An essential step to spiritual growth and fulfillment.
15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. John 15:1-7 (ESV)
At first glance, it’s striking to see that these are Jesus’ own words and He’s saying that His Father is pruning Him! To be clear, God the Father is pruning The Vine Jesus’ branches that are not abiding (remaining, staying) in Him or producing fruit, which Jesus further affirms is impossible without Him. There’s a stern warning in verse 6 that I don’t dare unpack, but in sum, it’s saying if we’re not abiding in Christ, we’re tossed in the fire. On the other hand, if we're abiding, He will answer our prayers. according to His will. Don’t overlook verse 3 that points to Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. The disciples have been cleaned but are still subject to pruning. That’s a lot of heavy stuff to ponder, so I’m just going to focus on the pruning principle alone and how it relates to fulfilling purpose.
For Christians, the biblical principle of pruning—like discipline—is more positive than negative. If God is pruning us, it’s because He’s preparing us to thrive. God prunes us to shape us into who He designed us to be and to bear as much healthy fruit as possible.
If you’re being pruned, no matter how very unpleasant it may be, it’s to prepare you to bear more fruit, better fruit. Don’t resist! Believe me when I say I’m telling you from personal experience and what I so need to hear myself--repeatedly!
Is it possible to be pruned and remain fruitless or to even whither and die? The same passage provides clues to the outcome. We must remain, abiding in Christ, in order for pruning to be positive, productive experience. That's why resenting God for the many hardships we can face this side of heaven can be so spiritually destructive if it drives us away from God and His loving intent.
As Christians, we’re invited to become more and more Christ-like. God Himself undertakes this gardening (Romans 8:29), a lifelong endeavor.
For more than a decade before moving to Florida, I lived on 3.63 beautiful West Virginia acres. The prior owners had a daughter with a degree in horticulture who planted a dizzying and dazzling assortment of shrubs and trees. Before that, I had a postage stamp city garden in Maryland, which nonetheless challenged my not-so-green thumb.
I tried hard to stay on top of the landscaping, even calling the agricultural extension service agent early on to give me an agri-tour of my park-like land. I looked very official strolling the grounds with him, toting my journal and sketching a detailed map of the grounds with the name of each plant and proclivities.
Pruning figured very prominently in maintenance and was a giant undertaking that ended with a really big burn pile. Some plants, like the roses, got a gentle pruning with scissors or dainty clippers. The big leafy bushes I shaped by both electric and manual hedge trimmer and menacing 3-foot-long pruning shears.
I’d put all my tools in a wagon, moving tree to tree. I’d pick the best tool for the job, but sometimes found a branch was resistant and I needed a bigger, different instrument and/or more muscle to cut through a branch. It was tough on all of us—human and plants both.
Some of the shrubs got leveled during pruning season, cut down to a few pitiful branches sticking up from a forlorn stump. Fruit trees underwent major cutting, some of which was beyond my paygrade and saw blade and willingness to climb.
I learned that even some new growth had to be cut because they were little fruitless and bloomless up shoots that sucked energy from the more mature branches, limiting growth. Some of the shrubs had tons of these little suckers. I mean, they're actually called “suckers.”
Diseased limbs with fungus or critters had to go so they didn't contaminate the whole plant.
They all had to go.
None of this looked very good mid-pruning. In fact, it was a mess. Some of you gardening folks know what I mean. A few of the plants didn’t look like they’d survive their haircuts and the whole yard looked tornado-ravaged until I cleaned up. Then it looked very groomed, like a freshly shorn head or a man's close shave.
The real payoff was during the growing season and harvest, everything burst with beauty, flowering, fruiting, blossoming, green and lush. I remember the pear tree, in particular…unbelievably heavy-laden with fruit, grape like branches and a thick carpet of ripe pears when they fell to the ground, too abundant to gather or consume.
How God Almighty excels at metaphors. His illustrations from the natural world He created are so clear!
I have experienced many and prolonged pruning seasons, surely intensified and lengthened by my resistance to the Gardener’s methods. He has pruned people, places, and things, attitudes and attributes--including ones I wasn't sure I was done with. Sometimes, I wasn't done despite abundant evidence that branch was good and dead or the innocuous upshoot was sucking me dry.
He has pruned seemingly good things, occasionally allowing me to see in retrospect that it wasn't so hot after all or was diverting me from something better.
The pain of pruning
Sometimes my resistance to the initial cut caused Him to use a bigger tool or more force. It maybe took me longer than average to learn to yield to the process.
I want to believe I'm more firmly planted in the soil of God's goodness and more readily yield what He wants to take away. I'm mindful, attentive to what my spirit...and simple reality...is telling me. It's very freeing. Very.
I do sometimes wonder how might this process be different, feel different if I trusted the Gardner’s loving motive and intended outcome from the get-go? Would I yield more readily? Would the pain be lessened?
I’m honestly not sure. As you know, I find pain is the touchstone to all spiritual progress.
I think knowing Jesus, leaning in, and trusting Him and His sufficiency with all we have makes all the difference in both the process and outcome.
Talk about a deep cut! This is a 1973 tune which foreshadows Clapton's greatness <3.
The promise of pruning
THIS and perhaps this alone, is what enables us to have abundant life, blessings of peace, joy and spiritual maturity through anything at all. The rewards go with us and multiply in heaven. I don't know what that looks like, but I have a tiny notion.
This painful pruning is like enduring the pain and sacrifice of Olympic or triathlon training to win, to finish the race, another metaphor God uses to teach us. The lasting fruit is across the eternal finish line.
I believe this is a tried and true, well-documented, absolutely essential process for growth and fulfilling God's ultimate purpose for our lives.
Later in Jesus' discussion in John 15, He says,
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last...
Jesus chooses, appoints, and prunes us to bear fruit that will last. Not the proverbial apple you'll use for your own pie, but a harvest of goodness that will last into eternity. We don't shoulder this burden of fruit bearing alone. In fact, just as Jesus said in verse 4, this is fruit produced by abiding in Him. The fruit is the product of the Holy Spirit, not your exertion. Just like my pear tree produced abundant fruit post-pruning, we can lead more fruitful lives by submitting to The Gardner and His loving, lifelong preparation to fulfill our purposes for our lives here...and hereafter.
Love, joy, grace, and peace in Christ,
Prayer: Heavenly Gardner, please help me recognize and surrender to the pruning you're doing in my life. I want to cast off the dead weight and that which saps my strength, to grow, flourish, bloom for You, abiding in You.
In Christ's name, I pray. Amen.
Action: Pre-pray the prayer above and reread the section entitled Prunology 101. Sit quietly for a few minutes before listing some of what you sense God is pruning. Consider even sketching a tree or bush in your journal. Is the branch dead? Is it sucking energy? Is it diseased? Is it distorting your shape? Are you holding on to something God's wanting to prune?
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