Pruning Predates Purpose
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.