“and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit…” John 15:2
The pruning knife. A much maligned and misunderstood concept for us believers I think. John 15 was always one of my favorite chapters to read, admittedly I didn’t really understand much except that Jesus said He was the vine and we were the branches, and something about staying connected. I always liked the beauty of the grapevine. And the wine part, obviously. That’s the great thing about abiding in Him though, He’s always peeling away layers and showing us more as we rest and grow in Him. We could read the same chapter and verse our entire lives and God would still have something to show us on our last day.
So we read John 15 and take in the big ideas, He is the vine, we are the branches, etc. Something shifts a little when we’re told of certain branches getting pruned so that they will bear even more fruit. One thing I think a lot of us believe is that God’s pruning shears are like a giant weed-whacker. A kind of cosmic machete swinging wildly chopping off this and that from our lives to teach us some kind of lesson. We say things like:
- Well, what doesn’t kill me will make me stronger!
- This (sickness, calamity, misfortune) must be God’s will, He wouldn’t give me more than I could bear!
I’ll stop there, you get the point. Is this true? Is God’s pruning basically just Him hacking away at things in our lives? If we are sick or fall on hard times can we call it ‘pruning’?
Here’s something neat I read about pruning vs. other forms of trimming or shearing:
“Pruning is always done by hand (so put away that electric hedge trimmer!). Each branch or stem is cut individually, with cuts carefully placed based on bud growth. Pruning results in a more natural look and is generally better for the health of the plant. It allows you to make more judicious cuts to shape the plant and address specific issues, such as diseased or damaged branches. And by letting light into the interior of the shrub, you encourage growth throughout the entire plant, not just on the branch tips.”
Did you catch that?
- Always done by hand. No weed-whackers randomly cutting here and there.
- Big cuts are sometimes necessary and they address specific issues
- Attention is taken to let light in to the inside, not just the outside tips
The thing with vines is that they can become so well-rooted and mature they need very little water or fertilizer, but they cannot survive without constant pruning. Last seasons “stuff” will only do damage if kept for this season. Sometimes perfectly healthy wood has to be cut away. We once took a tour of a vineyard where they told us a branch can grow up to ten feet long and get pruned down to just a couple of inches. Those few inches are enough to bear healthy grapes. The sap has to be saved for the fruit, not wasted on extra branches and leaves. Let that sink in: no matter how healthy and mature the vine, it still needs vigorous pruning.
So in order to prune us, does God send random problems and hardships? Problems are a part of life, but they aren’t necessary to bear good fruit. If we mistakenly accept and welcome them into our lives, we aren’t living Biblically or very intelligently for that matter. The word used for pruning (or purging) actually means to cleanse. This makes complete sense when you read verse 3: “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.”
It’s actually through His WORD that he prunes us. Cleanses us. Purges us of all the extra bark and leaves that no longer help us. His word is sharper than a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), it’s living and active and it is more than enough to discipline and correct us (2 Timothy 3:16). Words of conviction, but also of comfort. Words that melt down our selfish plans but refine them into better ones.
God doesn’t need the devils help when it comes to helping us bear fruit. That isn’t to say that we don’t learn through trials and hardships, of course we do. Lets not confuse God’s way with the world’s way though. God loves us and desires to make us clean through His words and promises to us. His pruning shears are always handheld and used with the utmost of care. They may humble us, but they won’t destroy us. While the world focuses on what the outer edges of our branches and leaves look like, Jesus wants to make sure light is getting all the way to the inside of us.
Leaves from trees put on a mighty show every autumn, but they aren’t really meant to hang around in big numbers on the vine. The vine is all about the fruit. Jesus is all about our fruit. Abundant fruit. Don’t be afraid of the pruning shears, He’s precise and He knows what He’s up to. True, we may be humbled from a giant log down to a smaller branch. We may feel a bit naked without all our leaves, but never humiliated. Those short, bare vines are the strong ones. They may not be the showiest, but their fruit is abundant and healthy!