You’re standing at your kitchen sink staring out at the lawn. What a splendid scene. The sun is smiling down; the grass is still shrouded with dew; the tool shed door is wide and tools are flying out. Wait, what? You set your coffee cup down next to the sink and start toward the exit.
Once you’re in the rear, there is no doubt about it. Someone or something is in your tool shed. A clatter confirms it. A spare glove comes flying out of the darkness. Tools are strewn across the ground. You pick up a shovel and hold it like a weapon as you approach.
“Ahh, there you are,” Aunt Loola’s voice sings out from within the gloom. She strides into the light carrying a pair of hand fitted pruning shears. “I was looking for you.”
“Why were you looking for me in the shed?” you inquire as you abandon the shovel and surrender your defensive position.
“No, not you, Honey,” she smirks. “I know right where you were; your bed.” She holds up the pruning shears. “I was looking for these.”
“Oh, I didn’t know I had those,” you say. You gather the few tools that have been spread around the entrance and drag them through the barn door. “Wow.”
“You like it?” Loola says. “It was a mess, so I organized it.” You stare astonished at the newly arranged shed. There is a place for everything. Loola grabs the tools from your hands. “Those are the last of them.” She puts the shovel and its comrades in their new place.
“Thank you,” you say. “It looks great.”
“Yes, yes. There’s no time for all that. This tree ain’t going to prune itself.”
“We’re going to prune the fruit tree?”
“But, it’s looking so healthy.” You follow Loola to the budding and leafy sapling. You don’t want to sound defensive, but you can hardly help but protest. “Seems like we should just let it grow. I mean, won’t we hurt it if we prune it now?”
“We’ll hurt it if we don’t.”
“But, it just seems like—”
“Listen, Honey,” Loola interrupts. “What’s the goal?”
“No. It’s not 'fruit but.'”
“Just fruit, I mean.”
“Oh. I see. If your goal is just fruit, there’s no need to prune. If you just want fruit; miniature, minuscule, microscopic fruit, then don’t prune,” she pauses. “Is that what you want.” You shake your head. “Let’s start over. What is your goal? And if you say, ‘just fruit’ again, I’m going to trim your fingers with these pruning shears.” She snaps them aggressively in the air between the two of you.
“Fruit, abundant fruit.” Your tone isn’t passionate, but you can’t help but grin a little.
“Ahh, if it’s abundant fruit you want, then we need to prune.” She steps around the tree and scans it closely. Her feet crunch in the layer of natural mulch you’ve laid. You can’t resist interrogating her.
“So, why do we prune?”
“Same reason you manage your budget. You’ve only got so much money, and you have to decide how to spend what you’ve got.”
“So, we’re teaching the tree 'financial literacy?'”
“Yes,” she says as she reaches for a cluster of leafy branches. “Well, yes and no. We’re teaching the tree, yes. Nickel and dime, no.” She drops the branch and handles another. “Every cut communicates with the tree. Cutting is communicating.”
“Yeah. Just like a second ago. I threatened to trim your fingers. I think I was communicating pretty effectively. Don’t you?” You close your hands into fists, just to be safe.
“So what are we communicating?”
“The tree is not intelligent enough to know where it should spend its energy. We’re looking to trim back about a third of the branches. Take away anything that the tree is focusing energy on which won’t result in fruit.”
“So, it’s a bit of an overspender. We’re helping it balance its energy budget.”
“Quite right,” Loola says. “Ok, you better get to it. We’re burning daylight.” She gestures for you to take the pruning shears. You grab them and turn toward the tree. “Do you have any alcohol?”
“Is this one of those jobs where it’s better to be drunk?”
“No, not that kind of alcohol. Rubbing alcohol. It’s good to sterilize your shears so you don’t carry disease from one plant to another.”
“These have never been used,” you say, holding up the shears. “In fact, I forgot I had them, until you cleaned up the shop. Thanks, by the way—”
“Oh, Alright. You’re welcome. Now don’t mention it.” She waves her hand.
“So where do I cut?”
“You’re looking for the three Ds- dead, dying, and diseased.” You survey the tree and spot a cluster of brown leaves. You point at it and glance at Loola for approval. She nods. You trim. Once you do, she steps closer.
“Now move back three or four leafy nodes from where you just cut and trim the stalk off at a forty five degree angle.” She points to indicate the place she means. “That makes sure no more of that dead wood remains.” You do it and turn your attention to the other branches.
“I guess that’s it,” you say.
“Who taught you math?”
“I said we need to trim back a third of the tree.”
“Ok, so how do we pick what to trim now?”
“CCA,” she says. “Clusters, crossings, and acutes. Look at the ends of the branches. See how they tend to cluster up with lots of leafy jumbles. Ain’t no fruit go’n come from that. Lop it off.”
You find six different spots to chop the tips off of branches. The tree looks more manageable now. You try to repeat the acronym. “Clusters, then was it crossings?”
“Yeah, any place two branches cross at odd angles.” You find another handful of those and trim them out.
“What was the last one?”
“Ok, I don’t know what that is.”
“This is my favorite part,” she says. “We want a goblet shape. You know what a goblet is, right?”
“Like an old school drinking glass?”
“Yeah. So, acutes means you trim any branch that is jutting out at an acute angle. If the branches’ angles are too sharp, they won’t be able to bear the weight of the fruit. When you’re done the whole tree ought to look like a wine glass.”
You find another group of branches to trim and drop them to the ground. You step back from the tree. “I guess that’s about a third.”
“Nice,” she says. “Now why did we do this?” Apparently, it’s quiz time.
“To help the tree focus its energy on making fruit.”
“Making just fruit?” Loola asks.
“No,” you sing it out now. “Big, fat, juicy, abundant fruit.”
“I can taste it already,” she says and then turns back toward the shed. “Ok, come on. It’s going to rain.” You look at the sky. There isn’t a cloud in sight.
Likely, no one likes confessing their sins. It’s for good reason that pruning is our analogy for confession. This can be an uncomfortable activity, but just like pruning a fruit tree, it’s absolutely vital. It helps us focus our spiritual energy on the things that need to be trimmed out of our lives. So how exactly does confession work?
As you pray through the Lord's prayer, you will notice that Jesus has instructed that we seek forgiveness for our sins regularly. You can see this in the line of the Lord's Prayer template when he teaches us to say something like, and forgive us our sins.1
The fact that Jesus tells us to seek forgiveness on a daily basis might surprise some people. Don’t we already have forgiveness? A believer might ask. Absolutely. You have the kind of forgiveness that allows you to have and keep eternal life. However, if you want abundant life, you need to work on your relationship with the Lord.
Paul touched on this idea in his letter to his friends in Rome when he said, the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God's laws, and it never will. That's why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.2 When you sin, it's taken as hostility toward God. It displeases Him. What a relief that we've been made eternally right with God by Jesus' death. However, it is still displeasing to Him when we sin.
It displeases me when my daughter hits her brother. It doesn't endanger her place in the family, but it means that I have to respond. In fact, as I was writing this chapter, I could see her do that exact thing through my office window. At this point, she has wronged her brother and upset the balance of the house, which I'm charged to maintain. If she denies it, or worse yet, says her brother deserved the blow, then my displeasure grows. I'm forced not to move on from the situation until she makes it right. I insist upon it. However, if she confesses what she's done and seeks forgiveness that's good enough for me. I can head back to my office and not think about it again.
In a sense, this is what we are expected to do daily. If we want to experience abundant life, we must be confessing our sins on the regular. Now, remember, the ultimate goal is not to be a person who is constantly harping on our own failures. The purpose is to remove anything that blocks us from having abundant life. The first step in this process is to confess our known sin.
In his letter to some very mature believers, the Apostle John explained the mechanics of confession when he said, But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.3 John's letter is written primarily to tell Christians how to gain and maintain fellowship with each other and with God. In that pursuit, he shows the importance of confession. This daily confession has nothing to do with whether or not you will get into heaven. You settled that question the moment you believed in Jesus for salvation. This confession has everything to do with the quality of your relationship with God, other believers, and thus the quality of your life.
When you confess the sins you are aware of, God cleanses you of all unrighteousness. This means you don't have to be a perfect confessor. You don't have to keep an obsessive logbook, charting every infraction to the Nth degree. Instead, confess the sins you are aware of, ask God for forgiveness, and trust that he's forgiven them. He said he would, so believe it.
I know for years, especially back in the days when I was looking at porn. I would sometimes confess, but it seemed a bit ridiculous. I would admit in prayer that I had sinned again, but I was also convinced that I would be doing the same sin the following night. I got to where I didn't confess at all because I misunderstood what confession was.
Somewhere along the way, someone had told me that confession involves a promise to quit. They had clearly mixed up the meaning since confession is simply admitting the truth. I had begun to think, with my porn habit, that if I "confessed" but then fell into the sin again, then my confession was faulty. If you've found yourself in that kind of mentality, take a step back because that's not what is being said here.
Confession is simply admitting the failure to God and asking him for forgiveness. Changing the habit is a separate process that we'll talk about in a later chapter. Confession is simpler than many make it. In your prayer time, simply think through your recent memory and consider anything that might be sin. I sometimes ask God to reveal to me my recent sins. Any that I identify, I confess, ask forgiveness for, and thank God for his mercy.
This is part of what John calls …living in the light,4 and you can see why. When we confess, we are simply bringing our sins into the light. It forces us to take a well-lit look at how we are doing and the areas we need God's help with.
John explains that If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie …If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.5 There are lots of saved people who are not living in fellowship with God because they don't confess their sins. If you want to maintain a close friendship with the Lord, you need to live in the light, which includes regular confession.
This is one of the reasons I love the Lord’s Prayer template. If you follow it, you get confession as a package deal. There is another thing that you get in this packaged deal, which we will talk about in the next chapter.
1 Matthew 6:12
2 Romans 8:7-8 NLT
3 1 John 1:9
4 1 John 1:7
5 1 John 1:6, 8