God, the great gardener, knows how to cut back his plants in order to protect and guard them. David was never out of his sight. God was watching over his servant and stayed actively at work in his life. He knew that David was still a young man. If he continued to receive fame and adulation, would he be able to cope with it? Would he be able to withstand the many temptations and dangers that would come his way?
From prominence to obscurity
David went from national celebrity to living as a fugitive, holed up in a cave. In that setting he learned a great deal and ultimately emerged with a committed and disciplined army. God used the pruning to protect him from the spotlight.
A while ago, I saw on television an interview with a member of a famous rock group. He was over forty years old but he was still trying to work out what life was all about. At the time he was battling alcohol addiction. The problem began because he couldn’t cope with the unexpected effects of international fame. He admitted, ‘I’m still living like a teenager.’
Church history shows that apart from notable exceptions such as Whitefield, Spurgeon and McCheyne, God has allowed few young people to be very prominent in his church. He loves his servants too much to give them that sort of responsibility too soon, so he protects them from it.
Pruning is painful
Pruning is inevitable. We‘re told in John 15 that God cuts the branch that bears fruit as well as the one that doesn’t. All branches encounter the Lord and his knife. None of us can escape it: the fruitless he removes; the fruitful he prunes. Sometimes God seems to strip away some very precious things: people you love or a job that was important. Sometimes he almost breaks your heart when he prunes you.
I remember a time in my own life when I felt shut in, lonely and sore because of God’s pruning. I was in London, walking with a friend in Regent’s Park. The rose bushes were all very short, mere stubs in the ground. I remarked to my friend, ‘Look how they’ve ruined those rose bushes.’ He dispelled my ignorance. ‘To have good roses you must prune them right down,’ he said. I can still remember the strange sense of pain mixed with comprehension as he explained the process to me.
One minute David was riding into battle with brave, trained soldiers on the right and left. The next minute he was in a little cave with the three ‘D’s’ – the Distressed, the in-Debt and the Discontented – a motley crew, shut in, cut off.
You can be pruned in all sorts of ways. Perhaps you’ve moved to a new town. In your previous church you used to be an elder or a leader, but in this new church you have no such position of responsibility. Perhaps, as a single person, you were very independent, but now that you’re married you’re no longer so free to do what you want. You have to learn to build a relationship, and that means thinking about the other person’s needs as well as your own. Perhaps you and your spouse once enjoyed a great deal of freedom, but now you have children and all the time-consuming responsibilities they bring. Or, perhaps you or a member of your family were once healthy and active, but now illness has come and you’re shut in.
David was shut in. Do you feel like that? Do you say, ‘O God, I envy the freedom and progress others have. Some of them are only young, but they’re receiving such blessing from you. Why not me? Why am I so cut back – a dry leafless stub?’ It’s painful, isn’t it? But God knows what he’s doing with your life. It’s time to trust him, so be patient and say with confidence, ‘Father, I receive it from your hands.’
‘The chastisements of Christ are precious to those who believe. The believer’s love to Jesus Christ, not only continues under the rod of correction – but is quickened and increased by it! Thus it is distinguished from that pretended love, which exists only in times of prosperity. The afflicted Christian is enabled to consider – that whom the Lord loves – he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives; and that he only afflicts us for our profit – to make us partakers of his holiness.’