A few years ago, I was able to join some of our team at a fellow staff member's home for a unique experience—a cider-making party. The process was fascinating—and thought-provoking.
First, the apples are washed—sloshed around vigorously in frigid water. Then they are thrown in rapid succession, one after the other, into a rotating device with sharp protrusions that cut them up in tiny pieces.
The God who can bring light out of darkness, order out of chaos, water out of a rock, surplus out of loaves and fishes, and glory out of the cross, can surely turn my desert place into a fruitful plane once again.
Those pieces are then pressed with a device that squeezes the juice out of them. Intense pressure is applied by turning a lever that keeps squeezing them more tightly—pressed, pressed, pressed. Just when you think they can't possibly be pressed any further, more pressure is applied . . . and more juice comes out.
Finally, when there is no more juice to be had, the apple pieces are removed from the press and thrown into a refuse pile. By that point they are totally dried out, no more juice or taste in them, useless for anything (except to feed deer!).
As I stood and watched the whole process, it seemed such a vivid picture of what I have at times felt like over the past thirty or more years of ministry.
It most definitely is a privilege and a joy to serve the Lord and minister to the needs of others. But I also have to admit that not every moment is a cakewalk (as I'm sure anyone who has been involved in any sort of ministry already knows!).
There have been times when I've felt like I've been cut up in tiny pieces, diced, and pressed, and that the juice has been squeezed out of me by the relentless deadlines and demands for books, radio programs, and other content, as well as an endless flow of people pressing in.
Often I thought I had nothing left when God called me to serve Him in something new—a new book, a new conference, more radio programs, more travel. More pressure, more squeezing, until the flow of juice was reduced to a trickle or nothing at all. I have even felt like that box of useless, tasteless, leftover apple pieces, good for nothing but to be tossed out.
In the midst of it all, the Lord has provided encouragement to keep going by reminding me of things I know to be true and for which I give thanks:
Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all (Phil 2:17).
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory (2 Tim. 2:10).
Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:24–25).
Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you (Luke 6:38).
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:9).
- Those apples were made to be used. Their ultimate "glory" is not in simply clinging to a branch on a tree and looking pretty. They were made to be consumed, eaten, and enjoyed by others.
- In order for the apples to be made into juice—or pies, jams, or something else—for others to enjoy, they have to relinquish their natural identity, to be washed, cut up, pressed, baked, etc.
- I was made to be spent, used, consumed—for the glory of God and the good of others. My greatest glory is not in holding on to my life, but in losing it—for Christ's sake and the gospel.
- The Lord Jesus was used up, spent, consumed, poured out for my sake. He did not count His own life dear to Himself, but gave it up entirely—down to the last drop of His lifeblood.
- There is no juice without intense pressure and squeezing.
- In the spiritual realm, the squeezing and pressing are not random or meaningless, but purposeful. There is juice to be had, for the blessing, health, strengthening, and enjoyment of others—if we are willing to give up our natural identity and be processed, pressed, and spent.
- In God's economy, death brings life. The laying down of our lives is not ultimate, but precedes new resurrection life. The "end" is not the end.
- When we give out and are spent for Christ's sake and others', we not only bless them, but we ourselves receive a blessing.
- The grace of God enables me to serve and be spent—with gladness. The grace of God is also what replenishes me and enables me to keep giving, to keep being fruitful (producing juice), even when I have nothing left to give of my own.
If God is glorified in my being utterly used up and discarded, that should be okay with me. That He should have ever used me for anything is sheer mercy and grace.
If He wants to continue using me, He can supernaturally supply the grace to make that possible, shredded and dry though I may sometimes feel. The God who can bring light out of darkness, order out of chaos, water out of a rock, surplus out of loaves and fishes, and glory out of the cross, can surely turn my desert place into a fruitful plane once again.
I am encouraged by these words from Ugo Bassi, a preacher from Rome in the nineteenth century. Although written over one hundred years ago, they are still so applicable to my life—and yours—as we serve Christ today.
Measure thy life by loss instead of gain;
Not by the wine drunk but by the wine poured forth;
For love's strength standeth in love's sacrifice,
And whoso suffers most hath most to give.
Can you relate to this illustration? How has your ministry experience or your life been like an apple press?