I spent a good portion of one day last weekend pruning, trimming, and negotiating with the bushes in front of my house. They were overdue for a serious cutback, having gone at least two or three years without much maintenance, and they were looking pretty scraggly.
As I worked at carefully trimming and shaping those bushes, I found myself thinking about the first few verses of John 15, where Jesus said:
“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. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:1-5, NIV)
I spent a lot of time working on those bushes. I spent that time because they have the potential, if properly maintained, to be beautiful, well-shaped appointments to the front of my house. If they didn’t have that potential, I would have still “trimmed” them, right at ground level,
just like the gardener in Jesus’ illustration removing the unfruitful, unproductive branches. Because I could see the shape, form, and beauty that these bushes could be, I carefully cut them back. It was still a fairly radical cutting in places, such as around the railing at the front steps, where I had to remove all of the greenery to reclaim the front steps for people passage. It doesn’t look the best right now, but I know that it will grow new leaves in time, and fill back in with nice, green growth. This is just like the branch that the gardener prunes to make it more fruitful. All of the energy that was being used to produce and maintain that useless, untamed growth can be channeled toward new, more productive growth.
We all go through our times of pruning. Sometimes, they aren’t pleasant experiences. We get comfortable with the idea of having a few wild branches that don’t do anything productive, and it can be confusing and hurtful to find those worthless branches lopped off and laying on the ground. Some folks have been known to pick those branches back up and attempt to re-attach them. They just aren’t ready to give up that unproductive branch that’s wasting time and resources. They miss the simple, profound truth that God only prunes branches that are productive, growing, and full of potential, removing only the things that are keeping us from further growth – and He’s only pruning us because He loves us and wants us to grow to be stronger, better, and more productive members of the Body.
Are you going through some pruning right now? I know that I am. I’m not so sure that I like having some of the wild growth cut back – some of it is fun “stuff”, but not very productive. I don’t always understand exactly why God does what He does, but I do know without a doubt that He knows what He’s doing and why. He’s only trying to help me grow stronger and more effective – because He loves me too much to let me grow wild.