Posted by: Brad Stanford | October 24, 2009

Commitment Is Difficult; Or, Box Shrubs Must Die

After coming home from a church workday, I figured that I should tackle taking down the shrubs around the porch, since I was already dirty and sweaty. Well, that took four hours. And I learned a lot.

First, yellow jackets don’t respond as quickly when its cool outside. Either that, or God really protected me from an attack today, as I cut away a big chunk of bush to reveal a nest with 5 to 10 yellow jackets on it. Thank you Lord for no stings!

Next, box shrubs – the standard small-leafed bushes found around millions of porches, normally trimmed into rectangular shapes – are just this side of a waste of space. I’d love to say something positive about them, but I really can’t think of anything, other than the fact that they grow well, and that’s precisely why people plant them. It’s a fast-growing, low maintenance bush.

Last but mainly, once I started cutting the bushes down, I inherited other problems – the trash, the need to clean out the flowerbeds where they were planted, the need to dig out the stumps, the discovery of a hole at the base of the skirting that goes under the house (dug by who-knows-what animal); not to mention the enormous pile of brush that I have to haul to the field and burn, the rocks that I have to move – the list goes on and on. And this is just flowerbed work, really. But once the cutting started, I was committed to the project, like it or not.

God reminded me how everything He called me to do in this town is going to be a big job, and look like a mess that can’t be finished on the day I start. Indeed, I sometimes feel that about the house itself, or my software, or other things, much less the big things He has planned for me. It’s okay to be overwhelmed, tired, and to even sleep and start again tomorrow. But once we moved, we committed. The project was started, and every problem we inherit after that is part of the deal.

Further to the point, if we understood what we were committing to, we might’ve been too scared to try. And that’s why God so many times doesn’t allow us to see the future, but instead just teaches us to hear and follow His voice. He has set joy before us, and that’s what we see. Not the mess, not the difficulty, but the joy.

Maybe you have been scared to take the next step because you see the enormity of the project. Ask God for the joy. Ask Him what happens if you make it through the difficulties of what He has set before you. When He tells you, write it down. That is promise to you. And it is the only thing that will get you through the most difficult moments. Even for Jesus: “…who for the joy set before Him endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12:2).

If you don’t have His promise over you, and you attempt to do Kingdom sized things on your own, you will end up like the rich man who came to Jesus and asked Him what was necessary to get into heaven. After stating that he had kept all the commands Jesus listed, Jesus gave the man a Kingdom-sized project: “Go and sell your possessions and give your money to the poor. Then come follow me.” (Matthew 19). The man went away sad, because he had spent a lot of time and effort creating the status quo: riches. He was focused on the mess of changing the status quo, rather than the joy at the end of the story.

All I knew when I started cutting down shrubs today was that it would be one more step towards the making this place ours. As each one came down, it felt better and better. As I observed the mess, I felt more and more in over my head. But everything that God does is either training, or mission. Since our mission is to help change things, God is training us to focus on the joy instead of the mess. Next time He shows us a step in our mission, we’ll be able to commit, saying, “I see the joy. These box shrubs must die.”


  1. Brad , what a great lesson. Box shrubs are planted to keep kids from jumping off the porch or climbing out bedroom windows. Not that i would know about such things 🙂

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