You have probably guessed already where this lesson is going. Better to bend (be flexible, humble, submissive) than hold our own way, and—snap!
The lesson comes from the garden. Today I was bending tomato branches, and I thought, what a life lesson!
We like to grow tomatoes in our garden. The plants, depending on the variety and the growing conditions, can be very large, many of them four to five feet high, with a host of side branches.
To support the growing plant and keep it from sprawling on the ground, we put 4 ft steel mesh cages around the plants when they are very small. As the plant grows, it soon fills the center of the cage and starts looking for ways to get out of the cage.
Easy. Send a small new shoot between the wires of the cage and it is free to grow in the big world outside.
Not acceptable, but it happens again and again. So we “help” the plant by pulling the errant branches back inside the cage where they can grow UP not sideways.
But only days later, or when we aren’t looking, more branches are shooting through between the wires. And more.
Next time we look, there are little tomatoes forming on those branches OUTSIDE the wires, which makes them harder to pull back in. Then there are more, clusters of them. Beautiful!
A week later, and there is a second branch off the one that managed to escape the cage, and so it goes.
Now the challenge: Try pulling those errant branches back INSIDE the cage. If the branch is very small, it works pretty well. But try bringing the fair sized branch inside the wire cage, bending it ever so gently, and—SNAP! It is done. If it has fruit on it, or divides into two branches, be as gentle as you can. Avoid a sharp bend, and it may cooperate. But if it is too sturdy in its own way, be gentle as you can be, it will SNAP! And that’s it. It happened with me a number of times today. Done. When it chooses to SNAP rather than BEND, it’s done. Fruit and all.
Isn’t this an analogy of how God works with us? What qualities is He looking for? What do we need to grow and prosper in His garden?
Recall that little rhyme from long ago:
Humility is that low sweet root
From which all heavenly virtues shoot.
No idea of its source, but it is surely true. Humility underlies all the Christlike qualities, being able to BEND to the divine will without breaking.
It is basically simple: BEND, or—SNAP!
The words of Jesus come immediately to mind.
Matthew 23:12 12And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
It is God’s part to exalt us, not the “selfee” that we see all around us today. He humbles the exalted, and exalts the humble. It is said many times, many ways, but always the same point. Take this prophetic statement from Isaiah:
Isaiah 26:5 5For He brings down those who dwell on high, The lofty city; He lays it low, He lays it low to the ground, He brings it down to the dust.
It is natural to want to please those we live and work with. No wrong in that. What is wrong is living for their favor, having our spiritual temperature go up or down, depending on their favor.
Jesus said it:
John 5:44 44How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?
Did you get Jesus’ point? Living for the honor of those around us will pre-empt the honor of God! We aren’t even be counted “believers” if we are seeking—living fore—going after the honor of one another. Wrong motive. Jesus set his own standard, which He had to come to Himself. He said,
John 5:41 41“I do not receive honor from men.
Men might give it, but it meant nothing to Jesus. He did not “receive” it, seek it or live for it. He was bending to the Father’s will all the way. Think about the time the multitudes gave Him honor after he had raised Lazarus from the dead.
John 12:12–15 12… a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ The King of Israel!” 14Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written: 15“Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, Sitting on a donkey’s colt.”
It happened, but Jesus was not exalting Himself, or looking for honor from the people. The people’s response here was fulfilling a prophecy from Zechariah. But Jesus was not moved by it; He was waiting for His Father’s honor, and we know what happened within a few days—they were crying “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Such is the honor of this world!
What about Jesus “bending” to the divine will—to be crucified? His bending was the ultimate in submission. He prayed for deliverance:
Matthew 26:39 39He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
Total submission to His Father’s will… can we imagine such bending? Yes, He bent, and He did not snap. Hebrews says of His supreme example here:
Hebrews 5:7–9 7who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear,
8though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. 9And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him,
Here is the “author of eternal salvation” to whom?
to all who obey Him
To all who learn to bend as He did. Submitting is part of the training of every candidate for salvation. Being humble. Not an attitude of, “I have the answer for everything.” Or “I know all there is to know.” But always ready to learn, and acknowledge when we do wrong.
But being humble does not mean being a “will of the wisp,” spineless, a nobody, downtrodden, stepped on, or feeling worthless. Far from it. Humility is a strong, dynamic virtue. It is giving up self-seeking, giving up MY way, bending MY will, giving up MY ideas, MY status in this world, MY dreams of glory, and living to please God—because HE is offering life – ETERNAL LIFE! And if he requires me to BEND to His will, shouldn’t I be eager to do it?
Peter was deeply impressed with this very necessary quality, and saw it as a lesson his brethren needed.
1 Peter 5:2–5 2Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.
He says, you can’t be “lords” here and get the real glory to come.
BEND now… the REAL exaltation is coming!
Peter goes on with his advice. Submiting by age is natural, this is something else.
5Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility,
“All of you,” he says, BEND! Bend to one another. Be humble… submissive. This may be a hard concept to accept, but there is a reason for it:
for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
Keep that humble spirit, because God RESISTS the proud – whether it’s our opinion, our experience, our abilities, or whatever! If we’re proud of ourselves, when God tries to bend us, we’ll SNAP. No, He offers His grace, favor, goodness in so many ways when we are humble.
Peter summarizes His point:
1 Peter 5:6 6Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time,
Submitting to one another is being humble “under the mighty hand of God,” under His almighty power. Hand signifies “power. ”
It is actually being HUMBLE now so that we can be EXALTED “in due time.” The time for honor will come, he says, be patient! Don’t push it now.
Paul said the same in Ephesians;
Ephesians 5:19–21 19speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21submitting to one another in the fear of God.
Scripture has a singular word for this flexibility, this humble submission. It is “whithersoever.” Or in more modern terms, “Wherever.”
Proverbs 21:1 1The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.
Wherever. (But incidentally, this “king” wasn’t Solomon!)
Turning at God’s command, “wherever.” What is it? In simplest terms, it is accepting the changes of life as from God. Turning with the divine will, this way or that, without complaint. Turn without losing heart or hope, because God is guiding. He sees the big picture and knows what He is doing.
Accepting. It may be a challenge. We can’t do what we want to do. We can’t do what we used to do. Accept it.
Keep looking up. Keep praying. Keep pressing. We can still do what God gives us the strength and will and ability to do.
Just be flexible, humble, submissive, accepting.
BEND, not snap.
This is written of those who stand with Christ on Mount Zion:
Revelation 14:4 4These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.
They followed the Lamb – turning at His will.
Proverbs has the same thought. He says “Listen!”
Proverbs 22:17 17Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, And apply thine heart unto my knowledge.
Three commands here, all about humility, all about BENDING.
1) Bow down your ear
3) Apply your heart
Here is a good BHA for BENDING. Bow down… hear… apply your heart.
Don’t be like those tomato vines that got so strong in their own way that when you try to gently bend them, they SNAP!
There is one significant difference, though, between US and the tomato plants. God gives us second chances. We can snap AND SNAP BACK! God’s mercy grants us this opportunity again and again. If we had only one chance, all of us would be out—except Christ. But He sees our possibilities and let us bend again, and again. Thank God.
But at the same time, keep flexible. Flex those spiritual muscles! Practice bending, giving up your will in the LITTLE things of every day. Then you won’t SNAP when a bigger test comes.