had been. Don’t get me wrong, I was not one of those guys that played incessantly, I had made a commitment to myself that I would not bring out the system while my children were awake, that was time that I was to dedicate to my family, it was only after everyone was asleep that I would allow myself to be drawn into the stories offered. I didn’t even play every night, often times I would go weeks without even turning on the system, but there was something comforting about knowing that when the next game came out my PS4 would be there to allow me to see how the story plays out. Despite this, I knew I was being obedient to God’s calling; knew what he had asked me to do and I was determined to be obedient in that calling. I also knew that God would honor this sacrifice, knowing that he would, in time, fill the place of it with something of His design, something better.

It has been two months since I sold my system and I still crave to be engaged in the story but I have made a decision and I will stick with it. I don’t mean to say that I will never play a video game again, I’d be more than happy to go to a friends and play a game of Halo with him and one day, if my son (or daughter) is so inclined, I will be content to play games with him; but never again will I be defined as being a gamer, never again will I spend solitary time mashing buttons and living a story.

In the two months since I made that decision life has gone on. I have moved on, willing to continue to be pruned but not feeling quite ready, yet here again God came knocking. This time it was the satellite dish and its link to all of the shows we watch. For me the battle wasn’t so much the shows it was the sports. I love watching professional basketball and college football. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I had defined part of who I am by these things, although perhaps I unintentionally had. After all, what else is a fan other than a self-described title? Either way this decision wasn’t mine alone to make; this one had consequences to someone other than myself. Uncertain to how she would take it or even if this was really where God was leading I broached the subject with Leslie. Much to my surprise she was instantly receptive to the idea; this only confirmed in my mind that this was where God was leading.

As we spent some time talking about this God began to reveal to me why He was doing this, why He was asking for me to give these things up. For years I have prayed that my time spent in prayer and in the Word would become more than just a habit I keep because I know I should; I wanted a genuine hunger for this, a desire that kept me going even when I encounter disruptions in my schedule. Finally, about a month ago I received a brief answer to this prayer. A few days of irregular schedules had kept me from my devotions and at the end of this time I was anxious to get back to them. However, much to my disappointment that was the end of it. When I got back into my rhythm my hunger disappeared, I was back to doing these things because I knew I needed to, much like one tries to consume their vegetables, it was healthy for me. All of a sudden understanding came crashing down upon me; for years I had prayed for a hunger, yet for years I had been sating my appetite with all these other things, really, with all this other garbage. How can I expect to be hungry for my vegetables if I am stuffing myself with jelly beans right before dinner? Finally I understood, if I truly want to desire God’s Word and the relationship that comes through prayer and study I have to stop filling my life with all this other junk.

Again, I am not saying that there is anything inherently bad about these things or those people that continue to partake in them. This is simply where God has called me and my family. I still plan on watching basketball and football when I get a chance, it just won’t be happening within my home anymore (or with anywhere near as great of frequency). Leslie and I will still watch movies with the kids from time to time, but that time in the evenings where she and I typically spent an hour or so “unwinding” will be spent doing more productive things with our time… Like writing newsletters or preparing for Sunday school lessons.

Howard Hendricks, in his book “Teaching to Change Lives” says that “everything in our home is either a tool or an idol.” I don’t claim to be perfect, nor do I claim that I have removed all idols from my home. What I do know is that God has begun a pruning process in my life and he started with the two biggest branches carrying the most dead weight, after those two I cannot imagine that I will find anything else he calls me to any more difficult than the beginning of this process.

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