"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." – John 15:1-2 (NIV)
As I sit here at my computer today, there are men outside my window, pruning the trees and ivy growing in my backyard. It is fascinating to me, pruning trees; because we do so for a number of different reasons. We prune if a fruit bearing tree or plant is not bearing good fruit. We prune when it is bearing to much fruit. We prune so that the fruit will grow larger, juicier, or more healthy in the future. We prune because we know that's how we care for our trees and plants. We prune because we love them and want to see them grow. While I was thinking about this, I inevitably began to think of John 15 and Jesus's analogy of the vine, the branches and how God prunes each (whether fruitful or not). I think we have all, at some point in our walk with God, have gone through the often painful processes of pruning; so, today I want to talk about why God prunes us and how it can feel to be pruned.
Plants don't speak in a language that we humans can understand; but if they did, I would reckon that they would tell us that pruning hurts! Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines pruning as: "to reduce especially by eliminating superfluous matter; to remove as superfluous; to cut off or cut back parts of for better shape or more fruitful growth." Pruning is all about cutting away something in order to bring about something else that is new and better. Pruning is hard work and a delicate balance! It is also something that can leave your trees and plants bare and looking less fruitful than they had looked before you had pruned them. Doesn't that seem counter intuitive? As an expert gardener will know, appearance does not always indicate health or fruitfulness and so we cannot look to what the eye can see to determine how fruitful something might be.
This is the same when God looks to us. On the outside, we might look fruitful, put together, and pretty. Upon closer look, however, we might have a number of things in our lives, from commitments to relationships and even attitudes, that can be keeping us from being truly fruitful. In the John 15 verse at the top of this post, it tells us that all believers, whether fruitful or not, are pruned by God to become more fruitful in their walk. We are pruned regardless of what we do, it's just a fact of faith; and to be honest, sometimes it hurts. Sometimes the things or the people that God is cutting away are things and people we don't want to lose! It can feel like God is stripping you bare to the point that there is nothing left and you might struggle to understand how fruit can grow in such a barren place. It might even feel like you are being punished by God. Does this sound familiar? You know God is cutting those things and people from your life but it feels so terrible, that you try all you can to hold on until inevitably you can no longer do so.
I have been there and I will tell you that I have held onto a lot of things God was pruning from my life for far too long. It made it harder in the end, more messy, more spiritual blood spilled from the wounds than was probably necessary. What I did not understand, and what I want you to know, is that God is not punishing us when He prunes an area of our lives. Rather, the pruning that God does is a benefit, a reward, for us as believers. You can lean into the promise that all spiritual pruning leads to spiritual growth and only takes away that which will harm us in our futures. It's about God taking away all the obstacles standing between us and who God knows we can be and we should be thankful for His eagerness to prune us up and help us grow. Now, I'm not saying that this will be fun (very often it won't be), but it is certainly necessary to our walk as believers... and what happens to the tree or plant that we prune down to near nothing? The next year, the next season, it grows more fruitful, more beautiful, stronger, and more full. We can share in such a promise in our own spiritual lives.
Below are a few Bible verses that talk about spiritual pruning. Next time, we will continue our discussion as we look at what we have left behind for God. I hope you join me.
"For six years you may plant your fields and prune your vineyards and harvest your crops,4 but during the seventh year the land must have a Sabbath year of complete rest. It is the Lord’s Sabbath. Do not plant your fields or prune your vineyards during that year." – Leviticus 25:3-4 (NLT)
"I will make it a wild place where the vines are not pruned and the ground is not hoed, a place overgrown with briers and thorns. I will command the clouds to drop no rain on it." – Isaiah 5:6 (NLT)
"For, before the harvest, when the blossom is gone and the flower becomes a ripening grape, he will cut off the shoots with pruning knives, and cut down and take away the spreading branches." – Isaiah 18:5 (NIV)
"Because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” – Hebrews 12:6 (NIV)