No Demilitarized Zone

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell…

Mark 9:43-47

What Jesus says here is so extreme! What in the world is He talking about?

First, we have to understand that this is hyperbole. Jesus is exaggerating to make a point. He doesn’t want people to literally cut things off. Jesus is trying to drive home the point that pruning unhealthy parts of our life is necessary in a life of following Jesus because there is no middle ground (also see John 15:1-6).

Jesus is trying to convey the severity of this truth: if we haven’t surrendered a part of our life to the Kingdom fo God then it has been surrendered to hell. And the gangrene of hell spreads.

We tend to frame things as if there is some neutral ground that is available to us. Jesus makes clear that there isn’t. We tend to ask ourselves, “Should I give God control of this part of my life or not?” But that is a false choice. The true question is, “Should I give God control of this part of my life or continue to submit it to the enemy?”

We tend to ask ourselves, “Should I step out in faith or remain safe in my comfort zone?” But if the Lord has asked us to do something then the true question is, “Should I step out in faith or continue to feed and cultivate the weeds of unbelief in my life?”

There is a war between the kingdom of darkness and the Kingdom of God and we are the battle ground. This war has no DMZ. What isn’t actively surrendered to the Kingdom of God in our life is already being used by the kingdom of darkness for the enemy’s purposes of stealing, killing, and destroying. The apostle Paul described it this way:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…

Ephesians 6:10-13

This lie that there is some magical middle ground, some objective neutral territory, some spiritual Switzerland is one of the most prevalent lies swirling around the Church. Jesus knew this lie would be tempting to believe because no one wants to face open warfare. Appeasement is so alluring in the face of open conflict. And this is why Jesus used language that would shock us back into reality. He knew only this kind of hyperbole would be enough to break through our biases expose us to the truth.

Reduction

The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’ Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.

But the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.”

Judges 7:2-4

Before God sent Gideon against the Midianites, He chose to reduce the army to 300 men. God decided to strip away the self-assurance and self-sufficiency of Israel. In order for God to get the glory for the miraculous victory, Israel had to be in a place of complete dependence upon Him.

First, God rids the camp of fear. Those who were too afraid to trust in God’s miraculous provision were sent home. Fear is often the first thing God has to strip away before we are able to be conduits of His power and instruments of His grace.

Next, God reduces the army in a way that seems somewhat arbitrary. One group of soldiers drank water one way and the other group drank a different way. God used this as a means to handpick the soldiers He wanted to remain. Three hundred soldiers stayed and the rest were sent home. At this point it was impossible for Israel to win without divine intervention.

God will often strip things out of our lives that we don’t understand. It may seem arbitrary or even unnecessary. But the goal is to ultimately set us free from the shackles of self-sufficiency and independence. The goal is to help us get to a place of total surrender, which is when we are most dangerous to the enemy.

Yet, God is gracious and compassionate. He understands the anxiety and fear this kind of total dependency can create in a person. So God meets Gideon where he is and gives Gideon confirmation that God will give him the victory in battle even with such a reduced army.

God sets it up where Gideon overhears a Midian soldier telling his friend about a dream he had the night before. The dream was a prophetic message that symbolically foretold of the victory of Israel over the Midianites through the leadership of Gideon.

This is a great reminder that God doesn’t leave us bewildered and confused. When we go through a season of reduction, when God strips things away that need to be stripped away, God will also provide revelation in order to encourage us. God will speak to us through prayer, through scripture, through a dream, through a prophetic word, or any other means necessary. God will let us know in various ways that He is still with us and that this pruning will bear good fruit.

Jesus spoke to His disciples about this very thing:

“…every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful….

 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:2 & 5

Pruning ultimately makes us more fruitful. When our dependence is completely on the Lord, when everything else is stripped away and we remain in Him, much fruit is the result.

Usually, the reduction of an army is a bad thing. The word reduction is usually used in a negative way. But if we think about it in a different context, we can see the benefit. In cooking, “reduction” is the process of thickening and intensifying the flavor of a liquid, like a soup or a sauce, by simmering or boiling. Making a reduction in the culinary world intensifies the flavor and thickens the consistency. This is also what happens in God’s Kingdom when God initiates a reduction.

Sometimes what we need most–in our personal lives, our churches, our businesses, our careers–is not more growth but a massive reduction. Sometimes a season of pruning is what is needed most for us to sustain the next season of growth. Sometimes a return to dependency and a cleansing of self-sufficiency from our lives is God’s greatest gift to us.

Is there pruning happening in an area of your life? Take heart! God is preparing you for victory. And if you need confirmation as Gideon did, Jesus is willing to give that to you as well.