I feel obliged by the Holy Spirit to write down a burden that I've been carrying for a long time. Like Paul says in Romans 9:1-2: "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart." This burden was imparted to me through a vision I received while in Guatemala in 1995.
A houseguest in the home of friends in Guatemala City, I arose early to pray and prepare before sharing in one of the Verbo churches there. Seated on the patio behind the house, as I prayed I was also observing the beauty of their garden. Suddenly my gaze was drawn to an orange tree about 10 feet tall, and specifically to a white blossom. It seemed to jump out at me in a curious manner, and I realized that it was the only flower on the whole tree, at least from my vantage point. At the same time, I felt the Lord wanted to show me something, so I got up and went to have a look at what it was.
As I drew close to the tree, I began to circle around it very slowly to see if there were any other blossoms, and I only found two or three more. I couldn't even see any other buds on the way. As I made this "inspection", I was immediately aware that the tree was very sick. As I studied its condition with more interest, the Lord impressed on me that He was showing me the condition of the church in Guatemala. My heart was torn and I wept with deep sorrow, but at the same time I wept because the presence of God was so tangibly strong. He showed me branch by branch the different afflictions of the church, and that is what I proceed to explain here.
Many of the leaves of the tree were dried and twisted up, their color was like dark bronze, no longer green at all. They had reached their normal size, but something was obstructing the flow of sap, and they were very diseased and some were already dead. These leaves were the people who had been with us for years, but were no longer receiving the needed nutrition, not even the basics. It wasn't due to lack of the substances needed to continue growth in size, rather they lacked the nutrients to continue functioning as mature leaves, which should by now be supplying materials for new growth in other parts of the tree, such as branches, roots and new shoots and leaves. These brethren were still connected to the church, but they were not receiving life, and thus weren't producing new life either.
On the ground beneath the tree there was a great number of dead leaves, and my heart was stirred more on seeing what they meant. Each one represented one of the many brethren that are no longer connectded to the church. Many if not all of us in leadership have known them, we have loved them, and we have ministered to their lives with care, but they were no longer with us. Perhaps their lives were too complicated, or they just had too many problems, or they didn't respond well to counsel. There were others who had asked for help and were never given it. And perhaps there were still others who made us uncomfortable or even confronted us directly about ares in our own lives, and instead of perservering in loving them and reconciling them, we rather opted for leaving them out of our hearts. I don't want to elaborate more on this point, but the Lord is grieved by this situation. These brethren are His beloved children, and they haven't been rejected from His heart.
There was another kind of leaves that were discolored, which on the back side had tiny little insects like white scales. These didn't allow the air access to the pores of the leaves, and they slowly asphyxiated them. Besdies, they sucked the nourishment that supposedly gave strength to the leaves, and left them inert. They weren't dead, yet they didn't have any life of their own. Perhaps these leaves represented the many brothers and sisters that do remain faithful to the church, but due to their own growing necessities, all of their energy went towards just keeping afloat, and all their time and strength went towards sustaining the family economy but none was left over for them to involve their hearts and lives in the things of God.
In yet another part of the tree there was activity of hoardes of ants that crawled up from the ground and made a virtual highway of the branches and leaves to an area of the tree they were concentrating on. They cut and carried off small bits of leaves and bark without any resistance to their retreat. There were hundreds of them, and they carried out their work with great diligence, but unless someone come up for a close look, one would never notice this was happening.
As I watched all this, I wept with tremendous grief upon seeing how great and diverse affliction this tree suffered. It wasn't my anguish for the tree itself, but rather for the church and the many people we have loved, and whom the Lord loves much more than we. The Lord's love and compassion for His church, for the condition so many lives that need His loving touch was so intense that I couldn't restrain the tears that flowed down my cheeks during this whole experience. His presence was so vivid that nothing else mattered more than seeing all that He showed me in each leaf and tiny branch.
During my examination of the tree, I became aware that someone else had noticed the tree's condition and had tried to help it. On many of the leaves there was evidence of an application of insecticide, because there was a thin whitish layer on portions of the leaves. In other parts there was a different application of a coppery greenish colored powder that was used to kill an invasion of fungus that had begun to cover the leaves. It was apparent that there had been several applications in some areas, because the coating of the substance that had been applied to cure the problem was so thick that it was causing more damage than good to the tree.
In the midst of all this that I was seeing, there was something quite precious. I rejoiced to discover that there were several branches at whose tips were green and tender new leaves which were growing out heathy and vigorous. They were like beautiful decorations in contrast to the overall condition of the tree. These leaves, although still small, gave an aspect of hope and new life in several parts of the tree and they grew with abandon, seemingly oblivious to the surrounding conditions. They hadn't been touched by the "remedies" that had been applied previously, and their color was so fresh and wholesome that I was filled with happiness. These were all the brethren that had recently joined the church, who were in love with Jesus, ministered to by the power of the Spirit, their eyes opened to see God working in their lives, and with no other interest than just getting to know Him better, He who gave them new life and hope in His great promises and eternal truths.
Among all that the Lord showed me that morning, there are some aspects in particular that I felt were of special significance. The most obvious was how to attemp to heal the little tree. In the natural realm, someone had taken external measures to combat the plagues of insects, scale, fungus and other maladies. But the fact that they weren't working should have indicated the need for a systemic remedy. This is one which is applied to the soil beneath the tree so that it be absorbed through the roots and then carried to each part of the tree by the circulatory system of the sap. In this way the sicknesses are attacked from within the tree itself, similar to how our own defences work in the human body.
As to how this all relates to the church, I saw that those external treatments were like the methods and programs that we have applied to the church to maintain numerical and spiritual growth. In one degree, these do work and produce a certain effect. But I had a clear sense that something in the church was not working well at the center of things, at the level of the roots. I am referring to the level of personal relationship among the leadership. Of course there is a relationship just because there are so many meetings and there is always contact, but is that enough? Are there relationships like an intimate friendship, of really opening our hearts to one another and sharing our goals or even our troubles, or is there just a cordiality in the context of a working together type friendship? With the pace of so many activities in the churches, do we leave enough free time so that our leaders can really develop deeper relationships among themselves?
The other side of relationship, and the most important, has everything to do with our personal and individual relationship with the Lord. There exists a tendency that draws us into being so busy with the things of the Kingdom that we don't spent enough quality time in intimacy with the King. And this is not due to a lack of devotion or desire to love God, but it is simply the product of the growth in the church. This growth that we are so glad to see happening around us brings with it more responsibilities, which in turn require more and more of our time. So then we either start sleeping less, or we sacrifice those times of seeking the Lord and having that contact with Him which is so vital to our spiritual health. For this is the source of everything, which we must at all cost cultivate and watch over.
Well beloveds, that's as far as I'll go with this for now. I hope these words sirve to stir us up and stimulate us to continue ever onwards, daily improving our fruitfulness as brothers and co-workers in the Kingdfom of our God.
May the Lord bless you all!