TD Jakes - Pruning Is Not Punishment
And so I had sat on a plane for about 12 hours, left the beautiful city of Dallas, flew to London, got out in Heathrow, walked the corridors, made the change, and then flew another 9 or 10 hours to Lagos, Nigeria, and then, by car, I traveled out somewhere I had never been before to speak to over a million people. I was in the hotel, getting ready for the event. Pastor Adeboye had invited me to one of the biggest meetings he does during the year. He's huge all over the world, but in Africa, it's unexplainable. And I was getting ready to go when I got a call. Phone rang. My son Jamar had had a heart attack, and the doctors were trying to stabilize him, and while they were telling me about it, he'd had a second one.
And the airport was shut down for the evening, and we had to pull all kind of strings to get out of there, and I never got to preach to the crowd, one, because, under battle, you always have to keep your priorities straight. Don't let the seduction of the crowd or the allurement of the masses make you forget about the commitment to the few. Jamar was my son, and I had to be there, and I wondered, "Lord, how in the world could this be happening"? They had rushed him into surgery, and it didn't look good. And I said, "This is a 20-something-year-old young man who's vibrant, healthy, in good shape, not overweight. How could this happen"? We want to understand everything, but we don't.
So I flew for hours and hours, and all the while, I stayed awake the whole time, saying, "God, spare my son because I don't want to know the pain of losing my child". And we want to understand why. And I got to the hospital. I came down the hall, and he's layin' in the hospital bed, and he said, "I hear my daddy comin'". And I walked in the room. I shaved his chest. I talked to him. I tried to get him ready for this surgery they were going to do 'cause they had to try to figure out where this was coming from, and the first one hadn't proven it. And I wanted answers, and I learned something: you don't get answers 'cause you want them, that God doesn't explain himself. For that matter, the doctors don't explain themselves. I would've took an answer from anybody. They weren't explainin' much because they weren't sure why he had the heart attack. They couldn't give me answers, and when I prayed and asked God, "Why did I have to go through this"? He chose to be silent, and the real issue becomes "Can you trust God when he doesn't answer"?
Because we want answers, and we're raised in school to seek answers, and then, if you get the answer right, we reward you, and it makes us think that there's an answer, but sometimes life hands you stuff where there is no answer. Now, he recovered, and I'm happy about that. He really recovered, but my point in talking to you about seeking answers is that it's a dangerous thing to seek answers while you're suffering. That's like tryin' to diagnose a storm in the middle of a tsunami. You have to get to the other side of it and look back at it and see it in retrospect because, if you ask too many questions at the wrong time, you're not gonna come up with healthy answers or no answers at all, and the frustration becomes a distraction because what difference does it make "why"? You're still dealing with "what". And if you're dealing with "what," you can't worry about "why". So you're dealing with "what," and surviving "what" must take preeminence over understanding "why".
I grew up in a little Baptist church in the hills of West Virginia on the mountaintop, and we used to sing a old song, "We are tossed and driven on the mighty seas of time. Somber times and somber tempest oft succeed a bright sunshine. In the land of perfect day, when the mists have rolled away, we will understand it better by and by". Sometimes you have to realize that you have to settle to walk in the dark, to "Walk by faith and not by sight", to not ask God to appeal to your intellect because, when you ask God to appeal to your intellect, you ask him to come down to your level. When his thoughts are above your thoughts and his ways are above your ways, he has to come down to your level to explain himself, and sometimes God is not interested in your intellect. He is interested in your obedience.
Do you hear what I'm saying to you? Because obedience is proven best when you don't understand. If I tell my child, "Clean up the room," you don't get to ask me why. I don't have to explain to you we got company comin' over, and we got this... no, no, no. I said, "Clean the room". Obedience is better than sacrifice. Obedience is better than understanding, and God is trying to teach us to obey him and to trust in the fact, get this, that pruning is not punishment, that you are not cursed because you had a bad day, that God is not punishing you just because you're going through suffering. They feel the same, but they're not the same. The intention is quite different between pruning and punishment. Pruning is the reward of having something of value. It's how God lets you know that you're valuable. He wouldn't prune you if you were a dying bush. Nobody prunes a dying bush. He prunes you because you're fruitful, but pruning feels like punishment, and if you're not careful, you will feel like you're punished, and if you will buy that you're punished, then you will believe that you're cursed.
God doesn't cut to kill us. He cuts to heal us. I had to trust God when they cut in my back four inches and operated on my back, and I had to learn how to walk again. I had to trust God as I preached on Sunday mornings and couldn't walk. I went to Washington, D.C., and preached. I had to lay on the floor in the back of the church. The pain was so great, and then, when they got ready to introduce me, I came out. And I preached because, when the anointing was on me and the spirit started moving and the energy got up, it was like I had no pain. I only made one mistake: I sat down after I got through preachin' instead of leaving, and when I sat down, I couldn't get up, and there, in front of everybody, they had to help me up out of my seat. The one who preached power and anointing and glory couldn't get out of his chair.
And this oxymoron between strength and weakness, between victory and being paralyzed, is the human experience. Truth and trust hold hands. They hang out together. We need both to see the crushing from God's divine perspective. We have to look at it from God's perspective to avoid our limited view. We cannot see what God can see. We can see to the corner, but God can see around the corner, and if you just trust him when all hell is breaking loose, if you trust him with tears running down your face, if you trust him through a bad season and a storm... and it's okay to be scared. You can have fear and faith at the same time. I was afraid for my son, and, yet I had faith for my son. You can have fear and faith at the same time. Jesus said, "Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for fish, would you give him a snake? If you, then, through all of your evil ways, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father give what you need to his children"? God knows what you need even when you don't like what you need. That is "Crushing".
My brother and I decided to go into business. This was back when I was in West Virginia. It was years ago, and it was always our dream to have a family business 'cause my father had a family business. So we decided to go into business together, and we opened up a windows and siding company, and we were gonna do windows and siding. And I didn't know anything about windows and siding, but I learned pretty quickly, and I knew somethin' about business, and we were doin' okay, and in West Virginia, it gets cold. You need windows, and you need siding, and we were selling, and we hit a tough spot because you do that in business: you run out of capital, you run out of resources, you gotta pay your staff, you gotta make your payroll, you gotta pay for your building, you gotta pay for your materials, you have to do all of that kind of stuff.
And my brother, who is my older brother and could always talk me into anything, including lettin' him cut my hair when he didn't know how to cut hair, he could talk me into anything. He talked me into putting up my car as collateral to get a loan to sustain the business, and it was kind of like the haircut. When I looked in the mirror, I found out he couldn't cut hair, and when we got through strugglin' in business, I found out I didn't have a car. I literally sat in the living room, looking through the window as they drove my car away. This is after going through a long period of being without a car, and I needed a car 'cause I had two kids, and I thought to myself, "Why me? Why me? I serve you, I'm preaching, I'm working, I'm laboring, I'm loving, I'm trying to take care of this family, why me"? And, when I finally got an answer back, the answer was "Why not me"?
Why not you? What exempts you from suffering? If Jesus went to the cross, if Paul got locked up in jail, if Joseph got thrown into a pit, if the woman was there with the issue blood, why not me? So, when you face a dilemma and you run into a crisis and you're tryin' to figure out "What in the world is going on in my life"? And it feels like you're goin' backwards instead of forward, then you trusted the wrong person or you made the wrong decision, or the business didn't turn out like you think and you have a setback, you have to remember, a setback is a setup for a comeback, and you can't go into the valley of despair and throw yourself a pity party and luxuriate in the pain of your own self-indulgence and ask God why you. When God spared not his son, why would he spare you? The question is never "Why me"? It's "Why not me"?
I remember our ministry was thriving, and then, in 2008, the economy collapsed. I had to lay off 40 people. I thought, "Why me, Lord"? He said, "Why not you? Other people are goin' through the same thing. Why not you"? The Lord was teaching me how to lead, how to make decisions, how to make tough choices. Anybody can make easy choices as a leader, but in order to make tough choices and have the spine and the guts to be able to put, make a tough choice that people don't like, and they're murmuring about it, and they're complaining about it, but it was necessary to do it, and it fell in my lot to be able to make those kinds of choices. Why me? "Why not me"?
"To him whom much is given, much is required". You can't have the "Much given" and then avoid the "Much required". You have to make the tough decisions, and sometimes they are not popular. It's not popular, but it's purposeful, and in the midst of seeking God's purpose, you have to understand that he has a plan for your life. Troubles comes to us all, but what I'm glad about is that trouble doesn't last always. Trouble doesn't last always. The art of life is to make sure that you don't get out of trouble and be left with trauma, because trouble has an expiration date, but trauma can last for 30 years. I didn't write "Crushing" just to get you out of trouble. I wrote "Crushing" to get you out of trauma, the residue that holds onto you that threatens to ruin your future with the incidents from your past.
The wind is high, the thunder is roaring, the lightning is flashing, and the boat is shaking like something you have never seen before, and the apostle Paul is aboard the ship with all of the passengers. It's really a cargo ship, and he is headed to Rome. He thinks, but the storm gets worse and worse and worse, and many in desperation and in fear, they wanna get out of the boat, because it's got rough. But Paul says, "Save ye abide in the ship, you shall not survive". When it gets rough, we all wanna jump ship. When it gets tough, we wanna get out of it. We want to get out of it so it'll stop hurting, but the ship was the solution to the problem. And I know, I know, I know, I know I hear you saying to me, "Oh, bishop, you must not know your Bible very well because the ship fell apart". Yes, the ship fell apart, but the people didn't, because some on board sent some of broken pieces, made it safely to the other side, and had they gotten out of the ship, there wouldn't have been a board to hold onto.
So we have to make a decision every day: do you stay in the process and submit to the pruning, or do you jump ship for your own comfort, only to fall into peril? Even Jesus had this choice. He taught a lesson that oppose many, the true meaning of the bread and the wine. Many followers left. They were pruned from Jesus because he said, "Unless you drink my blood and eat my flesh, you will have no part with me," and that was not a sermon they wanted to hear, and they wanted to avoid the process, not even understanding what he meant. And then he asked Peter, "Will you go away also, or will you stay in the process"? And Peter responds, "Where shall I go? In your hands are the words of eternal life".
For some of us, quitting is not an option. We may cry, we may whine, we may groan, we may fuss, we may bicker, but we cannot jump ship. We must stay in the process. What will you choose to do when your ship is tossed to and fro, and the lightning is flashing and the sky goes black, and the wind is high, and you're not sure what the next turn is going to bring? When people are seasick and falling apart, and men are screaming, and women are in peril, will you stay on board the boat, or will you jump off and go for something that seems like it might be better, but could kill you?
How you respond to trouble determines your outcome. To embrace the sorrow of the season and to trust God to bring you out of it is what faith is made of. You cannot be comfortable and be Christlike. In order to be Christlike, he always, always calls you out of your comfort zone, and when you say, "Yes, I will stand even though the boat is falling apart," there's more power in the chips than there is in my disobedience. Looking at my life, you can tell the choice I made. I'm 45 years into ministry. I'm 39 years into marriage. I am not the kind of guy that walks away from a fight. And I challenge you today, if you're gonna make anything last, you've gotta stay when it's rough, and when it's tough, and work together as a team to make it better. I realize you can't be married by yourself. It takes two to do that, but in every area where your decision makes a difference, you'll never be successful if you quit. Don't jump ship. Stay in the process.